Understanding ‘The Climate Election’

Silhouette of a hand posting a ballot into a ballot box

The upcoming UK general election is projected to be so impactful on the nations energy transition that business giant Forbes has dubbed it “The Climate Election”. Decisions made at the polls this week will significantly impact the nation’s ability to meet its climate goals. As such, parliamentary focus on environmental issues should be more prominent than ever. However, the parties standing for election this week have published very different approaches to addressing the climate crisis. Let’s briefly break this down and explore what could come after the results on the 5th of July. 

Labour’s Green Promises

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, unveiled plans for a state-owned clean power company. Great British Energy, aims to “reduce bills, create jobs, and deliver increased energy security”. A key point in Labour’s manifesto is their commitment to addressing volatile energy prices exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They plan to achieve this by implementing a stringent regulatory framework prioritising consumer interests and attracting green energy investment to reduce bills.

Labour also identifies the national grid as a major obstacle hindering the adoption of affordable, clean energy generation and industrial electrification. Labour proposes working closely with industry to modernise the national transmission infrastructure and overhaul Britain’s grid system. These initiatives will work alongside their pledge to accelerate the transition to renewable and low-carbon energy sources, invest in long-duration energy storage solutions to manage renewable intermittency, and implement their £6.6 billion Energy Efficiency Plan.

If elected, the Labour Party aims to protect consumers from future energy price shocks, bolster UK energy security, and pave the way for a sustainable energy future.

Read the full Labour Party manifesto here.

The Green Party’s renewable revolution

In their manifesto The Green Party, long known for their strong environmental focus, published a comprehensive plan to address climate change.

Their manifesto has a strong focus on transitioning to renewable power and fully phasing out fossil fuel reliance. They propose that all new fossil fuel licences be cancelled, a carbon tax on fossil fuel import be introduced and a comprehensive removal of all oil and gas subsidies. This will work alongside their renewable energy integration plan, which aims for wind to provide around 70% of the UK’s electricity by 2030, 100 GW of solar capacity by 2035 and massive investment in energy storage capacity.

To complement their renewable revolution, the Green Party have also pledged to ensure nation wide energy-efficient homes, and green transport solutions. Additionally, they propose a number of initiatives to protect the UK’s nature, supporting biodiversity and tackling sewage pollution of our waters.

In Green Peace and Friends of the Earth’s collaborative analysis of the UK party manifestos, they made the following comment: “There is no long term prosperity or security for anyone without tackling the climate and nature crisis, and the Green Party Manifesto clearly recognises this” giving The Greens a near perfect score in their climate focused ranking system.

Read the full Green Party manifesto here.

The Conservative’s mixed approach

The Conservative Party’s manifesto presents a mixed approach to the climate crisis. While they pledge to protect the UK’s nature by swiftly putting the Global Ocean Treaty into law and banning new waste incinerators, their commitment to issuing more oil and gas licenses, alongside limited action on water pollution and renewable energy roll out has raised concerns. Their manifesto claims the rollout of renewable energy will be supported by new oil and gas licenses, a stance which has been widely criticised. In their recent cross party analysis of pre-election climate policy Green Peace highlighted these concerns. They commented, “The Conservatives are promising new gas plants and more dependence on the very fossil fuels that caused the cost-of-living crisis.”

Despite these concerns, the Conservative Party maintains that they are committed to facilitating an energy transition which prioritises UK energy security. Whilst leading the previous government, they introduced annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas production to supply energy nationally, alongside a windfall tax on oil and gas companies until 2028-29, aimed at ensuring fair taxation during high-price periods.

In the upcoming government, they pledge to bolster energy security through new gas power stations aimed to support renewables during intermittency, rather than investing in energy storage. They also have announced plans to triple UK offshore wind capacity and establish carbon capture and storage clusters in North Wales, the North West, Teesside, and the Humber, aiming to reduce carbon emissions and create new jobs.

Read the full Conservative manifesto here.

