It’s party conference season again, when each political party meets to discuss the previous political year, and to set agendas and policies for the next. With the2015 UK General Election approaching, these conferences give indications of party directions and manifesto policies. With the environment far from their main focus recently, and with environmental leadershipseverely questioned, how did the main parties fare on this important issue?
The smaller party in the governing Conservative-Lib-Dem coalition, the party has come under fire for not doing enough to maintain their historical ideological principles within government.
At the conference much was made of their role in winning fights within the coalition on the environment, as a preventative check against their political partners the Conservatives.
The abandonment of their historic opposition to nuclear power was controversial for many in the party, but appears to be part of a move to be seen as green pragmatists, alongside backing for regulated fracking. A mandatory 5p plastic bag charge was welcomed across the environmental sector - but many regard it as too little too late; a token policy at best.
This was seen by many as a crucial point for the opposition party, having been criticised for non-vocal opposition, and a lack of viable policies. Labour were responsible whilst in government for passing the historic Climate Change Act, but climate change has recently rarely been featured in main Opposition work.
Thus, whilst Labour’s cautious support for fracking remains a frustrating issue for many environmental campaigners, the inclusion of climate change and green growth in the Ed Miliband’s main speech has been welcomed as a much promising signal. Equally welcome was their use of intergenerational framing. Their pledge to decarbonise the energy market seems a bold and symbolic move, however with another pledge to freeze energy prices, some are cautious on the practicalities of achieving both simultaneously.
It is also interesting to note the presence of different departments at ‘green’ fringes - from industry spokespersons to business shadow ministers. It would appear that across the spectrum and departments, ‘green growth’ is on-message and supported.
In 2010, the Conservatives pledged to be ‘the greenest government ever’. Despite much posturing, little has been seen to qualify such a title, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne seen as a block to environmental policies.
Unfortunately the Conservative conference has done little to attempt to reassert climate leadership. George Osborne’s negativity and Owen Paterson’s narrow-minded denial of the dangers of climate change reflect a larger sceptic attitude within the party.
Greg Barker did highlight the benefits of green jobs and need for a community energy ‘revolution’, however with the Treasury potentially blocking environmental policies, it is unsure how this will manifest itself.
Climate change itself was rarely mentioned during the conference speeches; David Cameron did highlight green jobs, but in the same breath as championing fracking’s potentials, not clarifying a confused energy policy.
The conferences were a mixed bag, with conflict about environmental and climate issues not just between parties, but frequently within parties. There are however some promising signs; Labour’s re-inclusion of climate change as a key priority must be welcomed, although some would argue that parties have promised as much before, only to forget their green credentials within government. In addition, the Conservative calls for community energy production and Lib Dem’s aims to be the ‘greenest party’ are positive. However there are serious negative aspects - the dash for gas, ministers suggesting ‘positives’ of climate change, and conspicuous omissions of climate change from key speeches.
What is clear is that, with the IPCC calling for greater government action to stop climate change, we must do more. This is not a party political issue, but one that needs cross-party consensus. Parties must overcome petty squabbles or alternative agendas if the UK is once again to be a world leader in the fight against climate change. 2008’s Climate Change Act was a historical moment, and we must be equally as bold in order to create a cleaner, fairer future for all.