Archive for April, 2010

Labour’s manifesto makes a great deal of what Labour has done for the environment while in government and how they will continue the current programmes that are successful. Perhaps that’s what all governing parties do in their manifesto. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never read manifestos cover to cover before!  But the Labour Government has indeed done a lot for the environment so there is no reason why they should not mention these.

Unlike Liberal Democrats who have integrated environmental policies within other related topics and sectors, Labour has a separate chapter on the Environment and only a few references in other sections like transport. Each approach has its pros and cons of course: nice to see integration in the former which, on the down side, ends up repeating the same policies several times under separate headings. Separate focus could be more succinct so long as implementation is more coordinated than writing the manifesto.

Also unlike Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, the key issue in Labour’s coverage of environmental issues is carbon and climate change. I guess we can say that Labour is trying to achieve the integration between environment and other policies through the ‘transition of the economy from a high-carbon to a low-carbon’ one. I like that as an objective but what’s on offer in terms of policy instruments to achieve that?  The text in italics is from the manifesto.

1. Regulations – environmental standards, limits to how environmental resources can be used and so on

  • The Labour Government played a key role in securing a new international agreement at Kyoto [and some mention of the ‘progress’ made in Copenhagen]. In the next Parliament, we will use our leadership in the EU to push for a strengthening of Europe’s 2020 emission reductions from 20 to 30 percent by 2010 as part of an ambitious global deal.
  • Our 2008 Climate Change Act makes the UK the first country in the world to put its carbon targets into law – cutting emissions by a third (34 per cent) by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 on 1990 levels. Our UK Low Carbon Transition Plan sets out a comprehensive strategy for reducing emissions right across the economy, with every government department given its own ‘carbon budget’.
  • Through our two landmark Acts – the Countryside and Rights of Way Act and the Marine and Coastal Access Act – and the creation of two new National Parks in the New Forest and South Downs we have enabled millions of people to enjoy our countryside and coastal areas.
  • By setting and exceeding our target for 60 per cent of new developments to be on brownfield land and by extending the area of Green Belt we have contributed both to the renaissance of our urban areas and to the protection of the countryside.
  • We support a third runway at Heathrow, subject to strict conditions on environmental impact and flight numbers, but we will not allow additional runways to proceed at any other airport in the next Parliament. [Lib Dems oppose a third runway]
  • We will ensure there are 100,000 electric vehicle charging points by the end of the next Parliament.

  • Move towards a ‘zero waste’ Britain, banning recyclable and biodegradable materials from landfill.

  • Link together new protected areas of habitat; maintain the Green Belt; increase forest and woodland areas.
  • We are planning for around 40% of our electricity to come from low-carbon sources by 2020.

  • By 2020 every home will have a smart meter to help control energy use and enable cheaper tariffs; and we will enable secen mission homes to have a fuller ‘eco-upgrade’.

  • We will maintain the target that 60 per cent of new development should be on brownfield land

2. Taxes on environmentally bad behaviour like pollution or (excessive) use of environmental resources

  • We have taken the decisions to enable a new generation of nuclear power stations, and a programme of four clean coal plants with carbon capture and storage technology with a level to fund them.

  • We rule out the introduction of national road pricing in the next Parliament.

3. Allocation and trading of pollution and resource permits like emissions of carbon and fish catch

No explicit mention but I guess increasing EU’s commitment to carbon emissions reduction would require some extension of EU ETS.

4. Subsidies to encourage the supply of and demand for environmentally friendly technology, improvements in efficiency of using  natural resources

  • We are committed to spending £3.9 billion in the next Rural Development Programme in England, the major part of which will be devoted to agri-environment Environmental Stewardship schemes, improving the quality of our countryside for people and wildlife.
  • We are spending £1.5 billion on climate assistance to developing countries between 2010 and 2012 and are committed to ensuring that from 2013 part of our climate assistance is additional to our pledge to provide 0.7 per cent of national income in aid, with no more than 10 per cent of our Official Development Assistance counted towards climate finance
  • Through our requirement that energy companies provide subsidies for insulation, we will ensure that all household lofts and cavity walls are insulated, where practical, by 2015.

  • Will continue to seek reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) [and] push for fundemantal reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

5. Ensuring full pricing of natural resources which includes not only the capital and labour used in their processing but also the environmental damage caused by their extraction or simply their use

  • We will encourage more people to switch to rail with an enforceable right to the cheapest fare, while trebling the number of secure cycle storage spaces at rail stations.

6. Mix of instruments

  • Make greener living easier and fairer through ‘pay as you save’ home energy insulation, energy-bill discounts for pensioners and requiring landlords to properly insulate rented homes.

