Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Exploring the GE2017 Manifestos: Energy and Environment

We've heard a lot of Environmental Issues bashing over the past year. Climate Change deniers have been crawling out the woodwork, intent on trying to derail the brilliant Paris Agreement on Climate Change that would see global temperatures ideally reduce by 2C by 2030. There are right-wing commentators who are lusting after the economic opportunities opened up by fracking (shale gas exploration) without caring about the impact on the rural communities and wildlife that they've probably never bothered to visit. Clean Air isn't seen as much of a priority than it should be. And in the UK we are worried about the potential impact on Brexit on rural communities and wildlife with only vague commitment being shown by the Conservatives to guarantee EU environment directives are kept (intact) in UK legislation post-Brexit. I care deeply about the future of the countryside and our native species and I want to see cleaner air in our cities with green spaces in our cities protected from development. Therefore I read the manifesto promises on the Environment very carefully.

  • Labour have noted that the Conservatives, under David Cameron and Theresa May's leadership have "broken their promise to be the greenest government ever". This is clear from the Government's recent decision to privatise the Green Investment Bank (after it was established under the Coalition Government thanks to Vince Cable) and their Clean Air Strategy, which has been criticised by High Court judges for being too weak on effective policy.
  • Labour would "introduce an immediate emergency price cap" so that average dual-fuel bills remain under £1,000 a year,
  • Labour would bring the enemy system back into public ownership, starting with regaining control of energy supply networks and then support the creation of local energy companies and co-operatives that would be accountable with one in every region of the UK. Publicly owned companies would also be able to purchase regional grid infrastructure and national grid infrastructure would eventually come back into public ownership "over time" (i.e. it'd take more than 1 parliamentary term to enact the policy).
  • Labour would insulate 4 million homes to reduce fuel poverty deaths "as an infrastructure priority".
  • Homeowners would be given the opportunity to take out interest-free loans to improve their property (hope this doesn't mean installing garden features).
  • Labour would improve the Landlord Energy Efficient regulations and re-establish the Landlord Energy Saving Allowance. 
  • Labour would "invest in new state-of -the-art low-carbon gas and renewable energy" with a target of "60% of the UK's energy coming from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030".
  • Labour would ban fracking because we're meant to be moving away from an economy that relies on fossil fuels and we're meant to be reducing the amount of gas extraction after 2030 (according to the Committee on Climate Change).
  • Labour are committed to investing in carbon capture and storage systems.
  • Labour would create a strategy to protect North Sea oil and gas assets and jobs. 
  • Labour would invest in renewable energy projects including tidal lagoons. 
  • Labour would continue to support future nuclear projects (and commit to protect nuclear workers' jobs and pensions) but admit there are opportunities for decommissioning on a national and international level. 
  • Labour would remain a member of Euratom because it allows the UK to "trade fissile material" and allow nuclear firms to collaborate on research. 
  • The Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Climate Change Act targets would be fully honoured. 
  • Labour would give financial backing to low carbon sector businesses so they can "secure crucial shares of global export markets".
  • Labour would prioritise tariff-free access to energy sources from Europe post Brexit.
  • Labour would invest in firms who develop and manufacture low-emission vehicles in the hope they "create cleaner modes of transport".
  • Labour would "retrofit 1000s of diesel buses in areas with the most severe air quality problems to Euro 6 standards"; Euro 6 standards were the latest to be introduced by the EU (in September 2015) and slashes the amount of Nitrogen Oxide emissions from 0.18g/km to 0.08g/km (see more https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/know-how/euro-emissions-standards/). The UK will probably maintain these standards post-Brexit. 
  • Labour would give the Fire & Rescue Services "a statutory duty to co-ordinate and respond to floods" and "fund robust flood resilience". 
  • Labour would guarantee all existing EU directives and look at expanding environmental quality standards. 
  • Labour would introduce a new Clean Air Act. 
  • Labour would safeguard all habitats and species in the "blue belts" of the seas and oceans surrounding the UK.
  • Labour would set targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes.
  • Labour would protect British bee species by prohibiting neonicotinoids "as soon as the EU relationship" allows them to (I wonder why the EU haven't banned them yet?)
  • Labour would work with "farmers and foresters" to plant 1 million native trees to "promote biodiversity" and aid flood management. 
  • Labour would keep all forests in public hands.
  • Labour would establish a "science innovation fund" which would include working with farmers and fisheries and there is a pledge to support small scale fishing fleets (no idea what kind of support that would entail, though).
  • Labour would increase the maximum sentence for people convicted of animal cruelty . The guidance from the Sentencing Council (updated in April 2017) states that under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, people convicted of animal cruelty can face an unlimited fine for the least serious offence (lesser harm, low culpability) to a maximum of 6 months in jail in England and Wales (http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/offences/item/animal-cruelty-revised-2017/2-animal-cruelty-revised-2017/). Battersea Cats and Dogs Home believe that the maximum sentence should be increased to 5 years to bring it in line with Northern Irish sentencing guidelines.
  • Labour would promote "cruelty-free animal free husbandry" and introduce a consultation period on how to better enforce those standards.
