Sustainability

‘Lack of political leadership’ on environment

houses of parliament

Seven major charities have released a report accusing Britain’s three main political parties of a ‘lack of political leadership’ when it comes to environmental issues.

The ‘Green Standard 2013’ report was co-authored by WWF, RSPB, Greenpeace, the Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, and the Campaign for Better Transport. The charities assessed the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties on four criteria: the economy, communities, nature and international leadership.

Whilst the report acknowledges that individual politicians have made ‘key’ contributions to environmental issues, it admonishes the party leaderships for failing to develop a coherent environmental policy or to put green issues at the heart of their campaigning.

Key areas for leadership

Four main areas are identified in the report where, its authors argue, leadership must be shown and improvements can be made:

  • Economy: the UK must invest more in renewable energy and resource recovery infrastructure, as this would give ‘certainty’ about the country’s green commitments and benefit the economy;
  • Communities: communities must be helped to be ‘more resilient to rising energy, fuel and food costs and increase social equity in existing towns and cities’;
  • Nature: the natural environment must be protected through a ‘bold and ambitious action to support its recovery’, as ‘far more species are declining than are increasing’; and
  • International leadership: offering ‘real international leadership on environmental issues’ could be a prime opportunity to improve the parties’ track records.

Conservatives

The report praises the Conservative Party’s role in the early days of the coalition government, when David Cameron pledged to make his the ‘greenest government ever’.

However, it notes that his commitment has been undermined, both by Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘framing of high environmental standards as a threat to economic success’ and by the government’s deregulation agenda, which it says ‘risks turning back the clock on the protection of nature’.

It also criticises Cameron for failing to address ‘growing scepticism about human-induced climate change within his party’. Although it notes that he gave a speech in 2010 where he declared that he “cares passionately” about the environmental agenda, it points out that he ‘appears reluctant to defend his own commendable decision to set the fourth carbon budgets’.

The report does, however, praise Conservative ministers such as William Hague, Caroline Spelman, Richard Benyon and Greg Barker for advocating for such causes as biodiversity, endangered species and international development on the international stage.

Labour

The Labour Party receives some praise in the report for its environmental efforts whilst in government, which included creating the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are also commended for their ‘strong support for a greener economy’, as are Caroline Flint, Maria Eagle, Hilary Benn and Mary Creagh, for ‘[holding] the government to account for its performance on electricity market reform, the proposed sale of public forests, planning reforms and cuts to public transport’.

However, the party is criticised for ‘treat[ing] environmental sustainability as a bolt-on to its main economic and social objectives’, meaning it has given ‘few specific proposals to green the UK economy’.

This, the report argues, has led to a failure of the party to develop a coherent environmental policy or to place environmental issues at the heart of its ‘emerging One Nation narrative’.

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg’s party are lauded for winning ‘some significant battles on climate change’ whilst in the coalition government. These include negotiating for the Green Investment Bank and ‘securing funding for a low carbon energy supply and green transport’.

Ed Davey and Chris Huhne, Davey’s predecessor as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, are both praised for providing ‘strong leadership on climate change nationally and internationally’, as is Norman Baker for his ‘commitment to sustainable transport and alternatives to car travel’.

Yet the Liberal Democrats, like the other two major parties, do not escape criticism from the report. It points out that Liberal Democrat MPs were whipped to vote against adding a decarbonisation target to the Energy Bill, despite such a vote going against party policy. It also chastises the party for providing ‘no clarity on the party’s position on European targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency’ and ‘no leadership on the natural environment agenda, and worrying support for policies that damage wildlife’.

Ultimately, it says, ‘Liberal Democrats have not found a strong voice on the natural environment or demonstrated an impact from within Defra.’

Government has ‘lost its momentum as a reforming, greener government’

Speaking of the report, Matthew Spencer, Director of Green Alliance, said: “In private the three main party leaders may speak eloquently about the importance of the environment, but they have rarely made the case publicly since the election. As a result the quality of the political debate on the issues has declined markedly, and the coalition has seriously lost its momentum as a reforming, greener government.”

Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, added: “The overwhelming response of people in Britain to the dramatic decline in our bees is a vivid illustration of how highly we value the environment and yet there is a deeply troubling trend among our political elite to disregard our views and favour vested interests. Nothing exposes this more clearly than the appetite of our politicians to start fracking, which is demonstrably against the will and interests of ordinary people who time-and-again say they want locally-owned renewable power.”

David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF UK, echoed these sentiments, saying: “The green economy has… bucked the trend of the recession and is the UK’s strongest growth sector. But these areas all need support, and mainstream politicians from each of the parties have failed to show visible and consistent leadership on the environment.

“Given that our leaders recognise that we’re in a global race to develop environmentally sustainable economies, it’s in their interest to show environmental leadership.”

Read the ‘Green Standard 2013’ report.

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