Election 2019: Where the parties stand on climate justice

We have a few more days before the 2019 elections. Rival parties are promising a raft of tougher policies, higher budgets and commitments to protect our environment and address the ongoing planetary climate emergency. For the first time, party leaders debated and defended the climate policies and plans in their manifestos in a live TV debate, as well as in radio interviews and various meetings and hustings.

Climate impacts are already happening with the current average global warming of 1.0°C since the start of the industrial revolution. To keep it to a maximum of 1.5°C by the end of this century to avoid dangerous climate change impacts, we have about a decade to be on track to a zero-carbon economy. Do the pledges match the urgency and intensity of the challenges faced by our increasingly warming world?

There is an increased public recognition that as a rich and industrially advanced country, the UK has a high level of historic and existing contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, which adds to climate change and biodiversity loss. We therefore have a big responsibility to ensure that we develop and implement appropriate solutions to the climate and ecological emergency.

At Global Justice Now, we believe that global warming is not just an environmental crisis, but rather a crucial symptom that our current system is in crisis. Climate change is both a social and an ecological crisis.  It is about people’s relationship with nature and people’s relationship with other people, which are both moulded by the need for profit maximisation and exploitation of people and nature in this period of corporate globalisation. For us, addressing climate change is linked with the need to address the crisis of inequality and the increasing challenge to democracy not just here in the UK but also globally.

We have identified a number of key criteria to compare the climate policies in the manifestos of the Conservatives, Labour, Green, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party to see how they fare with a social justice yardstick. We compared their plans to cut emissions and green key sectors while supporting industries for just transition, their budget allocations, how they intend to raise funds, and how they will focus on spending them. We also looked at how they link their climate programs with their other social policies and the urgent need to correct the unacceptable social disparities plaguing the country today. We also checked how they will regulate corporations, which are significantly contributing to the climate crisis. Since climate change is a global issue we also skimmed through their policies for global cooperation and leadership in combatting climate change.

We clustered the policies into five categories and mapped key criteria from which to compare their plans in tables. You can see our tables for: (1) Addressing the Climate Emergency through Emission Reduction; (2) Budget, Finance and Investments; (3) Energy, Industry, and Just Transition; (4) How the policies Guarantee Democratic and Participatory Process; and (5) Global Solidarity and Justice.  

Addressing the climate emergency

Both Labour and Green parties offer comprehensive programs under their respective versions of Green New Deals (GND), which feature cutting carbon emissions, green energy and just transition plans that are linked to the broader need to change our society and economy to address social inequality. It is disappointing not to see the same sense of urgency and ambition in the Conservative party manifesto, many of their pledges trail behind the others. The Labour party’s manifesto framework combines GND, Green Industrial Revolution and a Climate Emergency Bill to put the UK on the point of a net zero economy and drive an equitable economy. Tackling the climate emergency is the core of the Green party’s pledge to voters. It comes with a proposal to spend £100 billion a year, a budget higher than all other parties, to transform the economy to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Apart from the Conservatives, the four other parties exceeded the Paris Agreement commitments by governments to ramp up efforts to reach net zero emissions in time to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Both the Greens and Labour are targeting net zero emissions by 2030, while the Lib Dems and SNP have 2040 and 2045 as respective targets. The Greens promise to produce most of the country’s power from renewables, 70% of which will come from wind energy by 2030 and the rest from solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro and others. They will abolish subsidies for fossil fuels, which is a key step. In addition, their manifesto also talks of large-scale batteries, an overhaul of the National Grid and new interconnectors to mainland European neighbours to help counter any intermittency of supply. Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems include ending fuel poverty in their targets. Both the Greens and the Lib Dems crafted more elaborate schemes for lowering household emissions.

Labour will put bus and railways in public hands to improve, expand and integrate public transport and unify transport and land use. The SNP will also nationalise the structure and operation of the Scottish Railways. Both the Greens and the Lib Dems are promising that no new petrol or diesel cars will be sold after 2030, and to make people taking more than one return flight a year pay a frequent flyer levy. The Greens will also increase airline taxes by cutting the domestic flight VAT exemption and make them pay an additional surcharge on domestic aviation. They will also lobby against the international rules that prevent taxation for international aviation fuel. Labour is the only party that plans to look into emissions from imports in addition to emissions from UK production, making its GND also a global green deal.

