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The Green party’s plans aren’t perfect but they offer a much-needed attempt at climate leadership

The Green party’s plans aren’t perfect but they offer a much-needed attempt at climate leadership

The Green party’s target is to take four seats at the upcoming UK election. Recognising it has no chance of forming a government, its manifesto is written from the perspective of a future pressure group within Westminster.

In doing so, the party highlights some key ideas and steps that could help the UK achieve meaningful climate action. This provides a refreshing attempt to outline an alternative way forward, at a time when climate leadership is severely lacking from other parties.

The Greens’ manifesto has climate action woven through it and the wording often emphasises the link between climate and socioeconomic issues, as the impacts of a changing climate could push more people into poverty and disrupt global food supply chains. It states: “The solutions to the climate crisis are the same as those needed to end the cost of living and inequity crises, making the future not just more liveable but fairer for us all too.”

The Greens argue that a rebalancing of the economy is required to achieve such a just transition. While the party stops short of calling for degrowth (producing fewer unnecessary goods and services in favour of more socially beneficial economic activity), the focus on a carbon tax and push for investment in public services and renewables could deliver a similar impact.

The party also wants to change how success is measured in the economy, calling for “new indicators that take account of the wellbeing of people and planet, and track our progress towards building a greener and fairer future”. This is the first time an established party has explicitly reframed what the measures of a successful nation should be.

The manifesto embraces an agreed basic standard of living and a set of planetary boundaries that our activities shouldn’t push us beyond, based on the theory of “doughnut economics”. By comparison, the existing model focuses almost solely on economic growth as the key measure of success.

Steps to decarbonise

One of the key issues the Greens want to address is the fact the UK’s housing stock is some of the worst in Europe. A vast programme of insulation and decarbonisation measures is needed across all tenures, and the Greens earmark £50 billion over the length of the parliament for retrofitting buildings. One issue here is that they don’t specify how the current supply chain could be scaled up to achieve this.

The manifesto does recognise that to reduce the UK’s carbon impact, buildings can’t just be demolished and rebuilt. Circularity is needed with zero extraction of new materials in the construction of new homes and buildings.

The Greens propose to tackle this with planning applications to include whole-life carbon and energy calculations. Plus, all materials from demolished buildings will need to be considered for reuse, and increased rates for the disposal of builders’ waste would ensure that this is financially viable.

Significant investment is also needed to upgrade the UK’s energy networks to enable decarbonisation, with another proposed £50 billion assigned to electricity generation, transmission and storage. The manifesto also highlights the potential for greater community involvement in – and direct benefit from – new solar and wind farms, which research suggests can speed up the provision of decentralised energy generation.

Where the Greens diverge most widely from the current energy decarbonisation orthodoxy is on nuclear. Their proposal to cancel funding for research on new technology, namely small modular reactors, appears reactionary at a time where its potential is still being explored.

nuclear power station with huge white clouds of smoke, blue sky
The Green Party would not fund research into small modular nuclear reactors. stocker1970/Shutterstock

In transport, the Greens recognise that simply rolling out the sale of electric vehicles is not enough. They want to expand public transport and active travel (walking and cycling) through a £13 billion investment to deliver public transport as a service rather than for profit.

But this would depend on giving local authorities in England the powers that London has to act as bus operators. Combined Authorities in Greater Manchester, South and West Yorkshire are currently transitioning to a franchised system, but a full “London-style” network is some way off.

The Greens are also the only party to take the bold action of proposing a frequent flyer levy, although they do not detail how it will work. Typically, proposed plans for such levies increase on a sliding scale as the number of flights increases, therefore targeting the 15% of people who make 70% of the trips.

There are also proposals to remove the aviation fuels exemption from fuel duty and introduce a domestic flight ban on journeys that can be done by rail in less than three hours, making this manifesto is an exemplar of action targeted at reducing high consumption in the form of frequent flights.

How would they deliver it?

With all this investment, there’s inevitably a question about how the Greens would pay for their plans. Figures in the manifesto suggest significant government borrowing is needed for such radical changes.

On environmental measures alone, an average annual capital and revenue spend of £40 billion would be required, including £7 billion to be invested in climate adaptation. The entire manifesto requires a budget deficit of £65 billion a year for the next five years, gambled against the as yet unknown costs of inaction.

There are some other ideas on funding. A carbon tax would make polluters pay while providing money to invest in the green transition. And taxing multi-millionaires and billionaires could help fund public services, including renationalised utilities such as water companies.

There is also a question of how practical the plans are. Nothing within the Green party manifesto relies on tech that has yet to be invented or impossible interventions. This is not the stuff of techno-optimism. But there are no cities, regions or devolved nations in the UK that have yet adopted the root and branch transformation this manifesto would require.

However, surveys show most people in the UK want decisions on the overwhelming evidence for climate change and the nature crisis, in order to create a more resilient society. The Green manifesto, then, is an imperfect but sorely needed attempt at climate leadership that reflects the urgency of significant rather than iterative change. That should be welcomed in an election where you could otherwise be forgiven for thinking that a response to the climate emergency was an optional extra.

Richard Sulley, Senior Research Fellow, Sustainability Policy, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.