The Independent View: Tim Farron’s election as leader provides hope that the party will embrace and enhance the green roots held dear by members and activists.

Congratulations to Tim Farron, an MP who has long championed environmental causes. His voting record, especially during the coalition years, was consistently green. In 2013 Farron was one of 16 Lib Dems to rebel and back a 2030 decarbonisation target. How different the energy politics landscape would look had more Lib Dem MPs (and later peers) joined him and ensured there was now a decarb target in the statute books to provide long term certainty for investors in the face of growing short term uncertainty.*

But that was then. With Tim Farron at the helm we look forward to the party adopting stronger green positions, such as Farron’s repeated pledge to oppose fracking. Most importantly – and in a move that puts clear water between him and Andy Burnham, the leading candidate for the Labour leadership – Farron’s opposition is on the grounds that burning shale gas is incompatible with tackling climate change:

Shale gas will only have a future in the UK if we abandon, or significantly scale back, our climate targets – and that’s something that I hope every Liberal Democrat would oppose

This is the sort of clear leadership sorely needed in the fight against climate change and the pressing need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Only the Greens and Plaid Cymru have made so clear the climate change rationale for opposing fracking (in addition to the more widely accepted risks to communities’ air, water and peace).

With only eight MPs for Farron to lead, the party’s influence in parliament is obviously limited. But the Conservative Government has a far smaller majority than the preceding coalition, and as Mhairi Black articulated so eloquently on Tuesday, all those on the opposition benches have an important role in joining together to hold the Government to account. As the inclusion of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race has shown, individuals or small groups with powerful positions confidently articulated can have a disproportionate influence on the scope of debate. Farron’s challenge is to use his elevated status to ensure the Lib Dems perform a similar, agenda-setting role in the environmental debate.

It’s not all about Westminster. Many of the big environmental challenges over the course of this parliament will be fought locally. Recent events in Lancashire showed that councillors can and should stand up to central government dictat and the lobbying might of the fossil fuel industry in rejecting fracking. Farron could ensure many more green victories if he helps bolster the instinctive environmentalism in local authorities controlled by Liberal Democrats – not only to stop unwanted, dangerous & dirty fossil fuel projects but to overcome the mindless anti-renewables edict handed menacingly down to local communities by a Conservative government for whom localism appears only to mean forcing councils to agree with them.

As with all politicians, Friends of the Earth will continue to scrutinise the words and actions of Tim Farron without bias. Our assessment of the Liberal Democrat record and manifesto in the run up to the election revealed a party that, despite its stated intentions, had failed too often to deliver sufficient progress on the environment when it had the chance. That same analysis showed that the Conservative party offered far less (and threatened far more) on the environment, something that is self-evident from the last ten weeks. We very much hope that Tim Farron will use all the zeal and passion displayed in his leadership campaign to offer voters in 2020 a party demonstrably committed to prioritising strong action on the environment.

* Instead, the then leadership insisted that securing the 2020 levy control framework was a worthy trade-off for the longer term security of a 2030 target. With the LCF now unravelling, that strategy looks misguided, although the LCF has undoubtedly enabled significant renewables deployment. I’m not sure that the boom wouldn’t have happened without it however.

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.

* Oliver Hayes is a campaigner at Friends of the Earth

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24 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Jul '15 - 6:10pm

    I’m going on “comment strike”, because I can’t believe that the Lib Dems are going back to the left and I strongly disagree with the modern day left.

    Regards

  • David Pollard 17th Jul '15 - 6:13pm

    One of the major problems with ‘green issues’ for politicians, is that even if they make progress against vested interests, they are always criticised by groups such as Friends of the Earth who should be supporting them for never doing enough. FOE will never admit that politics is the ‘art of the possible’ and there is a limit to progress at any one point in time. The LibDems in Government, got renewables to the point when on a couple of occasion electricity from wind turbines exceeded the total usage of the UK. A milestone. Where were Friends of the Earth then?

  • well said David Pollard. Articles like the above from FOE really annoy me – talk about “how to make friends & influence people”. They’re definitely off my donation list 🙁

  • When is Farron going to rename the party back to the liberal party?
    I assume the current liberal party are happy to join us?

  • Don’t let the door hit you on the way out Eddie!

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Jul '15 - 8:46pm

    James, deliver insults with your full name. I shall break my strike if it means answering back people like you.

  • The government is discovering that the subsidies to keep green energy in business are unaffordable. The Lib Dems would be advised to do a reality check before they throw their support behind their own slogans like “Zero Carbon Britain” before they start signing up to FoE pledges.

  • David Pollard 17th Jul '15 - 10:13pm

    Subsidies for green energy are affordable if the political will is there. For instance the subsidy for domestic power has fallen from 43p/kWh when the programme was started to less than 10p/kWh today, and because costs have fallen people are still installing panels.

  • Why exactly might the article from FOE annoy us, as some posters suggest? There is a lot of praise for Farron, no criticism of him, only some polite requests to do more. That’s what a pressure group is in business to do. That doesn’t mean we must acquiesce to all the requests of course, but, taking umbrage about FOE having the temerity to make them is just churlish.

  • Sammy O'Neill 17th Jul '15 - 11:35pm

    I wish I was rich and middle class enough to read this article and not think it misses the priorities of the 99% of us living in the real world.