  • Labour would prohibit the third-party sale of puppies.
  • Labour would introduce a total ban on the sale of ivory.
  • Labour would support the ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
  • Labour has committed to stopping the badger cull, which they believe spreads bovine TB rather than reduces cases.
  • Labour would maintain the bans on fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing. 
Lib Dems:
  • The Lib Dems want to establish a "Cabinet Committee on Sustainability" which would be chaired by a cabinet minister and establish an "Office for Environmental Responsibility" to scrutinise a future Lib Dem government's efforts to meet ambitious targets that are set out in their manifesto.
  • The Lib Dems would introduce an Air Quality Plan and pass a Green Transport Act to reduce air pollution which they argue would help prevent 40,000 premature deaths a year. Measures contained within the Air Quality Plan include:
    • a diesel scrappage scheme with a total ban on the sale of diesel cars and small vans by 2025
    • an extension of Ultra-Low Emission Zones to 10 more cities and towns across the UK
    • all private-hire vehicles (such as London Taxis) and diesel buses which are licenced to run in urban areas will have to run on ultra-low emission or zero-emission fuels by 2022.
  • The Lib Dems would reform vehicle taxation so that there are more incentives available to increase sales of electric cars and there would be funding available to increase the number of electric car charging points across the UK.
  • The Lib Dems would pass a Zero Carbon Act which would put in place legally-binding targets to "reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and down to 0% by 2050". 
  • A British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank would be created which would be able to invest in low-carbon sustainable housing and infrastructure. 
  • The Lib Dems would retain the Paris Agreement targets and "play a leadership role in international efforts to combat climate change" (I must admit it'd be fun seeing Tim Farron try and take Donald Drumpf to task on his lacklustre knowledge of sustainable green jobs and climate change!)
  • Renewable energy capacity would be expanded under a Lib Dem Government, with a target set of "60% of electricity being generated from renewable energy sources by 2030". The Lib Dems would restore support for installation of solar PV (Photovoltaic) systems and onshore wind farms "in appropriate locations" and build more electricity interconnectors to "underpin this higher reliance on renewables". 
  • The Lib Dems would "support investment in energy storage, smart-grid technology, hydrogen technologies, offshore wind and tidal power" and they would fund the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. There would also be more investment for Green Research and Development.
  • The Lib Dems would "support an ambitious carbon capture and storage programme".
  • The Lib Dems still support the building of new nuclear power stations but only when concerns about safety, waste disposal and cost are fully addressed.
  • The Lib Dems would ensure that the UK remains a member of Euratom because they believe collaboration on nuclear research and development is essential and it allows UK nuclear scientists to retain access to research funding.
  • The Lib Dems would bring in a Green Buildings Act which will include an ambition for every home in England reaching Energy rating Band C by 2025.
  • 4 million homes would be made highly energy efficient (Band C) by 2022, with fuel poverty struck households receiving help as a priority.
  • The Zero Carbon Standard for new homes would be reintroduced after the Tories scrapped the Standard with it being extended to non-domestic buildings by 2022.
  • Community energy schemes would be expanded with local authorities being encouraged to create and/or invest in energy saving projects and generating local electricity. 
  • Local authorities would be encouraged to promote demonstration projects such as investing in electric vehicles.
  • The Lib Dems would back new entrants to the energy market to take on the Big 6 Energy firms with 30% of households receiving their energy from competitors of the Big 6 by 2022.
  • The Lib Dems would establish a £2bn flood prevention fund which would provide support to small community and council-led schemes in an effort to "reduce upstream flooding". The Lib Dems would also aim to improve flood defences and introduce higher standards for "flood resilience" for buildings and infrastructure in flood risk areas. This policy could directly help people in areas such as Boston and Hull who want to see better flood prevention schemes in place.
  • The Lib Dems would pass a Nature Act which would finally put the Nature Capital Committee on a statutory footing. 
  • The Lib Dems are committed to "significantly expanding the amount of accessible green space", including the completion of the coastal path and create new National Nature parks to protect up to 1 million acres of accessible green space.
  • The Lib Dems would "protect and restore" all of England's lakes, rivers and wetlands (through introducing higher water efficiency standards) and commit to creating a"marine blue belt".
  • A tree is to be planted for every UK citizen over the next 10 years to help protect the UK's ancient woodlands.
  • Use of neonicotinoids would be suspended "until their use in agriculture does not harm bees or other pollinators" (different stance taken from Labour).
  • Like Labour the Lib Dems would introduce stronger animal cruelty penalties.
  • The Lib Dems would ban caging of hens.
  • Illegal pet imports would be reduced by bringing in "legal identification requirements for online sales".
  • The Lib Dems will fund research into animal experimentation alternatives. 
  • The Lib Dems haven't committed to ending the badger cull; instead they will look into humane ways of controlling bovine TB and provide investment to produce "workable vaccines".
  • The Lib Dems want to pass a Zero Waste Act, with "legally binding targets for reducing net consumption of key resources" and introducing incentives to try and get businesses to invest in resource efficiency. 
  • The Lib Dems would introduce a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups.