Climate budget, plans for energy and technology

Labour is putting its principle that energy and water are rights rather than commodities forward and plans to drive it with £400 billion for its National Transformation Fund of which £250 billion will directly fund the Green Transformation Fund dedicated to renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, bio-diversity and environmental restoration. Both Labour and the Greens will introduce a windfall tax on oil companies, so that polluting companies will help cover the costs. All parties discussed trainings and skills development as part of the transition. Labour and the Greens promised apprenticeship jobs.

Labour’s plan to part-nationalise BT and ensure all UK homes and business will have free access to full-fibre broadband by 2030 could have environmental benefits too. They are also pledging £56 million to create a network of 2,000 new ‘solar power hubs’ at public facilities over a five-year parliament. Most of these ‘hubs’ would be hosted at libraries and each facility could save £3,000 on annual energy bills by installing onsite solar. Under the plan, which is a part of their Green Industrial Revolution, participating facilities would be able to export excess electricity generated by their onsite arrays back to the UK power grid to generate additional income.

The Conservatives’ biggest budget spend of £800 million would go to carbon capture and storage (CCS) by the mid-2020s, to help industrial-scale clusters incorporating such technology to become established. Their other spends would be £640 million for a new Nature for Climate fund and £350 million for Cycling Infrastructure Fund. The Lib Dems will put £100 billion of public finance into climate mitigation and adaptation and environmental conservation and restoration over a five-year parliament. They also promise to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and aim to reach at least 80% renewable electricity in the UK by 2030.

The Green Party commits to the biggest climate budget of all – a £100 billion-per-year push for its overarching vision to make Britain carbon-neutral by 2030. They will remove subsidies for the oil and gas industries, apply a carbon tax on all fossil fuel imports and domestic extraction, based on greenhouse gas emissions produced when fuel is burnt. They will phase out the UK’s remaining coal plants and coal mines.

The Lib Dems and the Greens have good plans and budgets on cutting the number of cars on the road, as well as putting transport budget into improving facilities for walking and cycling.

Labour plans to deliver nearly 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon sources by 2030. They will build 7,000 new offshore wind turbines, 2,000 new onshore wind turbines, and enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches. The Greens will introduce new support and incentives to directly accelerate wind energy development, paving the way for wind to provide around 70% of the UK’s electricity by 2030. The SNP manifesto highlights that nearly 75% of Scotland’s electricity in 2018 already came from renewable sources, and that they’ve doubled exports of renewable electricity to the rest of the UK. An investment of over £10 million in the marine energy sector and tidal innovation, as well as developing a bioenergy action plan through cutting-edge research, will add to that achievement. The Conservatives plan to build a £220 million nuclear fusion plant by 2040 and for the UK’s world-leading offshore wind industry to reach 40GW by 2030. New floating wind farms will be enabled. Labour also mentioned building new nuclear plants to ensure energy security while the Greens and SNP are opposed to nuclear plants.

Global solidarity and reparation for climate injustice

While the democratic and participatory processes such as more powers to regions and local authorities being promised by Labour, the Greens, the Lib Dems and the SNP are important, it is equally essential that the next UK government acknowledges the fundamental reality that the countries and people that are suffering and will suffer more have made the least contribution to climate change. Both the Greens and Labour highly recognise that reality and argue in their manifesto that climate actions should also be made with justice and equality principles.

The Conservatives have doubled their budget for UK international climate finance. Labour believe in climate justice and that wealthy countries like the UK should bear the greatest responsibility for the climate emergency. Labour intends to top-up new and additional spending on international climate finance to bring the total to £4 billion a year, and also support calls for compensation to those nations already suffering loss and damage. They intend to stop all aid spending on fossil fuel production overseas, and redirect it towards clean, renewable energy instead. The Greens intend to phase in an increase in spending on foreign aid from 0.7% to 1% of our GNI and to make the climate emergency and tackling poverty priorities for our international aid budget. Their international policy will focus on co-operation in order to tackle climate and make finance and technology available to support developing nations to develop local Green New Deals and transform their economies.

All parties see the importance of using our position as host to the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow in 2020 to ask our global partners to match UK ambitions. The Lib Dems’ aim to persuade all countries to commit to net zero climate goals at the UN climate conference fails to consider that not all countries have the same proportion of responsibility. Rich countries like the UK need to reach zero carbon first while the others, especially the least developed countries, will follow based on their development needs. 

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Photo: Channel 4's historic first climate election TV debate. Credit: Channel 4

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