I seem to have missed the discussion of dangerous climate change in this election campaign. This is probably the most important issue facing us and future generations. Yet governments continue to prevaricate and dither in the face of a scientific consensus that’s been in place since the 1990s. Every year that passes with no real agreement on reducing carbon emissions increases the likelihood of runaway temperature rises that will be unpredictable and catastrophic not just for us but all the species that share this earth.
So you might think our politicians and media would deem this small threat to our ‘way of life’ worthy of some debate. But no. So what do their manifestos say on the subject? Before looking at them, let’s remind ourselves of a couple of facts.
First, the scientists are now telling us that, in order to keep temperature change to no more than 2 degrees we have to keep 82% of proven coal reserves unburned and in the ground, as well as 50% of gas and 33% of oil reserves. And yet governments across the globe continue to subsidise the fossil fuel industry to the tune of over £300 billion a year, according to the International Energy Agency. This is five times more than the £60 billion spent on subsidising renewable energy,
In the UK, far from discouraging more pointless oil and gas exploration, the government subsidises it with over £750,000 a year. The oil companies also get a handy tax break from the 5% VAT rate levied on gas and electricity rather than the normal 20%. In this year’s budget George Osborne gave the North Sea oil companies another £1.3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies on top of the existing ones. This is even though in the good times of high oil prices from 2008 to 2014 oil companies were declaring 33% profit rates of return.
So what do the political parties say about the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies. Unsurprisingly, the Greens commit themselves to an explicit decarbonisation target along with measures to encourage energy efficiency and invest in house insulation and community owned generation of renewable energy as well as carbon quotas. They want to end fossil fuel subsidies as well as remove subsidies from air travel, a major contributor to carbon emissions. As for ‘unconventional fossil fuels such as shale gas and oil’, these are ‘incompatible with tackling climate change’.
The Tory manifesto is a little vaguer. It relies on reminding us on no discernible evidence that it was ‘the greenest government ever’ and promises to ‘work to prevent climate change’, and support the Climate Change Act of 2008, now widely regarded as insufficient. The Tories will cut emissions but ‘as cheaply as possible to save you money’. This means halting subsidies for windfarms while continuing to hand over vast sums of public money to the fossil fuel sector.
Both Labour and Lib Dems commit to a zero carbon economy by 2050, which is sufficiently far away for a safe commitment. However, while Labour says climate change is at the heart of its foreign policy, it doesn’t mention decarbonisation or the need to stop subsidising our fossil fuel habit. Indeed, renewables are just a part of an energy ‘mix’. Labour leaves the door open to unconventional fuels like shale gas, merely promising ‘a robust environmental and regulatory regime before extraction can take place’. Like the robust regulatory regime it imposed on the banks before the 2008 crash?
The Lib Dems go a little further and commit themselves to decarbonisation, although explicit policy suggestions are few and they agree with Labour on shale gas. It can go ahead as long as it’s properly regulated. Their confidence in a policy of encouraging more carbon emissions in order to raise taxes to fund energy efficiency doesn’t seem too great however, for they’re also calling for a national resilience plan to help the UK adapt to a 3-4 degree temperature rise. If temperatures rise to that level then we’ll be facing a doomsday scenario and a lot more than Liberal Democrats will find themselves irrelevant.
MK pledges itself to a green new deal, a low carbon economy and a Climate Change Act for Cornwall and can be placed between the Lib Dems and the Greens on the issue.
For a real outlier we have Ukip. Ukip has adopted a global warming denial position in recent years. It’s just not happening. Unlike Labour and the Lib Dems the party does aim to withdraw subsidies, but they’re subsidies for wind farms (‘hopelessly inefficient’) and solar power. Fossil fuel subsidies are invisible. Ukip calls for ‘perfectly good coal-fired power stations’ to continue to pump out their carbon emissions, while promising to repeal the Climate Change Act, ‘an act rooted in EU folly’, which has caused ‘untold damage’. More than global warming will? As for shale gas, it’s ‘time to get fracking’, while removing all green taxes and levies and withdrawing the UK from the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
Ukipland is a strange place. As the coal fired power stations merrily spew out their carbon emissions, the party states it will ‘protect our green and pleasant land’. As the temperatures rise inexorably, perhaps this will become ‘brown and pleasant land’.