Campaigners warn this is last chance to act on climate change
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 25 April 2010 19.55 BST
Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg have gone on the attack today in an effort to win the environmental vote for what campaigners say will be the last parliament that can save the world from dangerous levels of climate change.
Both launched green manifestos, with Labour's saying the Liberal Democrat ban on new nuclear power would "endanger our energy security and climate change goals", while the Lib Dems condemned "a party that has had 13 years to deliver on the environment and failed".
The Lib Dems' key pledge was to set a target for a zero-carbon Britain. "We will set – and stick to – ambitious targets for a zero-carbon future," said Clegg. In the first year of a new government, the Lib Dems pledge to redirect £3.1bn from other spending programmes to stimulate the creation of 100,000 jobs in renewable energy and home insulation initiatives.
Their green manifesto also focused on air travel, promising to tax planes rather than passengers – meaning that empty aircraft or those carrying freight will be taxed – and to charge short-haul flights more if a low-carbon alternative is available. It promised new rail lines paid for by cuts in the major roads budget.
Clegg urged voters to "choose the only party that was taking a stand on saving the planet well before it became fashionable", noting his party's support for the 10:10 climate change campaign, which the Guardian supports.
The Lib Dem green manifesto says the target for a zero-carbon Britain could be offset up to 10% by buying credits from overseas projects. Labour sources said the pledge was an "empty gesture" because MPs have already voted for an 80% cut in emissions by 2050.
At the Guardian's environment hustings debate last week, Ed Miliband, the climate and energy secretary, went on the offensive against the non-nuclear pledge, describing it as a "big hole" in the Lib Dems' plans, and accusing the party of "ducking" difficult choices.
At the Labour manifesto launch, Brown made a pledge to give all pensioners over 75 who get pension credits a further £100 off their energy bills on top of the winter fuel allowance. "That is fairness in action," said Brown, echoing his campaign slogan.
Other new pledges concentrated on industrial policy. Labour has recently had some success in attracting wind turbine and electric car manufacturers to the country. The party said it would earmark 5,000 of the promised 67,000 apprenticeships for low-carbon trades. It also pledged to create low-carbon business zones in every region, following the existing marine energy hub in the south-west and the nascent electric car hub in the north-east.
Other possibilities include building on the nuclear industry already in the north-west and concentrating the development of new carbon capture and storage technology for coal power in Yorkshire and Humberside, close to the emptying North Sea oil and gas fields where the emissions might be buried. Labour also revealed a new estimate – 500,000 – for the number of electric vehicles its policies would see on the road by 2020.
Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem spokesman on energy and climate change, said: "Labour's environment manifesto is nothing more than a programme for another five years of failure. It continues with the fictitious claim that they will create 400,000 new jobs when the government's own figures say that their policies mean they can't do this, and continue their refusal to move the UK to a 42% emissions target by 2020 [from 34%]."
He added: "This country needs a low-carbon Britain, not just low-carbon zones."
Martyn Williams, parliament campaigner for Friends of the Earth, welcomed the extra £100 for pensioners, but said: "The difficulty is that Labour always tries to tackle fuel poverty by throwing money at people or by bringing fuel prices down, and not by ensuring that their homes are properly insulated."
The Conservatives made no new announcements today, and in the leaders' debate last Thursday, David Cameron was the only leader not to include climate change in his opening or closing statements. During the debate, Clegg called climate change the greatest challenge, a view echoed today by Brown.
The Lib Dem manifesto derided the Conservatives for "aligning themselves with climate change deniers in the European parliament", while Labour claimed that "the Tories would threaten our future energy security … through their widespread opposition [to wind farms]".
The Green party, whose leader, Caroline Lucas, appears to have a good chance of becoming the party's first MP, was identified as having the most ambitious manifesto by Friends of the Earth. But Clegg warned against voting for a party "that cannot make a difference in Westminster".
The commitments comparedLabour and the Liberal Democrats agree on many of the targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonise the UK's energy supply, most of which are already in UK or EU law. They also share the aim of making Britain's notoriously leaky homes and buildings much more energy-efficient and developing a high-speed rail network and a smart electricity grid. But sharp differences remain.
• Use industrial policy, which has seen wind turbine and electric car makers invest in the UK, to create 400,000 green jobs by 2015.
• Use "active government" – ie intervention – in markets to deliver a low-carbon energy sector.
• Up to £5,000 discount for electric cars and 100,000 charging points by 2015.
• Reduce aviation emissions to 2005 levels by 2050.
• Ban all recyclable and biodegradable waste from landfill.
• Back a third runway at Heathrow, but rule out any other new runway until 2015.
• Back new coal power stations without requiring that all their carbon emissions are captured and stored.
• £100 extra towards energy bills for those over 75.
• Prosecution for a car owner if litter is thrown from it, plus seizure of cars used for fly-tipping.
• Treble the number of secure bicycle parking spaces at railway stations.
• Ban wild animals in circuses and maintain the fox-hunting ban.
• Set target for a zero-carbon UK, but allow 10% of emissions to be offset overseas.
• Spend £3.1bn in the first year on a green jobs stimulus which will lead to 100,000 jobs.
• Tax planes, not passengers, to discourage empty flights, and tax short-haul flights more if trains or coaches are available.
• A road-pricing scheme, making motorists pay for their use, offset by scrapping the vehicle excise duty tax disc.
• Tax financial transactions and aviation and shipping emissions to help poorer countries moderate and adapt to climate change.
• Rule out a new generation of nuclear power on the grounds of expense – a "big hole" in electricity generation, says Labour.
• Scrap the new Infrastructure Planning Commission and return decision-making to local people – risks delays to renewable energy projects.
• Unilaterally commit the UK to a 30% emissions cut by 2020, breaking step with the EU.
• Cut rail fares and make Network Rail refund one-third of ticket cost if rail replacement bus services are used.
• £400 eco cashback scheme for new double glazing, boilers or solar panels.
• Double woodland by 2005 and policies to "increase tranquillity" in the countryside.
• Prevent "garden-grabbing" development by designating them as greenfield sites.