  • A statutory recycling target of 70% would be set in England and "separate food waste collection" will happen in at least 90% of homes by 2022.
  • "A coherent tax and regulatory framework for landfill, incineration and waste collection" is to be established under a Lib Dem Government, with them reinstating the Landfill Tax escalator (and extending the escalator to the lower rate). There would be consultation on the introduction of an Incineration Tax too.
  • The Conservatives have pledged to ensure the UK has the lowest energy costs in Europe for businesses as well as households. 
  • There would be an industrial energy efficient scheme created for large companies to incentivise them to put in measures to reduce energy use and cut bills.
  • Smart meters would be offered to every home and business by the end of 2020 (but no idea as to how much this would actually cost).
  • Energy provider switching would be made easier with a "safeguard tariff cap" introduced.
  • The Conservatives want to hold a review into the cost of energy production to ensure the costs remain "as low as possible" but ensure there is a reliable energy supply. 
  • The Conservatives commit to meeting the 2050 carbon emission reduction target. 
  • The Conservatives "aim to lead the world in environmental protections" including reaffirming the commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. There would be "greater co-operation within international bodies" which would help to further protect endangered species. There is also a reaffirmed commitment to creating a Marine "Blue Belt" that would include British Overseas Territories; the Conservatives claim that this would create "the largest marine sanctuaries anywhere in the world". 
  • The Conservatives have pledged to "maintain the UK's global leadership in offshore wind" and have also stated that they are open to expanding onshore wind projects in "the remote islands of Scotland" (because they say local communities would benefit directly from the investment with extra job creation) but no such plans are suggested for England (that might raise a few eyebrows).
  • The Conservatives are committed to spending more on energy storage and promoting the smart grid (like the Lib Dems have also promised).
  • The Conservatives fully back fracking (and shale gas exploration) and would make it easier for companies to get planning permission for exploratory wells with "major shale planning decisions" being taken out of local council hands into those of the National Planning Regime. There would be a Shale Environmental regulator who would "provide clear governance" and "allow decisions to be made fairly". Proposals for a Shale Gas Wealth Fund will also change so that local communities receive more from shale gas tax revenues, perhaps with the payments "being made directly to the people themselves". However most of the shale gas tax revenue would be invested nationally. 
  • There is a commitment in the manifesto to help support the oil and gas industry but even the Conservatives have accepted that there will be eventual decommissioning of the North Sea basin. So they see an opportunity to develop a  "world leading decommissioning" sector so that jobs can be created that could be filled by those whose jobs are at risk as a result of decommissioning the North Sea basin in the first place. 
  • The Conservatives want to make the UK the global leader in "electric vehicle technology" and have set a target of "every car and van to be zero-emission by 2050" with a £600m investment made by 2020.
  • The number of low-emission buses would increase.
  • The Conservatives would "deliver on their commitment to improve natural flood management" 
  • Forests and woodland would be kept entirely in public hands and there would be "stronger protections" for ancient woodland.
  • There would be action taken on animal welfare (yet they want to allow MPs to vote on repealing the Hunting Act, meaning that fox hunts may be allowed in the future despite 83% of the public, including 70% of Conservatives being against the reintroduction of fox hunting when they were asked in a 2015 Ipsos MORI poll...http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/opposition-to-fox-hunting-hits-all-time-high-with-even-most-tory-voters-opposed-a6786411.html ). 
  • The Conservatives would make every slaughterhouse install CCTV systems and control the live farm animal slaughter export system soon after the UK leaves the EU.
  • The Conservatives will follow through on their plans to tighten pet sales, with sales of puppies younger than 8 weeks being made illegal and anyone who breeds and sells 3 or more puppy litters a year to have a formal licence with irresponsible breeders facing an unlimited fine or up to 6 months in prison. Anyone who "trades commercially in pets online" will also need a licence (see more here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-plans-to-crack-down-on-backstreet-puppy-breeders).
  • The Conservatives have committed to planting 11 million trees previously and now commit to planting another 1 million trees in towns and cities and ensure that local councils consult with their residents before they cut trees down. 
  • The Conservatives would reduce litter by "supporting comprehensive rubbish collection and recycling, supporting better packaging" and forcing councils to remove roadside litter and prosecute offenders when they are caught littering. 
  • The Conservatives say they will "be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it", with a 25 year Environmental Plan drawn up explaining how environmental protections will strengthen as we leave the EU. However, you have to question whether a party who advocates fracking and fox hunting can really be seen to be environmentally friendly. 
Overall Thoughts:
In terms of overall vision and policy provided by the 3 mainstream parties, the Lib Dem manifesto seems to me to be the most thoroughly comprehensive, with practical ideas given on how to reduce carbon emissions as well as detail on legislation that they believe would need to be passed to help improve air quality, provide more green transport and improve waste recycling services. However, the introduction of a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups would not be welcome news to workers who drink their morning coffee "on the go" because of hectic working schedules and there's no commitment to ending the badger cull outright.

