Green voters support a party that places the environment low in its priorities, and whose political agenda is part of the problem• Response from Green Party candidate Chris Goodall
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 15 April 2010 11.32 BST
I write as a voter not as a scientist, but as I work on climate change and you might feel inclined to vote Green to voice your concern about the issue, you might like to know why I won't. This is not about tactical voting, nor any lurid revelations about climate conspiracies or Green party funding. It's about their climate policy record.
This may seem harsh, given that the Green Party doesn't mention climate change in the policies highlighted on their website, while the environment is consigned to page 33 of the manifesto the party launched today. It is a measure of how toxic the issue has become, after Copenhagen and the hacked email row that not even the Greens want to draw attention to it. Plus how can anyone object to the policy record of a party that has only recently achieved power beyond allotment associations?
That cliche only works in Britain. The Greens have been a force to be reckoned with in European politics for years. In the run-up to Copenhagen last December, Europe's leadership spoke from a script largely written by Europe's Greens: wholehearted support for a legally binding system of internationally negotiated emission quotas based on the principles of "fairness" and "common but differentiated responsibilities".
If Kyoto/Copenhagen had worked as intended, it would have established the principle that a valuable global resource should be allocated according to formulae devised by technocrats in obscure late-night negotiations, not according to who is prepared to pay for it. This was the reason the Chinese vetoed it, despite the fact that they stood to gain very substantially in the short term.
All the major British political parties, when they mention climate change, focus on the 2% of global emissions produced by Britain. Their policies for the other 98% seem to amount to nothing more than "showing leadership" and a vague commitment to keep up the good work on the Kyoto/Copenhagen process.
British climate foreign policy could matter. We have been one of the main cheerleaders for binding emission quotas ever since John Prescott negotiated the original deal in Kyoto in 1997. If the new energy and climate change secretary were to announce on 7 May that Britain was joining America and China in a fundamental re-think – addressing the problem at the point fossil carbon comes out of the ground, for example, rather than the futile task of chasing down emissions – the results could be dramatic. Such "upstream" measures would make fossil energy more expensive for everyone, making it much harder to use climate policy as a tool for wealth redistribution or an excuse for an international pork-fest. Europe's Greens would, of course, be incandescent, but their favoured approach is going nowhere: witness the failure of the Emission Trading System to actually reduce emissions, and the humiliation of Europe's leaders excluded from the final negotiations of the Copenhagen accord.
The Greens are no better on domestic climate policy. Their manifesto revels in the opportunity of using decarbonisation as a tool for social change, redesigning our cities, houses and transport systems to suit their vision of a socially inclusive future. Solutions that would not require fundamental changes in how we live and run large chunks of the economy, such as carbon capture or the nuclear option, are either ignored or ruled out.
I have no doubt that avoiding dangerous climate change will be a major factor shaping society over the coming century, along with dealing with global pandemics and containing the likes of Osama bin Laden. But we should fix the problem of climate change, which will make certain forms of energy much more expensive, and let our children decide how they wish to live their lives. I don't trust any party that sees climate change as an opportunity to push a largely unrelated social and political agenda.
The irony is that, in Chris Goodall, I have an excellent Green candidate for MP. As a thoughtful, humane and approachable intellectual, genuinely committed to the environment, he belongs in the Cabinet, not on the Green party ticket. Of course, then he might have to make some real decisions.
The environment will not be a serious issue in this election. But for those that do care about it, this election is an opportunity for a serious debate about environmental policy. It is time to break the link, beloved of Europe's Greens, between environmental protection and progressive social policy. Insisting that we have to reform capitalism before we can save the planet is clearly a good idea if your priority is reforming capitalism, but a very bad idea if you want to persuade China to help save the planet.
I fear that many people will be voting Green because they want to send a message of concern about climate change. How many realise that they will be voting for a party that places the environment relatively low in its policy priorities, and whose political agenda has become part of the problem, not part of the solution? No one who really cares about the environment should consider voting for a party that is prepared to hold the planet hostage to its social justice agenda.