The Tories and Lib Dems agree that we need a low-carbon economy and the parties have common ground on environmental initiatives, says Andy Atkins of Friends of the Earth
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 12 May 2010 17.03 BST
As the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats inched towards a coalition government over the past few days, much was made of the issues they differ on.
But one of the key things they agree about is the urgent need to develop a low-carbon economy and reap the huge economic benefits this will bring the UK.
With a coalition representing more than half of those who voted and 362 of 650 parliamentary seats, there is a clear mandate and opportunity to deliver a greener, safer future.
The possible appointment of Chris Huhne as energy and climate change secretary would be an encouraging development. Huhne championed green issues in his bid to lead the Lib Dems, and their manifesto made the most ambitious and integrated environmental commitments of the main parties.
An examination of the Lib Dem and Tory election manifestos and recent policy pledges shows significant common ground on green initiatives which could form the basis of a programme to cut emissions.
Based on this, the Queen's speech should contain at least two new green laws.
A new energy bill would deliver on pledges to boost green energy development, with both parties agreeing similar 2020 targets – the Conservatives want 15% of UK energy to come from renewable sources by this date, the Lib Dems 40% of electricity.
There is agreement on the need for new rules to limit climate-changing pollution from fossil fuel power stations and develop a smart electricity grid.
Nuclear is less clear – but if new legislation guarantees the Conservative commitment not to provide public money for new nuclear plants, it will be economically very difficult to build new reactors.
And a housing and local government bill would help deliver on pledges for more energy-efficient homes. It would also ensure local councils play their part in meeting UK climate targets by establishing local carbon budgets and thus limiting the carbon emissions their area can emit.
The emergency budget must have the development of a low-carbon economy at its heart. New green jobs and industries could be created by developing the UK's vast renewable energy potential – one of Europe's best – and slashing energy waste. This would also help tackle fuel poverty and increase fuel security by reducing our reliance on overseas fossil fuels.
The budget must deliver the promised green investment bank and create a fund to further boost the creation of new green jobs.
Opposition to Heathrow expansion was another common policy between the blue and yellow parties - the plan has now been scrapped
Of course other policies are clearly needed. Friends of the Earth is calling for new laws to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation caused by the UK's dependence on imported feeds for meat and dairy.
The UK must also play a leading role in securing a strong and fair international agreement to cut global emissions – with the richest countries making the deepest cuts first.
And there must be a much stronger 2020 UK climate change target. Scientists have warned that the current policy, to curb UK emissions by 34%, is inadequate – and must be increased to at least 42% if the UK is to play its fair part in tackling climate change.
The Liberal Democrats backed this new target in the previous parliament – they must now do all they can to make it a central plank of the coalition's approach to curbing emissions.
Both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives must show that a new approach to politics will also deliver a new approach to delivering the low-carbon future we all need.
And if this government is successful in creating a greener future, it will set a powerful international example – and help kick-start real action to combat global warming and the devastation of our planet's natural resources.
• Andy Atkins is the executive director of Friends of the Earth