Where Do the UK’s Political Parties Stand on the Environment?

climate change protesters wave placards

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The 2019 General Election was the first since the UK took the unprecedented step to declare a climate emergency, so it made sense the environment took centre stage during the campaign.

The Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, and SNP all laid down deadlines for the UK to reach net zero carbon emissions. They all promised to spend billions fighting climate change, and vowed to plant huge numbers of trees over the next few years.

But the UK’s third election in four and a half years led to a resounding victory for the Conservatives, the least enthusiastic major party when it comes to the climate and renewable energy. They won their biggest majority since 1987, a total of 365 seats.

If they’re held to their manifesto, you can expect the next five years to see a £13.84 billion investment in the environment, including:

  • £200m of initial funding for a plant that aims to provide zero-carbon energy from nuclear fusion by 2040
  • £800m invested to build a carbon capture storage cluster, to trap and repurpose greenhouse gases
  • £1 billion taken from the overseas aid budget to set up the Ayrton Fund to encourage clean energy development
  • No more fracking, “unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”
  • £500m investment to get energy-intensive industries to use low-carbon energy
  • £640m Nature for Climate fund to plant 30 million trees per year by 2025, and peatland to be restored
  • £500m Blue Planet fund to support developing countries in protecting their oceans
  • A ban on plastic waste being exported to non-OECD countries – though there was no date specified for this
  • £1 billion of investment to the research and development of electric vehicles
  • £9.2 billion invested in a new future homes standard. This will require new homes, schools, and hospitals to use solar panels, waste water heat recovery systems, and/or low carbon heat to cut carbon emissions by 78%
  • Lots of new green jobs – the Conservatives have promised two million by 2030

Beyond these goals, let’s take a look at what our new government stands – and the bolder stances the other parties have taken.


climate change protesters wave placards

Climate change has become a huge issue in recent times


Conservatives

The Conservatives’ manifesto may have promised a £13.84 billion investment in the environment, but it also included many pledges to “support” and “enable” climate-friendly proposals, without clear paths to achieving goals.

This is no surprise when you consider that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a 0% rating in The Guardian’s MP climate score tracker.

This was in stark contrast to Labour’s leading figures, as well as Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who scored 92%. The only bill she opposed was to subsidise nuclear power, which is a low-carbon source, but is not renewable.

Johnson has voted against every climate-friendly bill he’s been present for in Parliament since 2008. He has repeatedly accepted funding from climate-sceptic organisations, and is the only party leader to refuse to participate in a televised climate debate.

Did You Know?

The Conservative Party has promised to create “two million new high quality jobs in clean growth” in the next decade.

In November, respected scientists and former government advisers condemned the government’s climate record, noting that Britain was set to miss several important targets.

And when the latest election became a reality, the Conservatives’ attitude towards the climate was demonstrated by their decision to hire fracking lobbyist Rachel Wolf to put together their manifesto.

The government has also cut subsidies to onshore wind, and raised taxes on solar battery materials. And even though a £13.84 billion climate plan sounds impressive, it pales in comparison with other parties.

Here’s some more information and analysis of their pledges, together with other actions they’ve taken during their time in power.

Overall emissions

  • The Conservatives are aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as pledged by Theresa May in June, just before she left office – but with no specifics on how they intend to get there.

Energy

  • A suspension on fracking was enacted in early November – but activists and political opponents have questioned the party’s motivations, suggesting it was a disingenuous move to win votes. The prospect of a permanent fracking ban has not been raised by the party, which as previously mentioned has hired a fracking advocate to write its manifesto.
  • £200m of initial funding for a plant which provides zero-carbon energy from nuclear fusion by 2040. This has been condemned by Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett, who said: “Why throw money away on tech-fix pipe dreams, at precisely the moment that onshore and offshore wind and solar are delivering better returns than ever before?”
  • £800m of investment to build a carbon capture storage cluster, to trap and repurpose greenhouse gases, “by the mid-2020s”. This vague commitment enables the government to fall short by the next general election.
  • £1 billion taken from the overseas aid budget to set up the Ayrton Fund to encourage clean energy development.
  • The Conservative government slashed subsidies to onshore wind turbines during David Cameron’s time in office, and has not reversed the move.
  • £500m investment to get energy-intensive industries to use low-carbon energy. This goal contains no specific targets, either in terms of time or carbon emissions.