  • I always thought that despite commitments to close coal power stations by whatever date it is, so as to meet emmissions targets, this would never happen. Because allowing a shortage of power to develop would be catastrophic.

    The concept of green subsidies is idealistic, but I fear doomed to fail both economically and in reality of continuing pollution. Unless the main users of fuel all sign up to such deals, they cannot possibly work to seriously reduce pollution. Yet they will be completely effective to make UK industry uncompetitive.

    Just look at diesel engined cars. they have been massively subsidised on the basis they reduce pollution…but they do not. They do not reduce CO2 eissions, and worse they actual create more pollution of a sort damagaing to our health. the current policies in place are going to do the same to our economic health unless we are very careful indeed.

  • If fracking replaces oil or coal then it is actually a greener measure as carbon emissions from gas are massively lower. A blanket ban on it will result in preserving existing uses of oil and coal, and is thus worse for the environment. Wouldn’t it have been better to support fracking on condition that dirtier power stations are replaced with gas? Or better yet, with nuclear, which has practically no carbon emissions at all, and minimal storage problems compared with carbon capture.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Jul '15 - 8:23am

    The commitment to close old coal power stations is part of the EU agreed LCPD (Large Carbon Plant Directive), which is mostly about sulphur emissions. As we’re going to need to leave large amounts of already identified fossil fuels in the ground to avoid problematic climate change, there’s hardly any need to drill for more – apart from making money, ofc.
    I failed to observe the rabid leftwingery in the article; it seemed to me to be about renewable energy.

    Diesel cars do reduce CO2 emissions, and when properly maintained and driven, don’t produce the large quantities of particulates and NOxes. I don’t see a “massive” subsidy; just a reduction in VED, which is being removed in the current budget. Maybe electric and petrol cars are better – that’s not clear, but it is clear that for short trips (up to 5 miles) a combination of walking and cycling would be much better – unfortunately that needs repurposing of road space and priority away from cars, which is politically difficult

  • Neil Sandison 18th Jul '15 - 9:25am

    Interesting article by Oliver .I hope he ignores the negative comments from those who have posted who I have serious doubts about regarding actually being Liberal Democrats .If party policy is to develop then we need to be prepared to listen to critical friends. Any of you who are Counciilors will know that term from your scrutiny processes.
    This party has a proud tradition of being environmentalist as opposed to the short hand term of being green. Environmentalism is neither left nor right but it is sustainable .There are issues regarding encouraging sustainable renewable energy generation ,producing low carbon or no carbon homes ,Fracking has big question marks over it particularly in terms of impact on the local environment ,water contamination and local ecology, you cannot always mitigate for the environmental loss or species habitat .Indeed locally one site here in the Midlands involves our last remaining parts of an ancient woodland and veteran tree sites and is perilously close to 2 significant water courses.
    So lets be big enough to listen to constructive comments that are supported by evidence and not fall into the trap that our policy is perfect .Liberal Democrats should do the most important thing in politics and be prepared to listen.

  • To ‘g’ 8.05am
    That is exactly what I have been wondering.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Jul '15 - 10:49am

    We need to enlarge the party.
    That means being open to a variety of opinions and debating them.
    Even Einstein could not solve the Theory of Everything (TOE).

  • g,

    Fracking has replaced coal in the US, so now the US is selling its coal overseas. Result, no environmental gains.

    You can’t “support fracking on condition that dirtier power stations are replaced with gas”. The market doesn’t work that way.

    Allowing fracking in the UK just means displacing greener options, and wrecking our countryside as well.

  • David Allen

    Energy production isn’t driven by the market, prices are too much of a political issue, both renewables and nuclear rely on subsidies, while the fossil fuel industry has massive tax breaks .

    This is why I think fracking should be allowed if it replaces dirtier forms of energy. It wouldn’t be a market decision, it would be one of politics.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Jul '15 - 12:10pm

    Neil ” you cannot always mitigate for the environmental loss or species habitat ”
    Precisely. I own a small piece of ancient semi natural woodland, and two bordering triangles that were added when the railway went in 150 years ago. It’s still quite clear which is which. No bluebells in the new bits, for example. I think 400 years might do it.

  • g

    Sadly you’re right, all energy production is subsidised, which when you think of it is just crazy. We should let energy prices rise to their true level, thereby discourage over-use, and meet our social obligations by paying subsidies direct to poorer consumers instead.

    Nevertheless a distorted market continues to operate. Burning more gas here won’t stop people burning the cheap coal somewhere else.

  • David Allen, I think we’ve reached a point of agreement.

  • David Evans 18th Jul '15 - 1:17pm

    G You say ‘If fracking replaces oil or coal then it is actually a greener measure as carbon emissions from gas are massively lower,’ but as we all know assessing greenness is much more complicated than just that one thing.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jul '15 - 9:55pm

    @Sammy O’Neill “I wish I was rich and middle class enough to read this article and not think it misses the priorities of the 99% of us living in the real world.”
    I was reminded of your comment just now in a documentary about Melvin Bragg. It was a quote from a letter in the Radio Times in the 1960s, but I think is surprisingly relevant today: “The problem with the Liberal Party is that it contains too many chartered accountants and too few farm labourers.”

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