General Election 2015: Green Party accused of ignoring climate change during campaign

Critics say Natalie Bennett isn’t using her position to lead the debate

Green Party's Brighton & Hove MP Caroline Lucas, and leader Natalie Bennett
Green Party's Brighton & Hove MP Caroline Lucas, and leader Natalie Bennett

Scientists and campaigners have rounded on the Green Party by accusing it of turning its back on its main mission by largely ignoring the crucial issue of climate change in the run-up to the general election.

Critics said that although the Green Party manifesto contains plenty of references to policies on global warming, the subject has gone largely unspoken in campaigning by the party and its leader, Natalie Bennett.

Professor Peter Wadhams, of the University of Cambridge, who has edited highly influential UN reports on the subject, said: “The Green Party are grievously at fault in not talking about climate change. Its politicians should be saying that the most important and urgent problem facing the whole planet, including the UK, is climate change and the speed at which it is happening.

“Natalie Bennett had a great chance to talk about the issues at the debate last Thursday but was very disappointing because she came across as just another machine politician, talking about the NHS and unemployment. The words ‘climate change’ may briefly have passed her lips but she didn’t make any kind of a point about it.”

The failure of all parties to address global warming in their campaigning is a “sad indictment” on the political system, the professor of ocean physics said, calling it a “disgrace”.

A couple sit on Brighton beach - in Caroline Lucas' constituency - earlier this week during unseasonably hot weather

But the low profile accorded to the subject by the Green Party has been particularly disappointing for many environmental campaigners given that the organisation was set up primarily to look after the environment.

Kevin Lister, an environmental campaigner and author of the climate-change book The Vortex of Violence, said: “The Green Party are becoming a political irrelevance. Natalie Bennett is not using her position to lead the climate-change debate – she is too concerned about moving to the centre ground to appeal to voters.”

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Mr Lister said that the Brighton & Hove MP Caroline Lucas was a notable exception and that she is putting the message about climate change across strongly.

The criticisms are just the latest to hit Ms Bennett, following a series of embarrassing performances in media interviews. But she has fought back, arguing that she had done more than any other leader to highlight the issue. Saying it was “really very telling” that none of her rivals had uttered the words “climate change” during 3.5 hours of debate, she told The Independent: “I will claim some credit for the fact that climate change was talked about in both of the leader debates, even if I was the only person who talked about it.

“We need to take bold action on climate change, and we need to do it soon. That’s why we’re focusing on climate change as one of the key themes of our campaign and it’s why Green MPs elected on May 7th will make it their mission to push for the changes we so desperately need to avert catastrophic climate change. At the very heart of the Green Party’s campaign in this election is our ongoing commitment to protecting our shared environment. That’s why we launched our manifesto with a commitment to insulating nine million homes across the country – which would cut carbon, create jobs and keep people warm in their homes over winter.”

She insisted that voters were conscious of the dangers posed by global warming, saying: “It is quite a tribute to the sense and judgement of the public that despite the efforts of the right-wing media tycoons over a long period of time, there has been a consistent high level of understanding that climate change is man-made, it’s here now and it’s serious.”

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, conceded that the Green Party “could have talked about climate change more” – although he said he understood why it was keen to be seen to be about much more than the environment.

The Green Party’s failure to push climate change is part of a much bigger problem as political parties across the board sweep the frightening reality of global warming under the carpet, Sir Jonathon Porritt, a former Green Party chairman, said.

He argued that all of Britain’s political parties were guilty of choosing to hide behind the Climate Change Act – which sets legally binding targets for the UK to reduce carbon emissions – rather than debating the issues and policies needed to meet those goals. “It’s funny that the main parties sanitise the climate‑change debate by all signing up to an anodyne statement saying they all still believed in the Climate Change Act,” he said.

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