Nature

  • £640m Nature for Climate fund to plant 30 million trees per year by 2025, and restore peatland.
  • They’re planning a £500m Blue Planet fund to support developing countries in protecting their oceans over the next five years. The fund would come from the international aid budget, and would protect against threats such as illegal fishing.
  • No more fracking, “unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”. This leaves the door open to a reversal in policy, which none of the other parties would abide.

Transport

  • At its 2019 conference, the party pledged up to £1bn of investment to the research and development of electric vehicles.
  • In 2018, they set a vague target for new cars in the UK to be “effectively zero emission” by 2040.

Homes

  • The Conservatives plan for a “future homes standard” to be introduced by 2025, which would require new buildings to use solar panels, waste water heat recovery systems, and/or low carbon heat to cut carbon emissions by 78%. They’ve promised to invest £9.2 billion in this project, which will also include schools and hospitals.
  • In June 2019, the Conservative government raised VAT for home solar-battery system materials from 5% to 20% for most people.

Governance

  • The party intends to create a new, independent ‘Office for Environmental Protection’ to oversee public bodies’ approach to the environment.
  • The Conservatives have also promised to set binding targets on air pollution and charges for plastic use.
  • A ban on plastic waste being exported to non-OECD countries – though there was no date specified for this.

Jobs

  • The Conservatives have promised two million new green jobs by 2030, which again means they don’t have to fulfil this promise by the next general election.

Labour

Labour fell to the party’s worst general election defeat since 1935, despite proposing much more enterprising aims for the environment than the Conservatives. A proposed £250 billion Green Transformation Fund showed how much Labour values the environment and fighting climate change – and there’s every reason to suspect the party will carry on doing so while in opposition.

The party’s leadership watered down the motion, passed at its 2019 conference, for zero net emissions by 2030, instead aiming for most carbon emissions to be wiped out by that date – but that manifesto commitment was still well ahead of the Conservative government’s target.

Did You Know?

Three times as many people in the UK considered the environment to be one of the three most important issues before the 2019 general election compared to the 2017 election, according to YouGov.

Labour also put forward a target for 90% of electricity to be produced through renewable sources, which would have been a huge help to the climate. 

The party’s emphasis in its manifesto on transport fuelled by renewable sources and insulating every single household in the UK was also admirable – particularly as these plans would have cost £310bn – 22 times the cost of all the Conservatives’ aims for the climate.

Labour MPs had an 86% success rate when it came to voting for climate-friendly bills in parliament before the election, placing them behind only the SNP (100%) and the Greens (92%). Their manifesto reflected this enthusiasm for the environment.

Here’s where Labour currently stands on the environment, in contrast to our new government.

Overall emissions

  • Delegates at the 2019 Labour conference approved a motion calling for zero net emissions by 2030, but this aim was altered in the party’s manifesto to enacting “the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030”.
  • Net zero carbon food production by 2040.
  • A £250 billion Green Transformation Fund “dedicated to renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, biodiversity, and environmental restoration.”

Energy

  • 90% of electricity and 50% of heat to be powered by renewable and low-carbon energy by 2030.
  • £12bn invested into 37 new offshore wind farms with a total of 7,000 turbines. This would have theoretically led to a fivefold increase in the amount of UK electricity from offshore wind farms to 52GW by 2030.
  • 2,000 onshore wind turbines built, reversing the current Conservative approach in this area.
  • A windfall tax on oil companies, though no figure was put forward for this proposal.
  • Labour also pledged to build “enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches.” By our maths, that would equate to an impressive 2.4 million panels – so it’s strange that the party didn’t include the exact number as a target.
  • Ban fracking permanently.

Nature

  • The party intended to plant a million trees as part of a plan to ensure the National Health Service (NHS) becomes a net zero carbon emitter.

Transport

  • Interest-free loans on electric cars, at a cost of £60bn over five years. These loans would have been worth up to £33,000, and would’ve allowed for 2.5m people to buy electric cars during this period.
  • £5.8bn invested in the car industry to accelerate the shift towards electric vehicles – nearly six times the amount pledged by the Conservatives.
  • £2.3bn towards the construction of three 51% state-owned battery plants, which Labour called “gigafactories”, to manufacture batteries for electric cars.

Homes

  • Insulate all 27 million households in the UK, which Labour said would cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 10% by 2030. The party expected the project to cost £250bn, of which a Labour government would have paid £60bn – an average of £9,300 per home. Households with low incomes wouldn’t have paid anything, while high-income homes would have received interest-free loans.
  • All new-build homes would have had to be “zero carbon” by 2022, three years before the Conservatives want to have reduced new homes’ emissions by 78%.
  • Plans to install solar panels on 1.75 million lower-income homes.

