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Key parties in UK pledge green energy makeovers

By Jeremy Hodges, Bloomberg

Britain’s main political parties agree on one thing in this election season: The environment needs radical action fast.

While Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and the Labour opposition run by Jeremy Corbyn scrap over Brexit and socialism, their hardening consensus about climate change is putting the U.K. on track for what may be the most radical energy policies in the developed world.

Those two parties along with Liberal Democrats and Greens are responding to pressure for action from protesters, who occupied public spaces and bridges for weeks last month to draw attention to the risks of global warming. Scientists also are raising the alarm bell, with the British Broadcasting Corp. amplifying the message through a constant stream of David Attenborough documentaries on the issue.

“Public and business concerns have created a landscape where none of the parties can ignore climate change,” said Nick Molho, executive director at Aldersgate Group, which advises companies on energy and environment policies. “If you were talking at a conference two years ago about net zero, people would’ve thought you were mad. It was a fringe issue. Now it is completely across business, society and politics.”

The result is a marked contrast with the political environment in the U.S. or even other European nations, where business lobbies and conservative groups stress the costs of a quick transition away from fossil fuels.

In Britain, the main parties agree the U.K. should work toward zeroing out emissions and that coal plants should close early in the next decade. In encounters with media and voters, Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are falling over themselves to prove their green credentials with pledges to plant more trees, install more wind turbines and boost investment into cleaning up Britain’s energy supply.

Voting in the U.K. on Dec. 12 may help provide a signal for the sort of environment policies that sell, a result that may help guide the work of Democrats in the U.S. working on a “green new deal.” Following is where the main U.K. parties stand on climate and environment:

Conservative Party

Since the Conservatives took office in 2010, their energy policies spurred the U.K. to become a world leader in offshore wind. They’ve also set a target to drop coal as a power generation fuel by 2025 and closed some of the nation’s largest plants burning the fuel.

Britain under the Conservatives was the first major economy to enshrine in law a target for net-zero emissions by 2050 and has committed to the end the sale of new cars using internal combustion engines. It also imposed a moratorium on new fracking of natural gas wells, citing the risk of earthquakes.

Johnson hasn’t yet set out a manifesto that would detail how the 2050 target will be met, but enough commitments have dribbled out to show the direction of Conservative policy. That includes 640 million pounds ($826 million) on planting 30 million trees a year by 2025 and 800 million pounds for carbon capture, use and storage.

Some of the policies are aimed more at protecting the look of the countryside than the environment: Conservatives have all but banned new wind farms on land and made it more difficult to build sprawling solar photovotaic units. Johnson wants developers to focus on offshore wind, setting a target for 40 gigawatts by 2030. He also has backed citizens climate assembly to guide climate policy, one of the key demands of the protest movement Extinction Rebellion.

ConservativesLabour PartyLiberal Democrat
Net zero target2050Within the 2030s2045
Onshore windEffective ban*Grow capacity 2.5 times to 30GW by 2030Lift onshore ban and invest
Offshore windHit 40GW capacity by 2030Seven-fold increase of capacity to 52GW by 2030Part of effort to double wind and solar capacity by 2030
SolarEffective ban*Triple solar capacity to 35GWAll new homes to be fitted with solar panels
Tree planting30m a year by 2025No hard target; an “ambitious program”60m trees a year
FrackingMoratoriumOutright banOutright ban
EVs£500 million into EV charging£3.4 billion into network of electric vehiclesEvery new car and van sold by 2030 to be electric
Total green investmentNo pledge yet1.9% of GDP a year to 2030; £250 billion Green Transformation Fund£100 billion to tackle climate emergency

* No auction rounds open to either technology since 2015

Labour Party

Labour is positioned as the most radical on climate and energy, seeking to upend decades of efforts to privatize utilities and oil companies. Corbyn wants to nationalize electricity distribution and water utilities. He’s planning an 11 billion-pound windfall tax on oil companies to pay for retraining workers hit by the transition to cleaner energy.

The party’s self-styled “Green Industrial Revolution” has seen commitments topping 100 billion pounds that it wants to invest in adding 10,000 turbines in the wind industry and as enough solar panels to cover 22,000 soccer pitches.

A plan to reach net-zero by 2030 was softened somewhat in the manifesto saying instead it’ll “put the U.K. on track for a net-zero carbon energy system within the 2030s.” Its decarbonization efforts will trigger the installation of eight million heat pumps to decarbonize the country’s heating systems. Labour says it can deliver 90% of electricity from renewable and low carbon sources within a decade.

A 250 billion pound green transformation fund will support renewable energy, transport and environmental restoration. All this plus job creation in green energy of around 1 million will add, the party says, 800 billion pounds to the U.K. economy.

Liberal Democrats

Jo Swinson as head the Liberal Democrats says the Conservatives have consistently failed to lead on the environment and that Labour just wants to spend its way out of the problem. The third-biggest party wants to “innovate our way out of the crisis.” It’ll start that by establishing a Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources and setting a course for net-zero by 2045.

About 100 billion pounds will go toward climate change action and protecting the environment. A 10 billion-pound Renewable Power Fund would aim to boost private sector investment in clean energy. Liberal Democrats aim to double solar and wind capacity by 2030, saying by then at least 80% of electricity will come from clean sources.

They’d also require all U.K. registered companies to align targets with goals in the Paris Agreement on climate change, imposing a duty of care for the environment.

On tree planting, the party said it’ll embark on the U.K.’s largest ever re-forestation project.

Outlook

Britain already is one of the countries furthest ahead on clean energy. Coal fueled almost 40% of electricity generation plants just six years ago, but that figure dropped to 5% last year. And the last seven plants are due to shut by the middle of the next decade.

That’s emboldened all the parties to pledge quicker action, something whoever wins the vote next month will highlight when the U.K. hosts the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow in 2020.

“The U.K. is hosting a major climate conference next year, and while its net zero law is a major step forward, we are not on track to achieve it,” said Dustin Benton, policy director at Green Alliance. “Getting on track is the bare minimum for the U.K. to be a credible host of the summit.”