Now the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have taken over Number 10, just what can – and should – we expect from the new Lib-Dem/Conservative coalition government?
Headed by Conservative party leader David Cameron, the new Government has pledged to tackle some long-standing green issues, including cutting central carbon emissions by 10%, investing in offshore wind energy, encouraging recycling by paying people to do so, and opposing new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.
Environmental issues will be dealt with by new energy and climate change minister Chris Huhne, a Lib Dem.
Here’s a look at some of the most important policies outlined in the new manifesto.
The coalition has promised to cut central government carbon emissions by 10% in the next 12 months, a pledge made as transparent as possible, thanks to Cameron, by a novel commitment to publish the energy used by government departments in real time.
Central Government emissions are quite high – about 1% of total UK emissions, equivalent to both the city of Liverpool’s emissions, as well as those created by the pollution of some 200,000 cars.
But just “turning off the lights at night” won’t tackle Britain’s larger eco issues, argues Deborah Doane, director of climate campaigning organisation the World Development Movement.
“While it’s welcome that central Government has pledged to cut its emissions by 10%, history will judge this Government on its green credentials by its policies to cut the UK’s emissions dramatically and getting a fair international climate deal, not by turning off its lights at night,” she says.
Campaigners such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the World Development Movement have long been calling for a cancellation of new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, and that’s exactly what the Government plans on delivering.
It also plans on imposing a tax on planes instead of passengers, using a per-flight duty instead of the current ‘air passenger duty’, which is said to rake in about £2.5 billion a year.
This new legislation would require a duty paid on aircraft take-off weight, designed to tackle inefficient planes and prevent airlines from flying half-empty aircraft.
However, larger operators like BA, which fly cargo planes as well as passenger aircraft, have balked at the estimated £150 million extra taxes every year. Experts expect backlash from the airline industry to be severe, potentially creating job losses here in the UK and threatening the UK’s position as a global transport hub – and therefore business.
Nuclear and coal power
One of the starkest differences between the Lib Dems and Conservatives in the run-up to the election was their policy on nuclear power: the Lib Dems in favour of pursuing clean green technology, with the Conservatives in favour of building more nuclear power stations.
The coalition has now had to politely agree to disagree, with the Lib Dems planning to abstain in any parliamentary votes on the issue.
In other forms of power, the coalition Government has promised to bring in an emissions standard performance for new coal power stations, which Doane is hoping “could be a key policy for stopping new coal power stations from being built”.
However, the manifesto’s details are unclear, as the Lib Dems were in favour of a high standard before the election, the Conservatives a lower one. It’s unknown at this point just which standard will be chosen.
Green Investment Bank
One of the most exciting developments for the new Government is the Green Investment Bank, which will boost lending to the renewable energy industry and create green jobs here in the UK.
The size of the bank is quite small, however, with just £1 billion of funding coming from the sale of strategic assets.
Campaigners like Ben Caldecott, of the green investment fund Climate Change Capital, propose auctioning off pollution permits to bump that fund up to £40 billion, to really take action on green issues.
“This coalition needs to make sure that the Green Investment Bank (GIB) is set up quickly and is appropriately capitalised to make a big difference to the economy – as a bigger balance sheet is needed to deal with major infrastructure proposals, like offshore energy and domestic energy efficiency improvements,” he explains.
Caldecott wants to see those funds go towards unlocking finance on projects that banks are currently loathe to fund, such as round-3 financing of offshore wind proposals.
“To reduce the risks so investors deploy their capital, the GIB could take an equity stake in projects to unlock finance for them. Post-construction, the GIB could then help refinance the projects cheaply using asset backed energy infrastructure bonds.”
International climate deals
The new manifesto tackles green domestic issues but fails to mention the Government’s international eco-policy, which could resonate loudly among global leaders, notes Doane, who worries that “the whole Conservative manifesto also ignored its approach to international agreements”.
“Will the UK provide compensation to developing countries for the climate damage we have caused?” she asks.
“Will this be given as loans, as under Labour, or grants? The Liberal Democrats said climate money should go through the UN rather than the World Bank, whilst the Conservatives fully supported money going through the World Bank.
“These issues are vital to getting a just and effective international climate deal, and need to be at the top of Chris Huhne’s in-tray.”
There are indeed lots of unanswered questions regarding these policies, concedes Caldecott, but it’s really the domestic issues that we need to focus on.
“Both Clegg and Cameron talked bullishly about international climate change leading up to the election, so I’m not too worried about that.
“The real problem is that, in Britain, we’ve talked brilliantly about taking leadership on climate change but haven’t done much about it domestically, so we’ve established a credibility gap.
“We would become more credible by getting the policies needed to finance real infrastructure in place rapidly. How much of it will be in the Queen’s speech, how ambitious is this Government in regards to feed-in tariffs and the green investment bank? If the GIB is not sufficiently capitalised, then it won’t achieve what it could – and should – for the realisation of our low-carbon future.”