Green issues: The experts' view

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Indy Politics

Before the election campaign started, the leaders of all three parties highlighted the threat that climate change presents. Left unchecked, they said anxiously, it could "radically alter human existence" (Tony Blair), "Threaten our very existence" (Michael Howard) and be "the most severe threat that we face today" (Charles Kennedy).

Simon Reddy, Policy and solutions director, Greenpeace UK

Before the election campaign started, the leaders of all three parties highlighted the threat that climate change presents. Left unchecked, they said anxiously, it could "radically alter human existence" (Tony Blair), "Threaten our very existence" (Michael Howard) and be "the most severe threat that we face today" (Charles Kennedy).

But when it comes to precipitating a public debate, only the Liberal Democrats of the main parties have been prepared to take climate change to the polls. And only the Green Party has put the environment at the centre of its election agenda.

In the Labour and Conservative camps, a surreal silence has broken out; important though health and education are, the scale of the challenge we face from climate change means it should be up there with them as a key election issue.

Perhaps Mr Blair is ashamed that under his watch carbon dioxide emissions have actually gone up. Perhaps Mr Howard knows that his populist call to end Labour's "war" on the motorist simply doesn't stand up and blatantly contradicts his rhetoric on climate change. How inconvenient.

Tony Juniper, Executive director, Friends of the Earth

The scientific consensus is clear: climate change is the greatest threat civilisation faces - yet it has barely featured in the election campaign. It may be a small comfort that all parties have promised at least a 20 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010, and a 60 per cent cut by 2050.

On transport, the Conservatives promise to end a "war on the motorist" which doesn't exist. Since 1997, the cost of travelling by car has fallen by 7 per cent, while rail prices are up 4 per cent and bus tickets are up 10 per cent. Labour promises a rash of motorway widening which will lead to even more traffic. The Lib Dems offer a presumption against major road building, and the Greens promise to cut traffic by 10 per cent.

GM crops would be banned by the Green Party, while the Conservatives and Lib Dems insist they must be proved safe before planting. Even then, they promise consumer choice to avoid them. Labour can't be bothered to mention GM food in their manifesto - even though it has been one of the greatest issues of public concern in recent years.

Graham Wynne, Chief executive, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

At least three of the parties that have, to date, published their manifestos, have included commitments to improve protection of our marine environment and to encourage more children to have contact with the natural environment as part of their formal education. But they all seem rather shy about mentioning wildlife up front.

If we are to harness renewable energy resources such as wave, tidal and wind power, and better protect the fish stocks that remain, we need a planning framework - just as we have on land. All three main parties have promised marine legislation to help resolve conflicts and protect wildlife. This is laudable, though long overdue.

The parties come up with a number of positive proposals that would help wildlife. For example, Labour will encourage farmers to protect the environment and promise to tackle the tricky problem of water pollution. The Lib Dems are the only party to promise to spend more money abroad to ensure that development is sustainable and protects rare wildlife. The Conservatives promise to protect the green belt.

Shaun Spears, Chief executive, Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE)

Of the three main parties' manifestos, the Liberal Democrats' emerges as the one with the broadest and deepest commitments on environmental issues, with almost all chapters promising specifically "green action".

The Conservatives have the least to say - but in part that's because they've got a pretty short manifesto. We like the Tories' commitment to establish more Green Belt with tighter development rules and to give local communities greater say over planning decisions. But it's a bit vague.

We particularly welcome the commitment in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto to reform VAT to encourage developers to repair and reuse empty buildings and brownfield land, rather than building on greenfield sites and eroding the countryside. Of the three main parties, they have the most to say about greening taxation.

Labour seems to be competing with the Tories to be friends with the motorist, with pledges on motorway expansion. But we do welcome Labour's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent from their 1990 level by 2010.

Guy Thompson, Director, The Green Alliance

While the party leaders have slugged it out on the economy, public services and immigration, green issues have barely featured. Just before the election was announced, Green Alliance and seven other leading environmental organisations challenged the parties to commit to four pledges: to tackle climate change, to introduce a new law to protect our sea life, to entitle every child to out-of-classroom learning and to provide a high quality natural environment for all.

All the parties are signed up to tackling climate change, but differ in their means. Only Labour specifically commits to the target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 in its manifesto. The Conservatives outline a strategy to reduce HFCs, a potent greenhouse gas. Of the proposed energy mix, only the Liberal Democrats rule out new nuclear plant.

Whichever party wins the election faces a tough challenge. Emissions of carbon dioxide have risen for the past two years and we need strong action if we are to get back on track to meet our aspirations to lead the world in tackling climate change.

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