Governance

  • Companies which don’t take adequate steps to tackle the climate emergency delisted from the London Stock Exchange.
  • Labour planned to create a Sustainable Investment Board including the chancellor, the business secretary, and the Bank of England governor, to oversee the government’s spending on the environment.

Jobs

  • The creation of 320,000 climate apprenticeships in the next four years, then 886,000 by 2030. These would have been in renewable energy and transport, sustainable construction, low carbon industries, and sustainable agriculture and forestry.
  • The party said it would create more than a million new jobs through green investment.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems ended up with one seat less than the last general election, with Jo Swinson losing her positions as MP and leader. They were also positive about the need to fight climate change.

In its manifesto, the party has committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, five years before the Conservatives. It condemned other parties’ proposed deadlines for this goal as a “Dutch auction of fantasy dates”.

“We will deliver a ten-year emergency programme to cut emissions substantially straight away, and phase out emissions from the remaining hard-to-treat sectors by 2045 at the latest.”

– The Liberal Democrats manifesto

The centre-left party was willing to spend £100bn to tackle climate change specificallyseven times more than the Conservatives have budgeted for the environment as a whole.

The Lib Dems also wanted all new cars and small vans to be electric by 2030, and were aiming to plant 60 million trees per year by 2025 (300 million overall). That’s twice as many as the Conservatives, but less than half the 700 million trees proposed by the Greens.

Here are the party’s other aims when it comes to the climate.

Overall emissions

  • Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, with significant reductions in emissions by 2030.
  • Promised to spend £100bn over five years to tackle the effects of climate change. Sir Ed Davey, who served as secretary of state for energy and climate change in the coalition government, said his party would “decarbonise capitalism”.

Energy

  • Sir Ed promised to make the UK the global number one in tidal power, which the country arguably already is.
  • The party pledged to generate 80% of the UK’s electricity from renewable energy by 2030.
  • Ban fracking permanently.

Nature

  • The Liberal Democrats pledged to plant twice as many trees as the Conservatives, promising 60 million trees per year across the UK by 2025.

Transport

  • The party wanted to ensure all new cars and small vans bought in 2030 are electric.

Homes

  • Sir Ed said his party “will invest £15bn more to make every building in the country greener, with an emergency 10-year programme to save energy, end fuel poverty, and cut heating bills.” This programme, the manifesto said, would have led to all homes being insulated by 2030 – as Labour also promised.

Governance

  • All UK companies to set targets consistent with the Paris Agreement on climate change, and report on their implementation. It’s not clear what punishments there would have been for non-compliance.
  • Establish a Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources, and appoint a cabinet-level Chief Secretary for Sustainability in the Treasury.
  • Make all local authorities produce a ‘Zero Carbon Strategy’, including plans for local energy, transport, and land use. Devolve powers and funding to help councils implement these plans.

Green Party

Unsurprisingly, the Greens were the most passionate and ambitious in their climate goals – and it paid off. The party didn’t gain any seats, but did increase its vote share from 1.6% to 2.7% a 69% increase in popularity.

This may have been down to just how far they wanted to go. The Greens were the only party aiming to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and to make this happen, they wanted to create a green new deal worth £1tn over 10 years.

This plan, which the party admitted at the time would have been paid for through borrowing, was front and centre in its manifesto.

“Our very planet is raising the alarm. Hitting snooze for another 15 years is simply not an option.”

– Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley

The Greens also pledged to plant 700 million trees by 2030 – the same year which would have, according to their plan, seen the end of petrol and diesel cars in the UK.

They also aimed to build 100,000 new zero carbon homes for social rent each year, and upgrade 10 million homes to the top energy rating by 2030.

All of this spending would have created millions of new jobs, the party said, and would have been partly funded by climate-friendly taxes on plastics, meat, and dairy products.

Overall emissions

  • Pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2030.
  • The party said it would invest £100bn a year by 2030 (£1tn overall) as part of a “Green New Deal” to tackle climate change.

Energy

  • Wind to provide around 70% of the UK’s electricity by 2030. Solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro, and other renewable energies to provide much of the remainder of the UK’s energy supply.
  • Ban the construction of nuclear power stations and fracking for gas and oil.
  • The party said it would end fossil fuel industry tax breaks and subsidies.
  • The manifesto also included a promise to put a carbon tax on energy and fossil fuel imports, increased over 10 years to make coal, oil, and gas “financially unviable”.

