'Labour has always been antagonistic towards the environment'. Not my words, but my father’s, an ecologist by trade who has seen many more elections come and go than I have.
He is backed up by the heads of two conservation charities I spoke to recently, one local, one national, who both said their lives got easier - and their funding was better - under Tory administrations. Labour is more concerned with building things and making money, say both.
Which feels counter-intuitive. Instinctively, I would rather trust our natural environment to Labour than the Tories. I feel the same about hospitals, and schools (both reasons my dad will, despite the view above, probably vote Labour on May 6th). I am too used, perhaps, to thinking of the Conservatives as pro-business and therefore anti-green.
A look at the parties’ manifestos, though, shows how wrong I am. Just on the headline stuff – climate change – the Tories promise an 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050. Labour trades in smaller numbers, saying only that it will 'push' the EU to increase its target to 30 per cent cuts by 2020, which would mean a 34 per cent cut for the UK itself. At the last election, in contrast, Labour’s manifesto declared 'a 60 per cent reduction by 2050 remains necessary and achievable'. That commitment is missing this time around.
Nor is it the only thing missing. Neither manifesto (the Lib Dems, by the way, say all our electricity will be carbon-free by 2050), give a baseline date, ie. the year against which they will measure their carbon cuts, making their figures almost meaningless. I’m still waiting for the press offices to get back to me on this but, at a guess, I’d say they mean 1990, the baseline used in the Kyoto Protocol. And, using 1990, you can see why they are reluctant to give any date at all.
According to the latest Government figures, Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions have fallen about 19 per cent since 1990. Look closer though and you’ll see almost all of this happened either before Labour came to power in 1997 (also promising to reduce carbon emissions by 20 per cent), or last year when, according to the Government itself, it was largely the result of the recession. Over the period of Labour rule between these dates, carbon emissions fell by only about 4 per cent.
Can you trust either party to do better? The Tories at least, make a manifesto commitment to introduce a floor price for carbon traded under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – effectively a carbon tax. This is both carrot and stick (companies will know exactly how much they pay to pollute or can save by not polluting) and exactly what the scheme needs to get up off the floor and do the job it was designed for. Labour has had a long time to sort this out and failed.
So, it may stick in the throat to say it, but the Conservative manifesto is worth a look. It even comes in a hardback edition so if you violently disagree and throw it away, it will make a satisfying impact on the wall.
Disclaimer: Yes, I know that Zac Goldsmith, owner of the Ecologist, is standing for election as a Tory candidate. Honestly he has had no hand in this. I’m just a lowly columnist and he’s got other things on his mind right now. He probably doesn’t even know who I am.
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