The Conservative manifesto is full of warm words and certain policies would appeal to voters, especially the idea of a Marine Blue Belt that includes British Overseas Territorial waters and ensuring that litter is reduced on UK streets and roads. They have also put forward the idea of creating a 25 year Environmental Plan but the unwavering commitment to fracking/shale gas exploration, the inability to accept the fact that Hunting Act remains extremely popular with UK voters and there's no need for a random free vote promise on fox hunting along with the shambles they've made with putting together a cogent Clear Air Quality Strategy along with the rather lukewarm condemnation of Donald Trump's decision to remove the US from the Paris Climate Change Agreement makes me question whether they truly care about strengthening environmental protections in the UK and increasing participation in global conservation projects around the world post Brexit.

Labour also has very warm words in their manifesto on the environment. I like their commitment to keeping the Hunting Act in place as well as suspending the Badger cull and the fact they will keep the UK free from fracking (as would the Lib Dems) pleases me. However there is a lack of policy detail in places; for example, I have no idea how Labour would "safeguard habitats and marine species in blue belts" other than suggesting that they maintain the current Conservative Government's commitment to having 127 marine protected areas and there's no idea of whether British Overseas Territorial waters will be included in safeguarding plans as the Conservatives have committed to. Also, what would the "science innovation fund" be used for RE farming and fishing? Would it be used to fund research into sustainable farming and fishing methods?

