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The 360: Who can voters trust to protect the environment?

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening?

The issue of climate change is climbing up the list of voters’ concerns. With worldwide protests by Extinction Rebellion bringing the issue to the headlines, people are starting to take more notice. One recent poll found that more than 1 in 4 voters cite the environment as one of three top issues that will determine how they vote in the election - behind Brexit and health - with half saying climate change will influence how they vote to some degree.

Why there’s debate

The issue of climate change has long been debated as an “important” issue - but it has never before had quite so much coverage as it has during this campaign.

The UK government has already passed a law to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. XR wants this done by 2030.

Boris Johnson has been criticised for mentioning the “climate crisis” only 10 times in the Conservative manifesto. He was also widely pilloried for refusing to turn up to a leaders’ debate about climate change hosted by Channel 4, who replaced him on the stage with a meting ice sculpture. The Tories big pledge has been to spend £9.2 billion to improve the energy efficiency of homes and public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Labour has gone significantly further, committing to achieving “the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030 in a way that is evidence-based”. They have a number of other, eye-catching policies, including: the promise of a Green Industrial Revolution that will create a million new, skilled, green jobs; the planting of 2 billion trees by 2040; 10 new national parts; and a Clean Air Act that will create clean air zones around schools.

SNP-controlled Scotland can boast of being the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency. The Lib Dems have also vowed to reduce emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2045 - five years earlier than the Tories.

The Green Party say they will spend £100 billion a year over the next 10 years to cut carbon emissions by 2030. However, the advisory Committee on Climate Change says 2050 is the earliest credible date for achieving net zero emissions for most sectors of the economy.

What’s next?

Extinction Rebellion are staging a “12 Days of Christmas” protest so whoever wins power will be faced with more pressure to act. As it stands, the net zero aim is due to be implemented by 2050 but a change in government could see a ramping up of that desire.

Adding further pressure, the Met Office has warned of significant temperature rises over the next few decades - which could see UK summers increase in warmth by over 5 degrees by 2070. The UN has warned that the “point of no return is no longer over the horizon” while school pupils have taken to the streets to declare the December vote a climate election. A strong youth turnout may also produce better results for the Green Party and Labour, potentially dictating who will be in Downing Street on 13 December.

Perspectives

The Tories have been taking environmental issues seriously for a long time.

“Long before protesters descended on the streets one month ago, the Tories have been tripping over themselves to show that they take the issue seriously... Since 2010, the party has ratified the Paris Agreement, cut single use plastic bags by 86 per cent through the plastic bag charge, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent since 2010, generated record levels of solar and wind energy and committed to ending unabated coal by 2025.” - Katy Balls, The i

Only Labour and Greens can be trusted to protect the environment.

“Labour’s rural policies are generally weak, and there are gaps in its rail and road and energy plans. If it forms a government – minority or majority – it should invite the Greens’ Caroline Lucas to be environment secretary, importing the deep engagement it lacks. While I disagree on a couple of minor issues with the Greens, their manifesto sets the standard against which the others can be judged.” - George Monbiot, The Guardian

Tories are better placed to push forward environmental issues to the wider public.

“The eco-message needs to be politely suggested to the earning middle-classes with the guidance and voices of young graduates starting out in life and career. For it is the Conservatives who have the power and the influence to make a real difference. Capitalism will adapt to a green economy.” - Oliver Briscoe, Epigram

Tory climate policy is more dangerous than denial.

“In the light of the recent climate protests the Conservative government insists that the UK is a world leader in climate change policy, but this is no longer true. Conservative governments since 2015 have systematically dismantled the policies put in place under the Climate Change Act of 2008 and increased public spending on fossil fuels.” - Abby Innes, London School of Economics

The financial cost of Labour’s climate change proposals would be huge.

“Dubbed the ‘Green New Deal’, Labour’s proposals would probably involve scrapping the use of natural gas for heating and cooking in around 24 million homes. Burning hydrogen on an untested nationwide scale would be the only feasible alternative to gas heating, alongside greater electrification of households and widespread battery storage.” - Andy Critchlow, The Telegraph

Lib Dem tree planting policies do not go far enough.

"Recent floods show that UK communities are already on the frontlines of climate chaos. Doubling UK tree cover can be a double win for flood prone communities and our climate. We need more than the Lib Dems are promising to replace the UK's lost trees and get us back to the tree cover we desperately need." - Friends of the Earth

Lib Dems will reopen the Department for Climate Change.

“In an act of unparalleled short mindedness, the Tories shut the department tackling the climate crisis in 2016. We will reinstate it immediately. The scale of the task in front of us is enormous. The Liberal Democrats will allocate every resource at our disposal to make sure we reach our ambitious climate targets.” - Lib Dem manifesto

The election is about the future of the planet.

“This could be the last election in which we can turn the tide on climate. We know, and the scientists tell us, that we only have until 2030 to avoid irreparable damage. If the next Parliament runs for a full term, it won’t be until 2024 until the public gets another chance to change their MPs. If ten years to reach net-zero seems like an extreme prospect, then imagine us here again with only five years left to act.” - Jonathan Bartley, Green Party co-leader, Politics Home

SNP plans to do less to cut greenhouse emissions.

“Because of some changes in the past figures, the current bill would actually result in higher emissions in 2030 than the targets in the 2009 Climate Act. That’s right, we would actually have to try harder at reducing emissions over the next 11 years if we just scrapped the new bill and stuck with what we first thought of a decade ago. Not exactly the spirit of this weekend’s official declaration of a ‘Climate Emergency’.” - Dr Richard Dixon, The Scotsman

Scotland was the first country in the world to declare a ‘climate emergency’.

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our times and requires action at all levels of government, civic society and business worldwide. We’re cooperating with partners around the world to share our experience of setting ambitious targets and our progressive low-carbon policies. What’s more, the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Fund is helping developing countries transition to a low-carbon economy and promoting the moral message of climate justice. Scotland’s achievements and ambition on climate change is recognised worldwide and won praise from the UN, Al Gore, and many others.” SNP environmental policy

Read more 360s:

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Is Extinction Rebellion making people angry for the wrong reasons?

How to stop Britain’s knife crime epidemic

Top pic: PA