The report, Fit for the future?, was launched just days before the party conference season. The report suggests that while the range and urgency of the environmental threats has continued to increase in the past year, all the parties have retreated from the environmental agenda.
All three political parties in Westminster - Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - are failing to prepare the UK for future challenges and future opportunities. While the report does not directly compare and contrast the parties, it emphasises that all three must drastically improve their performance in the run up to the next election.
Stephen Hale, Director of Green Alliance, said on behalf of the groups:'None of the three main parties are currently showing the vision and courage to prepare the UK for the challenges ahead. There is no long-term route to prosperity and security unless our political leaders tackle climate change and protect the natural environment. In a time of rising fuel and food costs, the need for an ambitious approach to environmental policy has never been clearer.'
Get 'fit for the future'
Some politicians, from all three parties, seem to believe the economic downturn reduces the importance of action on the environment. But the opposite is true. The public recognise the continuing importance of green issues and have not abandoned their concern for the environment, as a July Guardian/ICM poll confirmed.Parties that are 'fit for the future' would use the current economic downturn to make the case for the switch to a low-carbon economy. The environment groups behind this report call on the three party leaders to make clear commitments to action in their party conference speeches, including:
- Yes to delivering 15% of UK energy from renewable sources by 2020
- Yes to a massive uplift in energy efficiency through major public investment and action to radically improve the energy performance of existing homes
- Yes to putting in place policies that will value, protect and enhance the natural environment and secure the benefits it provides
- No to new unabated coal power stations
- No to expansion of airport capacity at Stansted or Heathrow
Hale added: 'The party conference speeches by the three party leaders will be an important test of their ability to lead the UK to a low-carbon future. They must step up to the mark and commit to our proposals for action on energy efficiency, renewables, coal and aviation. There is no other credible alternative.
'To be 'fit for the future' all parties must commit to and actively pursue an ambitious climate change strategy and up their game on the natural environment. The public have not abandoned their concern for the environment so why should our politicians? With a general election on the horizon, our five million supporters will be watching.'
Past performance poor
On the party's performances in 2007-08, the report finds that:
- The government's approach is contradictory and incoherent; this is epitomised by John Hutton's failure to rule-out new unabated coal power stations which will undermine the government's own climate change targets
- The Conservatives are strong on presentation but weak on substance; they must develop firm policy commitments if the reality is going to match their rhetoric. David Cameron, for instance, missed out climate change and environment in his statement in May on priorities for a future Conservative government
- The Liberal Democrats' traditional leadership on the environment has waned over the past year; Nick Clegg has not yet created policies on environmental issues expected from the Liberal Democrats
Hope for the future
There are some positives recorded in the report, including the government's draft renewables strategy and draft Marine Bill. Also welcome was David Cameron's speech in June where he said the environment must be central to our response to the economic downturn. Nick Clegg's recent commitment to make the UK energy independent and carbon neutral by 2050 and to review Liberal Democrat policies on the natural environment following criticism in last year's Green Standard report are to be applauded.
The Climate Change Bill is another major achievement, in which all of the parties have played their part; however it must be strengthened in its final stages in parliament, as the UK will only meet its targets if the ambition in the Bill is backed up by policies that deliver.