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Policies on climate change: Liberal Democrat policies compared to Labour's and the Green Party's

November 16, 2019 3:20 PM
By Duncan Brack
Originally published by Green Liberal Democrats

Note: There is an updated version of this page here


16 November:

Key messages:
The Liberal Democrats propose:

  • An emergency ten-year programme of action to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by more
    than half by 2030 - minimising the UK's impacts on the climate as fast as possible.
  • A comprehensive plan to decarbonise every sector of the economy and get to net zero by 2045.This covers all sectors: power, heat, transport, aviation, industry, and farming and land use.
  • A plan not only for what to do but how to do it - including reforming regulation and frameworks
    for finance and investment, skills, innovation and industrial support, and reshaping the
    institutions of British government, central and local.


Without these three elements, no plan for net zero is credible. As the IFS said, 'There is no value in
politicians simply competing on targets. They need to spell out the policies that will actually be
required to meet the targets and be clear about how the immediate costs will be met.'
We do this; the other parties don't.



Why net zero targets are difficult to meet

To date the only sector in which the UK has made significant emissions cuts is in power generation,
by phasing out coal and increasing renewables - largely thanks to Liberal Democrats in government.
Thanks to Tory inaction, there has been little or no progress in any other sector.

In many cases solutions are available but will take time to implement - e.g. replacing petrol and
diesel cars (current ownership level 35 million) with electric vehicles (current ownership 220,000). In
some cases technological solutions are not yet available - e.g. some industrial processes, aviation
fuel. In many cases we will have to rely on people changing behaviour - e.g. switching to public
transport, walking or cycling, flying less or changing their diet. This means that reducing emissions
will take time, and in some cases - e.g. farming - it is impossible to reduce completely to zero.

So we need to invest in ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The best way is
planting trees, but they take time to grow, and won't meet all the UK's needs. Some technological
solutions are currently at pilot stage, and will take time to develop and be rolled out at scale.

This is why near-term net zero targets like 2025 (Extinction Rebellion) or 2030 (Greens) are
impossible to meet - and why neither organisation has spelt out how it would do so. Most of the
main environmental NGOs support 2045.

Setting a target date for net zero emissions by itself is not enough; early credible action is more
critical, and the precise target date for achieving net zero is less important than urgent action to
set the economy on the path towards it. This is what Liberal Democrats offer.



Labour's policies on climate change

Top line message: Labour policy is unclear about how quickly and how committed they are to reach
net zero, and they have no overarching plan across all sectors.

Labour has spent more time debating whether to call its policy a Green New Deal or a Green
Industrial Revolution than working up a concrete plan across all sectors of the economy.


Background detail

In September Labour conference voted to 'work towards a path to net zero by 2030'. But it seems
unlikely that this commitment will be included in their manifesto.

The only detail they have published since then is the paper Thirty by 2030 which (in the
accompanying press release) claims to 'decarbonise the energy system by 2030', but doesn't. It only
covers power and heat in buildings, and therefore ignores about half UK emissions. And if you
examine the document in detail, it says that even if Labour policy goes very well, they 'could even be
on track for a zero-carbon energy system sometime in the 2030s'.

The document also assumes continued construction of new nuclear stations, with a minimum of two
additional new stations built in the 2020s (as well as Hinkley Point C, currently under construction).

Nuclear power is now more expensive than renewables even without the long-term costs of
decommissioning and disposal and storage of nuclear waste. Liberal Democrats believe there is no
economic or environmental case for the construction of new nuclear stations.

Labour obsessions with nationalisation would also disrupt the massive progress made since Liberal
Democrat ministers triggered the acceleration in the deployment of offshore wind, which had led to
the price of offshore wind plummeting (the 2019 cost is a quarter of the 2014 price). Labour would
establish a privileged state owned offshore wind company, which is likely to cause existing offshore
wind companies to pause current investment plans if Labour were elected.

Similarly, Labour would renationalise the railways. This and other nationalisations would not only be
hugely expensive but unnecessary; as the power sector has shown, ambitious environmental aims
can be achieved through regulation. Public ownership is a distraction from the massive scale of the
climate emergency.

And Labour policy on other sectors is largely lacking: it has no clear policies to reduce emissions from
agriculture, land use, surface transport or aviation - the sectors which have seen least success in
cutting emissions. Labour backed airport expansion in its 2017 manifesto.



The Green Party's policies on climate change


Top line message:

The Green Party has adopted a target of net zero by 2030 - but it doesn't say how each sector will
cut emissions, nor who will pay the cost of their policies.

Background detail:

The Greens' official climate change policy doesn't set out how they would achieve cuts across all the
sectors that emit carbon nor does it set out the need for a 'just transition' that would protect those
on lower incomes.

Instead, it contains policies that would be likely either to be ineffective (e.g. all business large and
small would have to set out their 'locally determined contributions' to international climate targets)
or provoke opposition from the public (e.g. campaigning for smaller family sizes or introducing a
carbon tax without protection for those on low incomes or living in poorly insulated homes).

Liberal Democrats would provide Just Transition funding for areas and communities negatively
affected by the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, and establish a Just Transition
Commission to analyse and advise on priorities.

They have published virtually no detail on how they would decarbonise heating or cut emissions
from agriculture or aviation - some of the biggest challenges to get to net zero.



This briefing has been produced by members of the Liberal Democrats' climate change policy
working group.

If you have any questions or requests for further information, please email Duncan
Brack on policy@dbrack.org.uk.


Shorter links to this page are: http://grn.lib.dm/a81b0G and https://greenlibdems.org.uk/climate-change-policies-compared


See: LibDem Policy Paper 139 and video of October 2019 Conference debate on Climate Change


Note: There is an updated version of this page here