The Liberal Democrat’s green aspirations

The Liberal Democrats manifesto is has some strong climate initiatives. Their strengths include solid plans for stopping sewage pollution, tackling emissions from commercial / private flights, making public transport cheaper, and supporting low income homes to improve their energy efficiency. They have pledged to invest in renewable power, aiming for 90% of UK energy to be renewably generated by 2030. Supporting this goal is their rooftop solar revolution plan, a climate-focused industrial strategy, a ban on fracking and new coal mines, and investment in energy storage (including green hydrogen and pumped storage).  Their aim is to facilitate an energy revolution which combats the cost of living crisis, simultaneously protecting the UK consumer from energy price spikes whilst tackling the climate crisis.

However, critics have targeted the Liberal Democrats for their unclear stance on new North Sea oil and gas. Their manifesto neither expressly supported nor refuted new North Sea licensing.

Read the full Liberal Democrat Manifesto here.

Reform UK’s anti Net Zero approach

The Reform UK party contract states that the party will “Scrap Net Zero to cut bills and restore growth”. They pledge to end all renewable energy subsidies, fast track licences for North Sea gas and oil, grant trial shale gas licences and pursue clean energy generation by deploying a new fleet of small modular reactors. They aim to support clean nuclear energy with intensive UK lithium mining for batteries and new ‘clean’ coal mining.

Read Reform UK’s full party contract here.

What comes after the election results on the 5th of July?

The climate and the economy

The climate crisis is not just an environmental problem, but also an economic one. Extreme weather events driven by climate change threaten every area of society, from human health and food systems, to supply chain disruption and exacerbated social inequalities. The loss of biodiversity has already begun to impact natures regulatory processes which protects our access to clean air and water, two fundamental necessities for a stable society. As the climate crisis worsens, areas of the planet will become inhabitable, meaning a projected influx of immigration and climate refugees will add further pressure on public services. It is imperative to tackle the climate crisis if we want to protect global socio-economic security.

The UK’s net zero economy grew by 9% in 2023, whilst overall GDP growth was only 0.1%. These figures highlight that investment in renewables and clean energy technologies has the potential make energy more affordable, boost energy security, and create millions of new jobs and boost the UK’s faltering economy.  It is imperative that the new government maintains a strong focus on sustainable development. To quote Rain Newton Smith, CEO of business organisation CBI “they [whoever forms the next Government] can’t be pro growth without being pro green”.

The call for change is not only coming from environmental nonprofits like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth but also from the private sector. Important figures in the business world have come forward urging the prospective government to provide clear and consistent strategies. Rory Brown, Direct Air Capture specialist and chief executive of carbon capture company Airhive, emphasised this, stating “Whoever gets into government, the importance of reaffirming the commitment to delivering on the UK’s binding climate targets will be present from day one.”

Legislative opportunities for change

The next parliament has the opportunity to drive effective change through the UK legislative framework. There are multiple instances of stalled legislation which could aid in the energy transition. For example the cross-party Climate and Nature Bill which calls for a comprehensive climate change and nature destruction strategy is currently being lobbied for on the run up to the election, with the hope that the next government installs it under their leadership.

The upcoming general election is a critical moment for the UK’s future. Action on climate and nature loss is essential not only for environmental sustainability but also for economic resilience and social equity. The next government must prioritise a climate-positive net zero transition, ensuring long-term prosperity and security. Individual voters play a crucial role in this process. By choosing a party committed to climate action the public can hold politicians accountable.  

The role of the voter

At the heart of these discussions lies the critical role of the voter. As citizens, the main way we can exert direct control over society is with our vote. It is, therefore, incredibly important to have an understanding of climate policy for this election, and make a tactical, educated vote. If you’re interested in climate aware voting, then Vote Climate shows the most climate-positive candidates in your constituency.

This election is, in essence, a quasi-referendum on the UK’s interest in committing to a sustainable future. The choices made at the ballot this week will shape the country’s future environmental policies and determine its ability to properly tackle the short and long term challenges of climate change.

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