Thursday, 15 April 2010

How Labour, Tory and Lib Dem green policies measure up

All the major parties have included the environment in their election manifestos. But can they win votes with their green ideas?•
Juliette Jowit, Thursday 15 April 2010 11.29 BST
Labour listed environment in chapter eight of 10, entitled A Green Recovery. For Conservatives it ranked fourth out of five sections, under the - somheadline Protect the Environment. Liberal Democrats put environment on the cover, then eschewed a separate section in favour of green proposals in every policy area, even defence.
VisionLabour: "Our vision is of a society where economic prosperity and quality of life come not from exploiting the natural world but from its defence."
Conservatives: "We have a vision of a greener Britain... This is a country which has become the world's first low carbon economy."
Liberal Democrats: "We must hand on to our children a planet worth living on. That requires action across government."
Labour said "only active government can shape markets to prioritise green growth and job creation"; it cannot be left to individuals and businesses "alone". Conservatives appeared to say the opposite: "Instead of using rules and regulations to impose a centralised worldview, we will go with the grain of human nature, creating new incentives and market signals which reward people for doing the right thing." Liberal Democrats promise a general rule of "one in, one out" for new regulations. In reality all three parties offer a mix of regulations and incentives.
TargetsNo party disagrees with existing commitments to cut emissions 20% by 2020, and 80% by 2050, or the current target of generating 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Given another term as the majority party, Labour says it would press for a higher cut of 30% by 2020 across the EU as part of a global deal. Tories are silent on this. Lib Dems suggest the EU should adopt the higher 30% target anyway. Lib Dems also pledge zero emissions from electricity by 2050.
Climate & energyLabour and Conservatives offer a mix of renewables, new nuclear and "clean coal" using carbon capture and storage - how clean is not specified - alongside more local energy generation, incentives for home efficiency, and "smart grids" to manage demand. Lib Dems say coal plants must capture high levels of emissions .
There is agreement on a green investment bank, though critics called for all parties to pledge more funds to it, such as income from selling carbon trading allowances.
HomesLabour are building 10,000 new homes in rural areas; Lib Dems want to restore 250,000 empty homes, and toughen new building reguations.
To make homes more energy efficient, Lib Dems are offering a £400 cashback for improvements in their first year in power. All three major parties offer loan schemes to be paid back from energy savings on bills, and support the feed in tarrif to pay home owners for renewable energy they export to the grid, something Lib Dems offer to increase.
TransportLabour alone is adamant it will expand Heathrow airport; the others promise to reverse the decision. Lib Dems also pledge higher air taxes from planes instead of passengers, and a national road pricing scheme, offset by axing vehicle excise duty. All three parties offer high speed rail.
ConservationBoth Labour and Conservatives offer more protected areas, and in particular to create "wildlife corridors" along which species can move as they adapt to climate change. Lib Dems offer a new protection status for locally important areas, and to double woodland. Conservatives also propose "conservation credits" whereby any loss of biodiversity is compensated by improvements elsewhere.
GMConservatives will let GM crops go ahead when they are "safe for people and the environment". The manifestos of the other two main parties don't mention GM - indeed all three are woefully silent on food policy - but a Labour spokesman told Farmers Weekly that the party also supports GM when it's judged safe, and the Lib Dems dodge the issue by asking for another debate.
WasteLabour and Conservatives talk of "Zero waste Britain", Liberal Democrats want to set it as a target. Labour are most radical in proposing to ban most of what goes to landfill in future, Conservatives want councils to encourage people to recycle by paying them, Lib Dems are more vague about how they would succeed in their ambition for "more recycling, and a huge increase in anaerobic digestion to generate energy". None of the three publically advocates incineration.
And the restLabour: landfill bans; continued ban on fox hunting; a review of land use, to balance demands for more food, wildlife protection and development.
Conservatives: a floor under the carbon price; annual energy statement to parliament; reform of energy regulator, Ofgem.
Lib Dems: make all public buildings energy efficient, starting with schools; tax on financial transations and aviation and shipping emissions to help poorer countries mitigate and adapt to climate change; better protect gardens by declaring them greenfield sites.
What Guardian readers think
"Climate is simply not an issue that voters in this election care about and for that reason it does not figure, to any degree, in the policies and in the manifestos of the major parties" - daveyboy103 on Labour
"Anyone suggesting that the economy should come before our children's future needs to read The Ecology of Commerce" - Grumps on the Conservatives
"Expensive energy will make UK companies uncompetitive and the country poorer: and that includes public services. The only realistic solution is nuclear power. I don't like it but that is just how it is"
bill9651 on the Liberal Demcocrats