Spotlight Leader: Green politics at the ballot box

In the 2019 campaigns the environment has been touted as a priority by major parties. But they are overlooking key policies that could save the planet. 

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At the 2017 general election, the environment was not a top priority for most Britons. Just 8 per cent placed it among the top three issues that would decide the result, according to YouGov. This year, that figure is 25 per cent, the pollster says. Another survey, by Opinium, found that 54 per cent say climate change would affect how they vote. For under-25s that was 74 per cent. The data points to a shift. This year, there were mass climate protests in the UK and across the world. The sights of millions of school students striking, deforestation in the Amazon, and bush fires in Australia seem to have swayed public consciousness.

In the 2019 campaigns, the environment, no longer the purview of the Green Party, has been touted as a priority by major parties. But as they compete over who has the most ambitious emissions reduction target, paying lip service to investment in renewables, energy efficiency, and the infrastructure for generating clean power, they are overlooking key policies that could save the planet.

Aviation is a major contributor to UK emissions. The UK contributes 4 per cent of global aviation CO2 emissions, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. Only the US and China produce more. Support for greening aviation could play a significant part in reducing the UK’s carbon footprint.

In the meantime, other measures could help. The Lib Dems’ manifesto includes a pledge to reform taxation of flights to penalise frequent flyers, placing a moratorium on runway development and opposing airport expansion, as well as a zero-carbon fuels blend requirement for domestic flights. Labour’s manifesto promises that, under a Labour government, “expansion of airports must pass our tests on air quality, noise pollution, climate change obligations and countrywide benefits.” The Conservative manifesto had not been launched when Spotlight went to press.

The Greens, meanwhile, call for a carbon tax on fossil fuels and an end to VAT exemption for aviation fuel. In 2018, Theresa May froze fuel duty for the ninth year in a row. Making travel more expensive would hardly be a vote winner. But if the UK is serious about solving this crisis, whoever wins this election must be prepared to make tough choices.

To access the full Spotlight supplement, click here.