General Election 2015: What do the manifestos promise for the environment?
In March the BES, in partnership with CIEEM and The Sibthorp Trust, hosted “People, Politics and the Planet: Any Questions?”, bringing together politicians from the UK’s six largest parties to debate their environmental policies ahead of the general election. With all the party manifestos now published, and less than two weeks to go until the election, we now have a more detailed view of their environmental commitments.
As an independent learned society and charity, the BES is completely politically neutral, and does not endorse any political party or candidate, or their policies. We have identified three key ambitions for environmental policy-making in the next Parliament: environmental policy informed by sound scientific evidence, recognising the vital role of ecological science in meeting societal challenges, and integrating the value of the environment to human wellbeing and prosperity across government.
Below, we have highlighted the main environmental policy pledges of the seven political parties (listed in alphabetical order) involved in the recent televised leaders’ debate. The summaries below are not an endorsement of any political party or their policies, and should not be assumed to be fully comprehensive.
The Conservatives state that they remain committed to “being the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state that that which we found it”. According to their manifesto, they would:
- Extend the life of the Natural Capital Committee until at least the end of the next Parliament, and develop a twenty-five year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity;
- Establish a “Blue Belt” for marine habitats around the UK’s fourteen Overseas Territories (UKOTs), and a “UK Blue Belt” by completing the network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs);
- Ensure that public forests are kept “in trust” for the nation, and plant 11 million trees;
- Protect the Green Belt and build new infrastructure in a way that minimises environmental impact, and launch a programme of “pocket parks” in towns and cities;
- Meet our climate change commitments by cutting emissions as cheaply as possible;
- Spend £3 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on enhancing the countryside.
The Green Party states that it “prioritises the protection of the land, the seas and their inhabitants” and that we need to “return protection of our natural landscape to a central part in our national life”. They would:
- Introduce a Nature and Wellbeing Act, a new legal framework for the protection of landscape and wildlife, as well as a Forests Protection Bill;
- Dramatically reduce pesticide use, including banning neonicotinoids, prioritise agri-environment schemes, promote organic farming methods, and support a moratorium on GMOs;
- Ensure that everyone lives within five minutes’ walk of a green space, and introduce a Nature Improvement Area in every town, city and county;
- Reform the CAP to promote landscape scale conservation so that all farm payments are directed towards environmental protection and improvement;
- Expand the UK’s network of MCZs and play our part in creating a Southern Atlantic Reserve;
- Ensure that conservation in UK Overseas Territories is funded to an appropriate level;
- Increase the amount of land protected through the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, and defend against attempts to weaken them;
- Tackle climate change by reducing emissions by 90% in the next 15-20 years, with the aim of zero carbon by 2050.
Labour’s main manifesto is supplemented by its “Green Plan”, which gives greater detail on the party’s environmental policies. They state that “tackling environmental challenges is a matter of fundamental social justice”. They would:
- Support the work of the Natural Capital Committee in delivering a twenty-five year plan to reverse the decline of the natural environment, tackle climate change and increase access to nature;
- Deliver a “step change” in nature conservation building on the Lawton Review;
- Deliver a full marine protected area around Pitcairn, additional areas around other UK OTs, and establish an ecologically coherent network of UK MCZs;
- Maintain forests in public ownership and create new woodland near people’s homes;
- Promote access to green spaces in local planning, and maintain current Green Belt protections whilst introducing an enhanced “Brownfield first” policy.
- Aim to play a leading international role in tackling climate change, including pushing for an ambitious agreement at the UNFCCC conference in Paris, and introduce an extensive climate change adaptation programme prioritising flood defence;
- End the badger cull, and free up £150 million of CAP funding for better environmental protection
The Liberal Democrats state that they they would “ensure that protecting the natural environment becomes a core commitment of every government department and agency”. They would:
- Put the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing and pass a nature act with legally binding targets for biodiversity, clean air and water;
- Designate an ecologically coherent network of UK marine protected areas by 2020, and create a one million square kilometre southern Atlantic Ocean reserve;
- Follow the Independent Panel of Forestry recommendations to protect the national forest estate, and plant at least 750,000 trees a year;
- Increase the amount of accessible green space including through the creation of new “National Nature Parks”;
- Introduce a legally-binding target for Zero Carbon Britain by 2050, to be monitored and audited by the Climate Change Committee, and introduce a national resilience plan for adapting to climate change;
- Implement a comprehensive strategy to tackle Bovine TB, with existing badger cull pilots only continuing if they are shown to be effective, humane and safe;
- Ensure farming support is concentrated on sustainable food production, conservation and tackling climate change.
As with the SNP, Plaid Cymru do not outline their environmental policies in detail as environment is a devolved issue. More detail about their policy positions can be found on their website. They do however identify a number of priorities in their Westminster manifesto. They would:
- Seek to transfer full responsibility for Wales’ natural resources to the National Assembly for Wales, establishing a publicly owned energy company and prioritising renewable energy;
- Introduce a Climate Change Act for Wales, adopting challenging carbon reduction targets;
- Support a moratorium on the growth of GMOs;
- Work to prevent the spread of invasive non-native species.
As the environment is a devolved issue, the SNP do not set out their environmental policies in detail in the Westminster manifesto. More information about their policies in Scotland can be found on their website. However they do highlight several environmental priorities that they would pursue at a UK level. They would:
- Call on the UK government to adopt ambitious carbon reduction targets in line with Scotland and continue to support a moratorium on fracking;
- Support investment in renewable energy including onshore and offshore wind, hydro power and community energy schemes;
- Support global animal welfare issues including action on the illegal wildlife trade.
UKIP “believe strongly that our countryside must be preserved so it can be enjoyed by future generations”. UKIP want the UK to leave the EU, and would hold a referendum on the issue. Many of their policies are therefore predicated on the UK no longer being a member of the EU. UKIP would:
- Repeal the Climate Change Act and invest in coal and fracking, ending subsidies for wind and solar power;
- Repeal the National Planning Policy framework and replace it with a new framework prioritising brownfield sites and protecting the Green Belt;
- Replace the CAP with a UK Single Farm Payment scheme, which would require adherence to 2013 Entry Level Stewardship requirements, and make match funded grants available for environmental improvements on farms;
- Replace EU directives with local and national regulations;
- Withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy, enforce no-take zones and protect coastal ecosystems by ending destructive industrial fishing practices.
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