  • We will ensure greater competition in the energy supply market. And we will review the role of the water regulator, Ofwat, to ensure customers get the best deal and their voice is heard in price-setting.

  • We will devolve power to local councils to hold energy companies to account for community energy efficiency programmes, and give them powers to develop local energy systems such as renewable and district heating.

Perhaps because I am an economist and I am aware of trade-offs, and limitations to win-win policies – though they do exist, I like the admission in the Labour manifesto of the need “to find new ways of balancing the multiple uses of land: safeguarding food security at the same time as enriching our natural environment; protecting distinctive landscapes while enabling environmentally sensitive development.” Balancing is a difficult act to pull but admitting to the need seems to be a good start.

More manifesto summaries to follow…

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In this instalment of our coverage of the main political parties’ environmental policies, we summarise the environmental proposals in the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto. Starting with Lib Dems is not because of the recent increase in Nick Clegg’s popularity but because of the seemingly extensive discussion of environmental policy in the party’s manifesto.

All the parties claim environment to be important (oh except for BNP who don’t believe in climate change but we won’t be covering their manifesto in this blog) and make statements (truisms?) that no one can disagree. Therefore, it is not what the parties say about their environmental policy that is important but how they propose to implement their policies.

There are many instruments to implement environmental policy. The most successful policies use a mixture of these instruments – some to create carrots and some to create sticks to change the environmentally damaging behaviours of businesses and individuals. The problem with carrots is that in the real world they usually mean money (like subsidising environmentally friendly technology) and governments have to find that money from somewhere. The problem with sticks is that in the real world they mean regulations, fines, taxes, permit trading (like carbon trading) and others which are difficult to get political acceptance, and still cost money to implement (even taxes and permit trading which do / could bring revenue cost money to impose).

So here are the instruments for environmental policy and a selection of how Liberal Democrats are proposing to use them (in italics):

1. Regulations – environmental standards, limits to how environmental resources can be used and so on

  • Save lives and reduce pressure on NHS budgets by cutting air pollution. We will cancel plans for a third runway at Heathrow and other airport expansion in the South East and reduce pollution from vehicle exhausts through tighter regulation. We will aim to fully meet European air quality targets by 2012.
  • Make Network Rail refund a third of your ticket price if you have to take a rail replacement bus service.
  • Set a target for 40% of UK electricity to come from clean, non-carbon-emitting sources by 2020.
  • Block any new coal-power stations – the most polluting form of power generation – unless they are accompanied by the highest level of carbon capture and storage facilities.
  • Reject a new generation of nuclear power stations, based on the evidence nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy.
  • Work with other countries to develop an international labelling system for the environmental impact of products, helping consumers choose those with the least impact on resource use and pollution.
  • Keep the pressure on for reform of agriculture subsidies so that farmers, consumers and taxpayers get a fair deal, and the environment is protected.
  • Set target for ‘zero waste’.
  • Stop major new housing developments in major flood risk areas.

2. Taxes on environmentally bad behaviour like pollution or (excessive) use of environmental resources

  • Ensuring pollution is properly taxed by replacing the per-passenger Air Passenger Duty with a per-plane duty (PPD), ensuring that air freight is taxed for the first time.
  • We will also introduce an additional, higher rate of PPD on domestic flights if realistic alternative and less polluting travel is available.

3. Allocation and trading of pollution and resource permits like emissions of carbon and fish catch

  • Boost investment in clean energy by reforming the EU emissions trading scheme – bringing in a tighter cap on emissions, auctioning as many allowances as possible, and encouraging other European countries to icrease the use of reserve prices in allowance auctions.

4 . Subsidies to encourage the supply of and demand for environmentally friendly technology, improvements in efficiency of using  natural resources

  • Investing up to £400 million in refurbishing shipyards in the North of England and Scotland so that they can manufacture offshore wind turbines and other marine renewable energy equipment.
  • Launching an ‘Eco Cash-back’ scheme, for one year only, which will give you £400, if you install double glazing, replace an old boiler or install micro-generation.
  • Setting aside extra money for schools who want to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings.
  • Encourage community-owned renewable energy schemes where local people benefit from the power produced.
  • Change the tariffs used by energy supply companies so that the first, essential, energy you use is the cheapest. We’ll ensure that effective energy efficiency measures are introduced to keep bills low and that ‘social tariffs’ are available to guarantee the best price for all those in most need. [actually there already is a social tariff in the energy sector and another one is being discussed for the water bills]
  • Work to increase the resourcing of the UN Environment Programme and improve the enforcement of international environmental treaties.
  • Invest £140 million in a bus scrappage scheme that helps bus companies to replace old polluting busses with new low-carbon ones and creates jobs.

