Posts Tagged ‘general election’

Electioneering is in full swing and this year’s campaign has a very different feel to it. Unfortunately it’s not good news for the environment.

Thinking back to 2010, the environmental message was a key part of the election campaign. The manifestos had whole chapters dedicated to the environment, climate change and green economy. The Conservatives made a bold pledge to be the greenest government ever and even had a green tree as their logo!

Politicians work to represent the interests and concerns of the people and back in 2010 things were very different. Firstly, the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis hadn’t really hit home. Secondly, there was heightened public awareness of environmental damage stemming from the explosion of media coverage following the Stern review on climate change. The politicians responded and the environment was catapulted to the forefront of the campaigns.

The election results saw the Green party’s first MP and the Coalition government publish the first White Paper on the natural environment in over 20 years.

Back to 2015 and there is practically no mention of environmental issues in the campaigns. Aside from a cringe worthy reference to sustainable development by Natalie Bennett (Green party) in the 7 party TV debate, the environment has just a page or two in the manifestos and the Tory tree has been obscured by a Union Jack (but yes, the tree is still there!). More on the manifestos to follow on Cow Burps.

Given the current economic climate it’s not surprising that today’s main political messages are around security of jobs, incomes, houses and healthcare. The treatment of the environment across the two campaigns highlights the reactive nature of the political game. But are the politicians really reacting to the needs of the voters? The environment is lost in the current campaigning maybe because it’s seen to directly compete against jobs, incomes, houses and healthcare. But what about the view that these are compliments – that investing in the environment delivers these things? That message still seems a harder sell.

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Like Labour, the Conservatives go for a separate chapter on the environment. In the rest of the manifesto, they use the word ‘environment’ in different contexts: an ‘attractive tax environment for intellectual property’, a ‘better business environment’, a ‘more stable environment for low-carbon investment’…They also have a ‘greener environment’ subsection under Changing the Economy.

Given that they have the longest manifesto amongst the main parties, the Conservatives have also found space for issues not covered in others, like whaling, ivory sales, reform of environment – regulatory quangos, GMOs. They are forthcoming in stating that they will need to use incentives rather than regulation. They say: “Instead of using rules and regulations to impose a centralised worldview, we will go with the grain of human nature, creating new incentives and market signals which reward people for doing the right thing”. As an economist, it’s hard to disagree with this statement. But what does it mean in terms of individual policies they propose. Let’s see…

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

  • We will stop the third runway and instead link Heathrow directly to our high speed rail network, providing an alternative to thousands of flights [it’s not clear what this alternative is…I sincerely hope it’s not Boris Johnson’s Thames Estuary airport idea!]
  • We will block plans for second runways at Stansted and Gatwick.

  • We will grant longer, more flexible rail franchises to incentivise private sector investment in improvements like longer trains and better stations.

  • We can confirm our aim of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. In government, we will lead from the front by delivering a 10 per cent cut in central government emissions within twelve months and by working with local authorities and others to deliver emissions reductions.

  • We will introduce an Emissions Performance Standard to limit the levels of greenhouse gases our power stations produce;

  • We will clear the way for new nuclear power stations – provided they receive no public subsidy.

  • We will create four carbon capture and storage equipped plants, taking coal – one of the most polluting fuels of all – and transforming it into a low carbon fuel of the future [so will Labour they say]

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

  • We will increase the proportion of tax revenues accounted for by environmental taxes, ensuring that any additional revenues from new green taxes that are principally designed as an environmental measure to change behaviour are used to reduce the burden of taxation elsewhere.

  • We will reform Air Passenger Duty to encourage a switch to fuller and cleaner planes.

  • We will tackle illegal logging by pressing for financial support from within a reformed EU budget to be given to developing countries to halt deforestation; pressing for only legally-harvested timber and timber products to be made available on the market; and introducing a new criminal offence under UK law for the import and possession of illegal timber.

  • We will put a floor under the standard rate of landfill tax until 2020 to encourage alternative forms of waste disposal.

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

  • We will pioneer a new system of conservation credits to protect habitats.

This is not fully tradeable system and details are not clear other than short statements made earlier and covered by Limu in an earlier post in this blog. Click here to read that one. Incidentally, this is not an entirely new or ‘pioneering’ idea as Defra has been working on a similar system for the last couple of years. See their report here.

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

  • So we will introduce incentives for electricity network operators to establish a new national car recharging network, making it much easier for drivers to move to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

  • We will create a ‘Green Deal’, giving every home up to £6,500 worth of energy improvement measures – with more for hard-to-treat homes – paid for out of savings made on fuel bills over 25 years.

  • We will fight for wholesale reform of the Common Fisheries Policy to encourage sustainable practices, give communities a greater say over the future of their fishing industries, and bring an end to the scandal of fish discards.

  • We will negotiate for further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to deliver greater value for money while supporting the sustainability of British farming.

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 reform the Climate Change Levy to provide a floor price for carbon, delivering the right climate for investment in low carbon.

6. Mix of instruments

  • We will create Britain’s first Green Investment Bank – which will draw together money currently divided across existing government initiatives, leveraging private sector capital to finance new green technology start-ups.

  • We will create green Individual Savings Accounts to help provide the financial backing we need to create a low carbon economy. [no more details unfortunately]
  • We will introduce a Responsibility Deal on waste – a voluntary arrangement among producers to cut back on the production of waste and improve its disposal – as we move towards our goal of a zero-waste society.

So lots of ticks for each policy instruments and some changes. While they are not being explicit about it some of these changes are already been researched and discussed. So, it comes down to who should action the changes everyone seems to agree. And whether I should be washing my proverbial hair!

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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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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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