Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Labour's plans for the environment

The Labour Party manifesto promises a greener future for Britain but what does it mean for you?

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:47PM BST 12 Apr 2010
* ENERGY: Achieving around 40 per cent low-carbon electricity by 2020 and creating 400,000 new green jobs by 2015.
This was announced months ago and sounds a bit more impressive than it is. Electricity for our homes takes up just 20 per cent of energy use with the rest from heating, transport and industry. Also note the use of the word 'low carbon' rather than green. This means nuclear will take up 10 per cent of the target and "clean" coal-fired power stations that store carbon dioxide underground will be included. Planning reforms and money for research and development have already given these sectors a boost. Overall the amount of energy coming from renewables will be just 15 per cent – in line with EU targets – and already there are some doubts about whether the UK can achieve this. However, the Tories have not yet committed to the EU targets so at least Labour are giving a firm signal to the energy market and an ambitious goal for electricity is key. Labour have put most of their backing behind off shore wind with thousands of turbines planned over the next few years, although it is an expensive technology. Communities will also be encouraged to build their own wind farms onshore as well as hydro electric power stations, and the Severn Barrage should go ahead. The manifesto also pledges to support research into marine and tidal. So how will Labour achieve this shift to a "low carbon economy"? The manifesto states it will cost around £150 billion over the next ten years. This will mean energy bills will have to go up in the short term. There is also a Green Investment Bank that will put up around £2 billion to leverage more money, though environmental groups say the Government will have to do more to help new technologies get off the ground. The new jobs will mostly be in manufacturing green technology like wind turbines and installing insulation and micro-renewables on homes. It is a good idea but depends on companies coming to the UK to build green technology and households taking up the incentives to have their households refurbished.

* GREEN HOMES: Make greener living easier and fairer through ‘pay as you save’ home energy insulation, energy-bill discounts for pensioners and requiring landlords to properly insulate rented homes.
Not much of this is new and a lot of it is very similar to proposals made by the Tories. By 2020 every home will have a smart meter and seven million homes will have an ‘eco-upgrade’. The question is how will it be done? There will be more pressure on energy companies by giving local authorities the power to ensure houses are being upgraded "street by street". There will also be a warm home standard for social housing and landlords will have to make sure private accommodation is properly insulated. Energy companies will have to make compulsory contributions to ensure the vulnerable get discounts. The 'Pay as you Save' scheme will enable households to take out loans for insulation or installing solar panels and pay it back over time through the savings on their energy bills. Already households that install renewables are being paid for energy they feed back into the grid through ‘feed-in tariffs’. Water meters will be introduced in homes in the South East and other areas suffering "water stress". Again the burden of paying for all this will fall on the consumer in the short term as energy companies pass on the cost, though it should lead to cuts in fuel bills in the long term. Environmentalists said more incentives need to be provided such as an obligation to carry out an upgrade before selling on a house. All new homes will be "zero carbon" by 2016 and Labour will continue with the construction of new eco-towns, despite local protests.
* ENVIRONMENT: Link together new protected areas of habitat; maintain the Green Belt; increase forest and woodland areas.
The manifesto pledges to "sustain" the green belt, by ensuring 60 per cent of new development should be on brownfield land. But since Labour still plan to build millions of new homes and there is no moratorium on building on the green belt, countryside groups remain concerned. A whole new approach to managing land will ensure that nature is protected. As well as putting forward new areas for forests and wildlife protection, "green corridors" will connect nature reserves that already exist so animals are not confined to isolated pockets of countryside. Farms, industry and development will have to do more to protect the environment. A new path around the whole of the English coastline will be built. New legislation will improve water management and flood defence but there is no guarantee of more money for this area, despite repeated requests by the Environment Agency.
* FOOD: Ensure fairness for food producers through EU reform and a Supermarkets Ombudsman and support post offices, shops and pubs in rural communities.
A supermarket ombudsman to monitor and enforce "the grocery code of practice" will be introduced but the details have not been decided and farmers remain concerned that the retailers themselves are being given too much power over the new watchdog. But it will be left up the EU to ensure labels on meat are clearer. Farmers will also be watching closely to ensure that Labour fight to maintain subsidies for food production as well as environmental protection in the new Common Agricultural Policy due to come in from 2013. Councils will be encourage to provide more land for 'grow-your-own' and allotments and children will learn about growing food in schools.
* RURAL AFFAIRS: Maintain the hunting ban and support post offices, shops and pubs in rural communities.
A 50p per month broadband tax on phone bills will pay to ensure people in rural areas have better connection to the internet. Rural communities are promised continued funding for small businesses and affordable housing. Key services like bus services and rural schools will be protected. Councils will have to take into account the importance of local services to the community before changing the use of pubs, the post office and local shops. And communities will be encouraged to find "imaginative solutions" to retaining services locally like community ownership and running the post office from the pub. But countryside campaigners called for more help for key services. The ban on foxhunting is in danger of being over turned by the Tories so Labour will be hoping to pick up some votes from animal rights activists.
* BINS: Banning recyclable and biodegradable materials from landfill.
The manifesto does not go into detail but this means a lot more households will have to start collecting food waste separately in "slop buckets". There will also be more bins on the streets to provide more ‘recycling on the go’. But the manifesto stops short of mentioning 'bin taxes' as a way to encourage more recycling.
* CLIMATE CHANGE: Push for ambitious international deal on cutting carbon emissions.
You can guarantee all the parties are going to support an international climate change deal that will cut carbon emissions globally. Labour go a little further by confirming that from 2013 the UK will give money to developing countries vulnerable to climate change "additional to our commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of national income in overseas aid". Labour have promised to campaign internationally to protect rainforests and endangered species. However they do not go as far as the Tories who will ban the sale of illegal timber in Britain. The manifesto promises to invest in high speed rail but the third runway at Heathrow, that every other party would scrap, continues to be a black mark against Labour for many environmentalists. Greenpeace point out that the promise not to allow additional runways does not count out runways at Stansted as it is not likely to happen in the life of the next Parliament.