The election and the environment
With our care for God's creation high on his agenda, former Baptist Union President John Weaver examines the environmental policies of the main parties
What are the things that matter to me? Justice for everyone: sharing with the poor, caring for creation, restraint in the lust for power and wealth.
Our care of God’s creation is high on this agenda as it affects the lives of the poorest in God’s world and the damage to creation is largely the result of human self-centredness.
As we come to vote for a new government on 8 June I believe that we should study the manifestos carefully in the light of our God given calling to ‘act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God’ (Micah 6:8).
The Conservative manifesto states that a successful industrial strategy requires competitive and affordable energy costs. They want to make sure that the cost of energy in Britain is internationally competitive, both for businesses and households. They want UK energy costs to be as low as possible, while ensuring a reliable supply and meeting our 2050 carbon reduction objective. They do not believe that more large-scale onshore wind power is right for England and will seek to be a global leader in offshore wind.
They say that after the UK has left the European Union, they will not form their energy policy on the way energy is generated but on the desired ends of reliable and affordable energy by seizing the industrial opportunity that new technology presents while meeting our global commitments on climate change. Following the success of shale gas extraction in the USA, which has seen the price of gas fall and the economy grow they believe that shale energy has the potential to play a crucial role in rebalancing our economy. They will legislate to change planning laws for shale gas applications.
They believe that the UK can lead the world in environmental protection by continuing to take a lead in global action against climate change, as demonstrated by their ratification of the Paris Agreement. They note that the UK was the first country to introduce a Climate Change Act under a Labour government in 2008), and that we are halfway towards meeting our 2050 goal of reducing emissions by eighty per cent from 1990 levels.
Last week PM Theresa May told Donald Trump of her ‘disappointment’ with his decision to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. In a phone call with the US president, Mrs May said the UK remained committed to the deal; according to a Downing Street statement she said that ‘the Paris Agreement provides the right global framework for protecting the prosperity and security of future generations, while keeping energy affordable and secure for our citizens and businesses.’
But she has been criticised for not signing a joint condemnation of Donald Trump’s action with the leaders of France, Germany, and Italy. In a joint statement, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni declared their ‘regret’ at Mr Trump’s move.
The Green Party, as we might expect have strong environmental policies. They propose an Environmental Protection Act to safeguard and restore our environment, protect and enhance biodiversity, promote sustainable food and farming, and ensure animal protection. In addition they would create a public works programme of insulation to make every home warm and would invest in flood defences and natural flood management to make every community safer. They want active ongoing cooperation with businesses and other countries to limit global temperature increases to well below 20C, aiming for 1.50C.
The party is absolutely opposed to nuclear energy and would ban fracking outright, highlighting its opposition to fossil fuels and concerns based on air and water pollution. As a counter-measure, the Greens hope to increase investment in renewable energy sources, building insulation and flood defences.
They would strengthen the global deal on climate change, including climate justice and the promotion of ecologically sustainable development so that poorer countries can cope with the impacts of climate change.
The Labour Party manifesto states that their energy policy is built on three simple principles: to ensure security of energy supply; to ensure energy costs are affordable for consumers and businesses; and to ensure that we meet our climate change targets and transition to a low-carbon economy. The Labour Party supports the Paris Agreement and combating climate change, hoping to reduce carbon emissions from production of electricity to zero by 2030.
Nuclear power and fracking for shale gas are seen as viable methods for new energy production, but Labour insists that regulations need to be more robust, seeking further research into the lasting environmental effects before agreeing to them. However they would ideally ban fracking because it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas use must decline.
They propose to take energy production back into public ownership in order to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control. Homeowners will be offered interest free loans to improve their property and be encouraged to take up energy efficiency measures.
They are committed to renewable energy projects, including tidal lagoons, which can help create manufacturing and energy jobs as well as contributing to climate change commitments. They believe that building a clean economy of the future is the most important thing we must do for our children, our grandchildren and future generations.
The Liberal Democrats state that climate change and air pollution threaten our future, but by investing in renewable energy and stopping the waste of energy and natural resources, we can protect our health and the environment, and boost the economy. They would introduce an Air Quality Plan to reduce air pollution, and generate jobs and exports by supporting green industries that manufacture electric and low-emission vehicles.
They would ban fracking and seek to more than double green electricity to 60 per cent by 2030; and ensure that 4 million properties receive insulation retrofits by 2022, prioritising the fuel poor.
The Scottish National Party hopes to capitalise on wind and tidal energy, thanks to Scotland’s sparse population and miles of windy coastline. Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru hopes to introduce a separate Climate Change Act for reducing emissions in Wales.
Both parties also oppose the development of new nuclear power stations, and have called for a moratorium on fracking until further research is carried out.
UKIP takes a very different position. Every political party except UKIP has thrown its weight behind the 2008 Climate Change Act. They state that this act is set to cost the country an eye-watering £319 billion by 2030. They believe that this Act has no basis in science, and its aim of cutting greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050 is unachievable.
They maintain that while our major global competitors in the USA, China and India are switching to low-cost fossil fuels, this Act forces us to close perfectly good coal-fired power stations to meet unattainable targets for renewable energy. UKIP would repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act and support a diverse energy market based on coal, nuclear, shale gas, conventional gas, oil, solar and hydro, as well as other renewables (when these can be delivered at competitive prices). They would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, to enhance our industrial competitiveness.
They state that there is a heightened level of scepticism amongst the party members, believing that the relationship between human activity and CO2 levels is open to question.
The above gives an idea of the energy and environmental policies of each party, but I believe that we should each read the manifestos carefully before coming to a conclusion.
When we come to the ballot box it is our vote and it doesn’t belong to anyone else. The political parties will not only try to make their case on particular issues, but also significantly influence what is talked about and what is presented as important. While we might see the role of the media as challenging and rebalancing this, remember that news outlets have their own agendas too.
So avoiding becoming overwhelmed by the election coverage, we might take some time to think through the issues that matter to us. Whether or not these are covered by the newspapers or radio and TV news bulletins, we should seek to find out what the main parties are saying about those things and what our local candidates say about them. We should not be afraid to ask doorstep canvassers and our prospective MPs about the things that matter to us.
Finally, whoever is elected, we should commit ourselves to praying for our government that they may have God-given wisdom in all matters, and continuing to act out our Christian discipleship in caring for God’s world.
Picture | Pixabay
The Revd Dr John Weaver is the Chair of the John Ray Initiative: connecting environment, science and Christianity. He was President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain 2008-9.