Last reviewed 26 May 2017

Protecting the environment tends to have a low profile in national election campaigns. But with growing concern over climate change, flooding, air pollution and public health, the environment has its place and can even be a vote winner. So, if your vote is likely to be swayed by green policies it might be worth knowing what some of the mainstream parties are offering. John Barwise has been checking out the small print in the manifestos.

The 2017 General Election is well underway and all the major political parties have now published their manifestos. The snap election caught many by surprise, not least because the Prime Minister, Theresa May said there wouldn’t be one. Divisions in Westminster and the need for a “strong and stable” Government, ahead of the Brexit negotiations, were Theresa May’s main reasons for the U-turn.

Unsurprisingly, the first few days of the campaign did focus on securing the best deal for the UK post-Brexit. For the Tories, a hard Brexit is better than a bad Brexit, while Labour argued to retain ties with Europe and not make controlling immigration the overarching priority. The Liberal Democrat and the Green Party are both calling for a second referendum on the final terms of the Brexit deal.

Over recent days, the debate has shifted to more traditional issues — the economy, welfare, the NHS, education and supporting local businesses. The environment hasn’t really featured in any of the debates or the media so far, but it does have detailed coverage in most party manifestos.

And so it should — the environmental goods and services sector (EGSS) is one of the strongest growth sectors in the UK, contributing £29.0 billion to the UK economy in 2014 and over £61 billion on a production output basis. The EGSS grew 18.7% between 2010 and 2014 and provides 373,500 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the UK — an increase of 10.9%, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Green manifesto pledges at a glance

Here’s what some of the manifestos are offering on energy, climate change and environment.

Energy and climate change

Energy and climate change has maintained a high-public profile for several years because of the growing threat of global warming and the international commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions. All the main parties are committed to a low-carbon economy and will reduce carbon emissions and phasing out coal-fired power generation. But the recent cut in renewables tariffs, a multi-billion pound investment in nuclear power and rising energy prices for both businesses and domestic users, continues to raise concerns with the electorate.

Energy prices

  • Conservatives — undertake a review of energy costs and introduce a tariff cap to extend price protection for some vulnerable customers. The party is committed to maintain the retail energy market and says switching between suppliers for better deals will be easier.

  • Labour — keeps domestic energy bills below £1000 a year and invest in new publicly owned and decentralised energy provision.

  • Liberal Democrats — reduce energy bills permanently by improving home insulation and back new entrants to compete with the Big Six. There are also plans to review business rates and reduce the burden on small firms.

  • Greens — end the monopoly of the Big Six by building democratic, locally-owned schemes and introduce progressive energy tariffs so that small consumers pay less.

Energy efficiency

  • Conservatives — establish an industrial energy strategy to help large businesses cut their energy bills. Energy efficiency of poorer domestic users would be improved to EPC Band C by 2030 — energy efficiency measures for new homes would also be reviewed.

  • Labour — commits to insulating four million homes as an infrastructure priority and introduce interest-free loans to homeowners to improve energy efficiency. As part of its Brexit negotiations, Labour would also prioritise tariff-free energy to keep business costs down.

  • Liberal Democrats — introduce a Green Building Act including new energy efficiency targets and restore the “Zero Carbon Standard” for new homes.

  • Greens — embark upon a national programme of insulation and retrofitting to make every home warm — bringing two million people out of fuel poverty, insulating nine million homes.

Renewables

  • Conservatives — has reduced tariffs for solar energy and abandoned onshore wind energy, but does support offshore wind power.

  • Labour — committed to 60% of UK’s energy coming from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030, and will support tidal lagoons and other “state-of-the-art” renewable and other low carbon energy technologies.

  • Liberal Democrats — restore government support for solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind and support tidal lagoons. Plans to build more electricity interconnectors to underpin higher reliance on renewables.

  • Greens — renewable energy targets will be strengthened with additional support for onshore wind and solar PV and increase investment in offshore wind and marine renewables.

Nuclear

  • Conservatives — no mention of nuclear power in the manifesto, except security against terrorism, but is committed to new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C. Plans for the new plant at Moorside Cumbria are in doubt following the decision by Westinghouse, to file for bankruptcy.

  • Labour — plans to remain members of European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), post-Brexit and support new nuclear projects.

  • Liberal Democrats — support new nuclear role in energy supply and membership of Euratom.

  • Greens — cancel Hinkley Point C (saving £37 billion), and other new nuclear power stations, and use the money to invest in renewable energy, a flexible grid and interconnection to Europe.

Fracking

  • Conservatives — support fracking and will change planning law for shale applications and set up a new Shale Environmental Regulator, to take over the functions of the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

  • Labour — will introduce a ban on fracking, which it says would lock the UK into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels.

  • Liberal Democrats — oppose fracking arguing that it will have an adverse impact on climate change, the energy mix and the local environment.

  • Greens – will ban fracking and phase out of the £6 billion a year fossil fuel subsidies.

Environment protection

The natural environment is in long-term decline due largely to growing pressure from expanding urban development, industrial agriculture and climate change. A State of Nature report, published by a partnership of more than 50 organisations in 2016, describes the UK as one of the “most nature-depleted countries in the world” with more than one in seven species facing extinction and more than half in decline. Habitat loss and the continuing decline in biodiversity is threatening core functions of the ecosystem that are essential for human welfare.

  • Conservatives — will publish its long-awaited 25-Year Environment Plan, detailing how the environment will be protected following Brexit, and will work with farmers, food producers and environmental experts to devise a new agri-environment system.

  • Labour — will retain EU environmental regulations following Brexit and will establish an environmental tribunal to hear challenges to unlawful government decisions. Labour will safeguard habitats and species, and prioritise “sustainable, long-term future for our farming, fishing and food industries”, and invest in environmental skills, technology and innovation to improve environmental quality.

  • Liberal Democrats — claim EU is the best framework for a “greener environment” and will retain EU standards, including a national wellbeing strategy covering all aspects of the environment.

  • Greens — say the environment is “at the heart of everything” they do. There are plans to introduce a new Environmental Protection Act to safeguard and restore the environment, protect and enhance biodiversity, promote sustainable food and farming, and ensure animal protection with extra protection for Green Belt, national parks, SSSIs and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Air quality

The UK is in breach of EU air quality regulations. A number of UK cities including London, Manchester and Glasgow are currently failing to meet relevant standards for nitrogen dioxide, largely because of pollution from road traffic. Outdoor air pollution is contributing to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal College of Physicians, while, respiratory, cardiovascular, and a range of other related illnesses linked to air pollutants, are estimated to cost the NHS services approximately £20 billion per year.

  • Conservatives — plan to take action against poor air quality in urban areas and to improve the quality of road surfaces, filling potholes — especially in residential areas — and reduce road noise.

  • Labour — plans include a new Clean Air Act to deal with legacy of illegal air pollution and retrofitting diesel buses to improve urban air quality.

  • Liberal Democrats — will introduce a new Air Quality Plan and Green Transport Act to reduce air pollution. Plans include a diesel scrappage scheme, ultra-low emission zones in most polluted cities and regulations for buses and licensed hire vehicles to run on ultra-low emission fuels.

  • Greens — plan a new Clean Air Act and expanding a mandatory UK Clean Air Zones Network. Other plans include cancelling all airport expansion and ending subsidies on airline fuel.

The manifesto pledges mentioned here are just a few of the green policies that all the main political parties are planning to introduce. For a more detailed assessment, check the manifestos in detail at Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrat and Green Party.

Other political parties represented in the House of Commons, including devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, also have their own green policies.