Nature

  • Pledged to plant 700 million trees by 2030, which worked out at a massive 70 million trees per year.

Transport

  • Petrol and diesel cars to be phased out by 2030.
  • Frequent flyers to face a levy.
  • Spend £2.5bn on cycle routes, electrify the whole rail network (two-thirds of the UK’s network is currently not electrified), and scrap HS2. 

Homes

  • 100,000 new zero carbon homes for social rent each year.
  • Get 10 million homes to the top energy rating (A) within 10 years. The current average is D.

Governance

  • The Green Party said it would appoint a “carbon chancellor” to allocate the £100bn per year they pledged for tackling the “climate emergency”.
  • The Greens planned to phase in a tax on meat and dairy products over 10 years. The proceeds would have been invested in teaching farmers to use more sustainable farming methods.
  • Extend the plastic bag tax to bottles, single-use plastics, and microplastics, expand plastic bottle deposit schemes, and ban the production of single-use plastics for packaging.

Jobs

  • The Greens’ manifesto said the party would create “millions of new jobs in renewable energy, transport, land management, and other sectors transformed by the transition to a net zero carbon economy.”

Scottish National Party

The SNP came out of the election with 13 more seats, after winning a landslide 48 out of 59 seats in Scotland. The party has been in power for more than a decade – and that’s good news for the climate.

MPs in Scotland’s largest party (and the third-largest in the UK) can proudly boast a 100% pro-climate voting record in the House of Commons.

They can also point to their record on green energy, which has been extremely impressive over the past few years. In 2018, 75% of the country’s energy came from renewable sources.

The SNP stayed in power after aiming to increase that figure all the way to 100% – by the end of 2020.

“Scotland is a world leader in renewable energy and the fight against climate change.”

– SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon

Just to emphasise that point, Scotland currently produces 25% of the UK’s renewable energy, despite containing just 8% of its population.

By 2030, the SNP wants to reduce carbon emissions by 75%, which is an ambitious goal – but if Scotland’s shown us anything over the past decade, it’s that big targets are achievable.

Let’s look at the other goals the SNP has set for itself, and its record on the climate thus far.

Overall emissions

  • The SNP has passed legislation that commits Scotland to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest, and becoming carbon neutral by 2040. This involves Scotland reducing its emissions by 75% by 2030, and 90% by 2040.
  • In 2012, the SNP created the first Climate Justice Fund, which invests in poor communities affected by climate change. The fund, which is currently financing 11 projects in Africa, will have provided £21 million worth of help by 2021, according to the party.

Transport

  • While in government, the SNP has set the aim to phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 – eight years before the Conservative government’s more vague target for new cars in the UK to be “effectively zero emission” by 2040.

Energy

  • 54% of Scottish electricity was provided by renewables in 2016 – more than twice as much as the average for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – and by 2018, this was up to 75%. The SNP is aiming for the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s electricity needs to be met by renewable sources by 2020.
  • By 2030, the party wants the equivalent of 50% of the energy for Scotland’s heat, transport, and electricity consumption to come from renewable sources.
  • £60 million invested in an ‘Innovation Fund’ to support the development of low carbon energy projects, such as electric vehicle chargers and climate-friendly heating systems.
  • Suspended fracking in Scotland in October, and will continue to do so indefinitely.
  • Intends to pressure the Conservative government to ditch their VAT rise on solar batteries.
  • Spent £23m on the world’s first large-scale tidal energy farm in Pentland Firth, which launched in 2016.

Summary

The most important – and positive – conclusion you can draw from analysing the major parties’ policies is that the climate crisis is finally being taken seriously.

The Greens were clearly out in front before the general election, with their £1tn plan to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and they will continue to blaze a trail for the other parties.

Their aims for the UK to contain 700 million more trees, no petrol or diesel cars, a completely electrified rail network, and 10 million more homes with the top energy rating will move the needle on important issues.

They’re trying to push the boundaries of what’s possible, and other parties are paying attention – though the SNP also deserves a special shoutout for its work in Scotland, and provides a ray of light for those despairing over the Conservatives’ heavy victory.

Josh Jackman Writer

Josh is The Eco Experts’ main man for home security, smart devices, and boilers. If it can make your life better and help the environment, he’s on it.