There’s a general election in Britain next year, and that means we’re into wishlist season, where every interest group starts to lay out what they’d like to see in the parties’ manifestos. One of those groups is the Green Alliance, which comprises a number of environmental charities from the Campaign for Better Transport to the RSPB.
They believe that Britain can be a world leader on the climate, that we can reverse the decline in British wildlife, and that we can shape a more sustainable economy. “The biggest current challenge to achieving a greener Britain is the hesitant approach of political leaders,” they argue. To help, they’ve put forward some “practical proposals for party manifestos.” Here are some of them.
- Lead international negotiations by example, by setting a 2030 target for decarbonising Britain’s electricity generation and phasing out dirty fossil fuels.
- Use Britain’s island-nation status and overseas territories to lead on marine reserve creation, including a South Atlantic reserve around Ascension Island. Build on cross-party support and create Marine Conservation Zones in British seas.
- Act on the Natural Capital Committee’s recommendations and start a 25 year plan for restoring Britain’s nature. This, and a body to oversee that plan, could be put forward through a Nature and Wellbeing Act.
- Develop new funding mechanisms for parks and green spaces, which are valuable to communities but facing funding shortages as councils cut budgets.
- Get serious about household energy efficiency, but setting an ambitious target and incentivising improvements. Scale up the ‘negawatts’ pilot scheme to create a market for energy efficiency.
- Learn from London’s public transport networks and give local authorities more strategic transport powers.
- Regulate land-banking to ensure that houses can be built on brownfield sites first.
- Improve the resource efficiency of the economy, through take-back schemes, a no food waste to landfill rule and programmes that get local authorities and business working together.
There are more radical ideas out there, but Greener Britain are focusing on practical steps for this election. As such, it’s not a bad list. I’m particularly interested in seeing whether anyone picks up on resource efficiency measures, since the circular economy has had plenty of attention in the last couple of years or so. I’d be surprised if that doesn’t feature in a manifesto or two.
Living in Luton, where slices of parks are being sold off for housing while large areas of the down centre are derelict, I would love to see a party talk about landbanking and land speculation. It’s high time we looked at ways to change the economics of sitting on prime urban land and waiting for public regeneration money all around it to push up its value.
We also know that energy efficiency is an issue whose time has come, and all it needs is an idea that frames it right and captures people’s imaginations. The current government has failed twice on that front, once with the Green Deal, and once with the Lib Dems’ retrofit idea, killed by the media labelling it a ‘conservatory tax’ and scaring the horses. Since it will save people money in energy bills as well as lowering emissions, an energy efficiency revolution is going to happen sooner or later, and I hope some creative thought is going into it as manifestos are drawn up.
Most importantly, we know that this next government is likely to be our last chance on the climate. The cross-party support for the Climate Change Act has evaporated, and our current ‘greenest government ever’ is anything but. Five years more prevarication will put our long term carbon targets out of reach. This next government has a vital role in determining our long term future, and I hope the parties know that. There are a range of useful environmental policy choices, but at this point in history, it will be climate change that should be the make or break issue.