Manifestometer: The Liberal Democrats

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Comparing climate policies for the 2015 electionLiberal_Democrats_logo_2014.svg

Shortly after the original launch of CAT’s first Zero Carbon Britain report in 2007, then MP Lembit Opik (representing the constituency where CAT is based) took several copies down to LibDem HQ.  Six weeks later the party launched their policy “Zero Carbon Britain – Taking a Global Lead”. It will be interesting to see after all they have experienced over recent years, how the LibDem commitment to zero carbon has evolved….

1.Does your party’s climate policy accept the urgency of the evidence as defined by the recent 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report, and if implemented, how will it avoid the crucial 2°C average global temperature rise?

In the section of the manifesto entitled “Britain in the world: Global action for security and prosperity” they recognise that “Climate change, one of the greatest challenges of our age, is by its nature global.” Although there is no direct reference to the two degrees limit, there is still a stated commitment to pass a Zero Carbon Britain Act to set a new legally binding target to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. They also highlight the need for a “national resilience plan to help the UK economy, national infrastructure and natural resources adapt to the likely impacts of a 3-4 degree global average temperature rise.”

[Score: Good – but for a good chance of avoiding really serious climate change, 2050 is when the whole world should be approaching net-zero, which requires an earlier date for the UK.]

2.How does your party’s policy take into account the historical legacy of UK carbon emissions?

In our search, their only direct “legacy” commitment was in relation to Northern Ireland. However the zero by 2050 emissions commitment shows they are keen to keep the UK amongst the clean technology global leaders.

[Score: OK, could do better]

3.How does your party’s policy reflect the leadership required to catalyse an agreement at the UN FCCC negotiations in Paris 2015?

Well at least there is a clear statement that they are going to try, which is better than many others. They aim to “Work to secure agreement on a global climate treaty at the 2015 UN Climate Conference, supported by a well-financed Green Climate Fund to assist poorer countries to tackle and adapt to climate change”. They would add five green laws to the statute books aimed at protecting nature and wildlife in Britain and across the world, cleaning up our air and helping fight climate change. In addition they also state an aim to cooperate with other European countries to address environmental threats and tackle climate change by securing agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and developing the EU Energy Union.

[Score: Recognises the challenge and shows willing]

4.Does your party’s climate policy recognise that there are already more fossil fuels on the books of the big energy companies that we can safely burn – so adding more simply makes the problem worse?

There is no directban on adding new fracking reserves to the UK energy balance sheets.  They state that they will establish a Low-carbon Transition Fund using 50% of any tax revenues from shale gas to fund energy efficiency, community energy, low-carbon innovation and renewable heat, and they will require that once a shale gas well is finished, it must be offered at no cost to geothermal heat developers, to enable faster expansion of this renewable technology. We were pleased to find a commitment for new powers for Emission Performance Standards for existing coal power stations, designed to ensure electricity generation from unabatedcoal will stop by 2025. But with a very finite budget for what we can safely burn, why wait ten years?

[Score: Poor, this is a big issue.  If Britain is to get to zero by 2050 as they plan, this issue must be openly addressed]

5.How does your party’s policy rise to the challenge of achieving ‘net-zero’ emissions, as outlined in the IPCC’s 5th assessment report, and set a clear decarbonisation timeline for the UK?

They have re-stated their commitment to pass a ‘Zero Carbon Britain Act’ to set a new legally binding target to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

[Score: Good, still a leader but they must quote the evidence and acknowledge Britain’s historic legacy of emissions demands a bit more leadership]

6.How does your climate policy recognise the massive renewable resources available in and around the UK, and the potential for jobs and economic returns in harvesting them?

Good to see recognition of Britain’s real strengths in sectors like offshore wind power and low-carbon vehicles, and in green finance, all of which make us well placed to provide lasting jobs. Plus a stated aim to encourage onshore wind in appropriate locations, helping meet our climate targets at least cost. They say, “We will end ideologically motivated interference in local planning decisions for wind farms by Government Ministers,” but we would have liked to see more on actual targets and on investment and returns

[Score: Good – they can see that new world markets are developing in low-carbon and resource-efficient technologies, and have a clear commitment]

Analysis: Very pleased to see they have kept a clear commitment to a zero carbon Britain by 2050. Achieving this means not adding more fossil fuels to the balance sheet and divesting from those already in the queue to be burned, so this needs defined policies. But overall some important commitments, which need more detailed policy mechanisms to show how they will be achieved in practice.