5. Ensuring full pricing of natural resources which includes not only the capital and labour used in their processing but also the environmental damage caused by their extraction or simply their use

  • Undertake preparations for the introduction of a system of road pricing (to be revenue neutral) in a second parliament.

6. Mix of instruments

  • Protect the world’s forests, not only to reduce carbon emissions but also to preserve this crucial reservoir of biodiversity. We will argue for an international target of zero net deforestation by 2020, support a new system of payments to developing countries to enable them to reduce deforestation in [a subsidy], and adopt at EU – or, if necessary, at UK – level a new law making it illegal to import and process timber produced illegally in foreign countries.
  • Bring a ten-year programme of home insulation, offering a home energy improvement package of up to £10,000 per home, paid for by the savings from lower energy bills and make sure every new home is fully energy-efficient by improving building regulations

Lib Dem’s manifesto has at least one proposal for each type of instrument. But as you can see from this selection, the majority is in regulations and subsidies. Hard to disagree even harder to implement – especially when it is not clear how successful regulations will be, where the funds for the subsidies will come from and given that most subsidies are for one year, how effective they would be (there are of course other problems associated with longer term subsidies but this post is already long enough!).

We are reading the other manifestos…though not much time left before the 6th of May.

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One of the more interesting (to us in this pasture anyway) phrases in the Conservative Party Manifesto is “a White Paper on protecting the natural environment, including a focus on restoring habitat. We will pioneer a new system of conservation credits to protect habitats ….”. We happen to have an opinion on this as we have just completed a major piece of work on Habitat Banking for the European Commission (see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/enveco/studies.htm#2).

The Conservative suggestion is worrying in the context of their other promises of reducing the size of Government and favouring local delivery. Although not entirely clear, we interpret ‘conservation credits’ as analogous to some kind of habitat banking. As our report describes, habitat banking is a system driven by regulation, which needs new compensation mechanisms to be effective in the UK, and can give most benefit if coordinated to produce strategic outcomes (like climate change adaptation).  Habitat banking offers an innovative market-based approach, but equally brings risks and requires strong design and implementation.

In any case it is good to see biodiversity getting a mention in the manifestos. We’ll be searching for more…

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While pottering around on the internet I found an interesting graph of the greenhouse gas effects of the Eyjafjallajökull (try saying that three times fast!) volcano, the one in Iceland which blew its top on Wednesday evening.

It is a favoured argument of anthropocentric (human centred) climate change deniers that volcanoes throw up more greenhouse gases than human activity does.  This is understandably a plausible argument for those unversed in climate science, so let’s use a case study to investigate it.

As you probably know, planes have been grounded in the UK since Thursday morning, causing much havoc etc., but also, interestingly, throwing up the question of whether the volcano has created positive or negative net emissions of greenhouse gases.  That is, does the effect of less greenhouse gas emissions from grounded planes outweigh the effect of more greenhouse gas from the volcano?

The answer is that because of the grounding of the planes, the volcanic eruption has actually produced a negative net emission of greenhouse gas, in other words, less emissions.

Unfortunately, the grounding of flights can have other effects including impacting on the UK economy.  However, Anthony Kleanthous points out that had we already “taken steps to redesign our economy according to the principles of sustainable development, the grounding of our air fleet would have been far easier to take“.

An interesting point and I hope our train and ship services are taking full advantage of the situation to show customers how the alternatives can be enjoyable and convenient!

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As you know, the general elections have been called in the UK and are set for the 6th of May.  All of us in the pasture are intending to follow along and we plan to do some specialised election moos on the blog too!

To start off with, how about the first ever televised leaders debate last night! I thought it was fascinating, but where was the environment in all of this?  Presumably the debate was expected to cover all the headline issues: The economy, education, welfare, crime…

But see here, politicians and debate organisers! Even though the abysmal set may have made you think you were in the 1980s (check out this picture from the Telegraph), we are indeed in 2010 and the environment and the climate should be a headline issue in the elections.

To be fair, Labour has made the environment a key issue in its manifesto.  The Lib Dems have kind of made it an issue by including it as part of their ‘Your World’ issue.  And the Conservatives? (Well firstly they don’t even try to engage with us by using their technology; Labour and Lib Dem both have videos of their manifestos and secondly…) the environment is buried at the end in Chapter 4 of 5!

So us cows over here in the pasture are very concerned by the fact that our politicians aren’t taking the environment seriously enough. What happens in the next two terms will affect the entire human population for generations to come, so why aren’t we talking about it?

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