Climate policies in party manifestos: Green-washing or eye-opening?

Posted in: Economics, Energy and environmental policy, Food and agriculture, Political ideologies, UK politics

Dr Aurelie Charlies is a Lecturer in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath. 

“Climate Emergency” is the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2019, “Climate Strike” is the Collins Dictionary Word of the Year, and with a 266% rise in the use of the term “Climate Action” over the past year, Climate Action seems to be the number one priority in people’s mind.

Channel 4 got this right when organising the Climate Debate between the main political leaders. So, how does climate action reflect in their manifestos? Are the policies proposed in line with the scale of action required to stay alive as a species? Or is it business-as-usual? And is it realistic and financially sound? Bearing in mind the 8 to 10 years of carbon budget Nature is giving us to stay below a 1.5 rise in global temperature, let’s have a look at the extent to which the main parties are connected to the reality of the climate emergency.

For the Conservatives, the pledge is to place the environment as a number one priority in the first budget; to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and to create a new £640 million Nature for Climate Fund, and a £500 million Blue Planet Fund for our oceans. Riding the wave of Sir Attenborough’s programme is interesting, but to have a real impact - and not be accused of green washing - should we count in million of billion? With climate action as the first priority, the propositions of the Conservatives - starting on page 43 of 66 in their manifesto - will melt in the face of the challenge. It's a quick fix to a problem that requires much deeper and dramatic change at the economic, social and individual levels.

For Labour, the Green Industrial Revolution is on its way to achieve a low carbon economy by committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Propositions in terms of “repairing” our impact on nature via investments in renewable energy, or job creation in the green economy, will be financed with the creation of a £400 billion National Transformation Fund and a £250 billion Green Transformation Fund. These figures show promising signs in understanding the scale of the issue and, according to the work of Mazzucato, public finance for long-term investments makes economic sense for a mission of such scale. It helps monitoring large scale projects to avoid green-washing projects, promotes public-private partnership, and helps to avoid large sums of valuable finance feed speculative financial bubbles, as witnessed in 2008. The main ideological caveat however here is the word “industrial” in the title, because it keeps our mindset in the manufacturing era that led us to a climate emergency in the first place, and it prevents us from evolving toward a “doing more with less” type of economy.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats got the emergency element right by proposing “hard-and-fast” targets of planting trees, and promoting public transport and electric cars, while having 80% of UK electricity produced from renewables by 2030. These targets are not ambitious enough however for the scale of the challenge. Similarly, financing through air passenger duty demonstrates once more that we need to move beyond the mindset of “internalising the externality” of Nature, as promoted by mainstream economic theory with taxes and carbon markets, to a new organic economic design in the vein of Raworth’s framework. Such organic design prevents quick fixes from falling in to the trap and momentum of speculative financial bubbles. More profoundly, it avoids alienating people taken as consumers from their ecological self.

Placing Nature at the heart of its manifesto is precisely the proposition, and yes expertise, of the Green Party. Here the Green New Deal proposed for energy, incomes, housing, transport, industry, forestry and farming reflects the party’s ethos, which means that propositions are more likely to become reality. It is also eye-opening compared with others in understanding the scale of the challenge ahead, with a realistic (Nature-wise) target of 2030 for net zero emissions. Such a challenge is financed through public borrowing for long-term investments of a total of £100 billion a year over the next decade, and borrowing makes sense in an era of negative interest rates. Frequent flyers levy or carbon tax are also useful economic nudges to trigger behavioural changes as it taps into people’s cognitive biases or brain errors. However, nudging people to act differently for transportation or consumption doesn’t mean that “green” behaviour will consistently be applied in all of our daily individual choices.

Convincing the converted around climate change is easy, but to elect and convince the deniers is a problem of individual responsibility. It has to be personal. We have to face our emotions, positive and negative, around past experiences of Nature and Nurture in order to be able to rewire our brain towards an ecological mind - a human mind able to heal, and act upon our relationship with Nature.

This blog is part of the IPR 'General Election 2019' blog series. Visit the IPR blog to read more. 

Posted in: Economics, Energy and environmental policy, Food and agriculture, Political ideologies, UK politics


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