The Independent View: Bridging the gap between rhetoric and reality before May 2015

A few weeks ago the Liberal Democrats announced the five green laws they would introduce if they remain in Government after May 2015.  The detail from their pre-manifesto will be debated at Conference this week. As a staunch greenie, is it always nice to see a party putting the environment at the centre of their party’s pledges. At the last election, Friends of the Earth praised the Liberal Democrats for having the greenest manifesto of the three main parties (pipped to the top spot by the Greens).

But after nearly one term in office, there is now a big question over the party’s green credibility.  So there are three key questions on their green laws that the Liberal Democrats need to provide the right answers to – pronto.

Will these green laws be red lines for the Coalition?

Some pledges are clearly big wins for the planet – setting a decarbonisation target for the power sector, ruling out unabated coal, and no expansion in aviation capacity to name a few. But the Liberal Democrat MPs have voted against the first two of these proposed policies in Parliament just last year – votes that would have gone the other way with their support. When it comes to the key measures needed to deliver the Climate Change Act, these policies cannot be the subject of Coalition backroom deals.  The party must commit to support them whoever is in Government.

Will we see more detail and key improvements in the manifesto proper?

“Ending fuel poverty”,“zero carbon Britain” and “zero waste Britain” are certainly big commitments. But detail on how they will be achieved is still sadly lacking, and in some cases the goals they have set are too far off.  For example, 2040 is too late for a vehicle emissions standard, when we need to be banning the dirtiest diesels almost immediately from the worst polluted areas, for people’s health as well as the planet.  Likewise, a commitment to make energy efficiency an infrastructure priority is absolutely what’s needed – but what we don’t know is the standard homes will be treated to, how many homes, or by when. So it is difficult to judge if it will deliver the upgrade of four million more homes to an energy rating of at least ‘C’ by 2020 that is vitally needed to stay on track with our carbon budgets.

What will the Liberal Democrats do up until polling day?

All eyes may be on the next election, but there is still seven months to go and in that time crucial environmental decisions will be made by the Coalition Government. For example, the draft National Pollinator Strategy, the plan that is supposed to save our declining bee populations, has just been delayed again. It is now due to be finalised by the end of the year. Nick Clegg recognised early on the importance of bees, but without Liberal Democrat intervention the draft plan – already insufficient to save bees – risks being watered down further under pressure from big farming and big chemical industry interests.

Offshore wind meanwhile is suffering from such a shortfall of funds that unless rectified we may only get half what was planned to be built by 2020 – not enough to bring down costs and bring factories to Britain. And the Government’s direction on solar is still suffering from a policy change almost every other month, again driven by a lack of funding. A short-term answer to this is to divert funding from unsustainable, high-carbon biomass projects –this must be delivered this side of the election, before it is too late.

Then there is fracking. 99.6% of people (yes, you read that right) objected to the proposed change to the law to allow fracking companies to drill under homes without permission in the recently published consultation. Yet the Government plans to go ahead. This will come before Parliament over the next few months – Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers must oppose it if they are to remain true to their commitment at last year’s conference that fracking can only go ahead with full public consent. Since then, research has shown that there are major holes in current fracking regulation, exposing the country to unacceptable risks to health, to local environments, and rising carbon emissions – especially from leaking methane. Liberal Democrats must distance themselves from the Conservatives ‘all out for shale’ policy and support an immediate moratorium.

Judgement Day

If Liberal Democrats can provide credible answers to these questions, at this week’s conference and over the coming months, they can start to bridge the gap between powerful green rhetoric, and powerful action for the planet.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Donna Hume is a Climate and Energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth

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4 Comments

  • chris j smart 5th Oct '14 - 10:52am

    Whilst we agree wholeheartedly with everything you say, you must understand that we are now a “party in power” and therefore have given up childish aspirations of policy based on science and ethical principles. As part of the coalition we have left behind those warm and humanitarian left wing sentiments of 2010.

  • chris j smart 5th Oct ’14 – 10:52am
    “….. we are now a “party in power” and therefore have given up childish aspirations of policy based on science and ethical principles. ..”

    chris j smart, add in the fact that multinational corporations and the rich have bought our democracy lock, stock and coalition you will have the complete picture.

  • As a party activist living in a staunchly Tory stronghold constituency, I agree with everything Donna said.

    That we are now a party in Government is no excuse for not defending the principles on which our 57 MPs won their seats.

    We have suffered by entering coalition with the party most members disagree with, albeit that which exploited its wealthy backers and advantageous constituency boundaries and Parliamentary processes it upheld the last time it held office.

    I wish I could vote Green in Westminster elections, but no-one has stood as a Green candidate here, other than at European level.

    It’s hard to defend the party record when nothing seems to have remained a red line after the quad crafted the agreement that made Nick DPM and Danny CStT at the second attempt. Ed Davey’s statement that he worked from May 2010 to reach a strike price deal with EDF is particularly galling.

    Remaining in Government is not the be-all-and-end-all. Given that our meagre achievements as the minor coalition partner are ignored by most people, why not agree this week to restore the party’s credibility on environmental issues?

    That would be a far more mature approach to next May than playing politics and attempting to retain seats at any cost.

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