Energy-policy wise, Labour's policy seems quite ideologically driven with regards to re-nationalisation plans for energy infrastructure. I wonder whether such plans are really that much of a key priority. I like the idea of new energy co-operatives being set up to offer competitive energy prices and the idea of an immediate energy price cap of £1,000 a year will appeal to voters who are worried about prices rising during the Brexit process. I'd have thought it would have been prudent to roll out Smart Meters to households and businesses as the Conservatives will do but perhaps Mr Corbyn believes it would be wasteful.

Unfortunately it seems that the Lib Dems and Labour remain overtly committed to developing new nuclear power stations but the Conservatives do not mention nuclear power once in their manifesto; perhaps their experience negotiating Hinkley Point C has put them off expanding the industry further or perhaps they unsure as to what effect Brexit will have on the energy industry - e,g. whether they will remain a member of Euratom as the Labour and the Lib Dems have pledged to do.

Decommissioning is discussed in both Labour and the Conservatives' manifestos but focussed on different industries. Labour want to develop decommissioning services in nuclear power whereas the Conservatives will focus on developing decommissioning services in the oil and gas sector. What is clear is that both nuclear and oil and gas are not going to be the energy sources of the future and perhaps it is time to consider starting the decommissioning process for both the nuclear and North Sea oil and gas sectors.

Both the Lib Dems and Labour have committed to a target of 60% of energy coming from renewable sources by 2030; the Conservatives don't seem to have much confidence in renewable energy and instead go for the expansion of shale gas exploration line; there's no extra funding announced for geothermal energy or tidal energy projects.

All three parties have thankfully committed to keeping forests and woodland in public hands and there is a general move towards expanding renewable energy sources in order to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and meet legally binding targets (although the Conservatives haven't committed to providing a Carbon plan which would spell out exactly how CO2 reductions would be delivered over the next 10-15 years...they only provide the UK's 2050 C02 target).

All three parties also want to develop electric vehicle technology and put more low-emission buses on the road; the Lib Dems want to see all diesel buses in urban areas running on low-emission or zero-emission fuels by 2022 but there's no idea as to how much it will cost whereas Labour has only committed to retrofitting diesel buses in areas with high levels of air pollution, which might be more achievable.

Overall, I am pleased at the breadth of policies that have been offered in the Labour and Lib Dem manifestos and remain confident that EU environmental protections can be maintained by a progressive government. We need a strong Clean Air Act to ensure that everyone can play their part towards reducing air pollution in our towns and cities and the Conservatives do not really have a very good record on this. The most recent Clean Air Strategy plan published by the Government has been criticised for being weak, with no plans for a national network of clean air zones in urban areas which would not have charges for the most polluting vehicles to deter them from driving and have literally passed responsibility for air quality to local authorities who already have squeezed budgets. The Conservatives will not commit to a diesel scrappage scheme either. This comes after years of heel-dragging by a Tory Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs where several plans were ruled as illegal by the High Court and there was even an attempt to delay publication of the recent plan which the High Court rejected, based on the fact that they were meant to publish the plan by the 24th April prior to the election being called (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/27/air-pollution-plan-election-campaign-bomb-court-government). Perhaps the only way forward in uncertain Brexit times is to ensure the Government can continue to be held to account for their Clean Air Strategy and that could be best achieved through a new Act. The Conservatives will never approve such an Act so my only choice is to vote for either the Lib Dems or Labour.