The differing net zero policies, how to achieve them and the electric vehicle (EV) rollout took centre stage at a debate between members of the Green, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties last night.
The event, General Election 2019: Putting the UK on Track for Net Zero Emissions and a Healthier Environment, was held by the Aldersgate Group to mark the release of it’s report Time to Deliver: Building a Competitive and Inclusive Green Economy.
Held at the BT Centre, Kwasi Kwarteng of the Conservative Party, Amelia Womack, the deputy leader of the Green Party, Alan Simpson, an adviser to John McDonnell representing the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats’ Lord Fox, spoke.
All commended their manifestos, and called for cross-party collaboration to allow the UK to meet its decarbonisation targets.
A number of key topics were discussed including the parties’ differing net zero targets, the role of EVs and electrifying transport and support for renewables.
Net zero: Who is aiming for what?
The Conservative Party earlier this year set a net zero by 2050 goal, becoming the first major economy to do so. But many, including the different political parties have argued that this is not ambitious enough, and exactly what net zero means is also up for debate.
The Labour Party, whose net zero target date has been uncertain, have settled on the 2030’s said Simpson. He said that they had agreed on a “fudge”, taking into account the views of a number of different factions.
But he said that the next parliament would effectively decide what was possible, as such having a fixed deadline for net zero was meaningless without the power to implement change.
He cautioned in his opening speech that we must be clear about what net zero is.
“”It is painful for me to admit that our starting point as the UK begins with dishonest accounting.
“Simply because 40% of our carbon footprint is in what we consume, it’s externalising our carbon debt, and you can’t cheat the planet and pretend that just shovel ling it under someone else’s carpet or their accounting actually delivers anything that will avoid catastrophic ecological and economic devastation.”
Amelia Womack of the Green Party said that “2030 is the only acceptable target.” She argued that setting long targets meant people only went after “low hanging fruit”.
Kwasi was dismissive of this argument, saying that “if you are setting a target, you have to think about how you get there, and frankly I don’t think 2030 is possible”.
But Womack was quick to reply, pointing to the Green Party manifesto, saying it “has a carbon budget, so if you do want to do it by 2030, here is the blueprint for you”.
EVs: Increasing infrastructure, reducing vehicles and car clubs
A common thread throughout all of the speeches was the need to decarbonise the transport network, and that EVs would play an important part in that.
The Labour speaker Simpson argued that delivery vehicles should be the first step. He went on to say that the Conservatives “don’t have enough friends in poor places”. For true change, there needs to be schemes and incentives for people who could not otherwise afford EVs to speed decarbonisation.
He proposed car clubs, in which people get free entrance and priority parking spaces for trading in their “gas guzzling old banger”. This co-ownership EV model, would lower car ownership, he said, lowering traffic. It would likely take off in other, middle class areas if less affluent areas were the starting point.
“Putting the poor at the centre of changes is the route to truly transformative change,” he continued.
The Green Party emphasised the need for better public transportation, and investment in cycling and walking in order to minimise the need for cars at all.
Kwasi reiterated the party’s previous investment pledge, £1 billion in completing a fast-charging network. But he also urged the others not to forget other methods of decarbonising transportation, such as hydrogen, which received nods from the other speakers.
The Liberal Democrat’s Lord Fox took the opportunity to condemn the lack of support that local governments have received from the current Conservative government. He said that “powerful, empowered, funded, local government” would be essential for the success of EVs, but that there was no sign from the Conservatives that they understood this.
Arguing for himself, and not the Lib Dems, he added that “there are three things that are happening in many streets and many roads in Britain”.
“There is 5G, there’s full fibre and there’s the need to plug in EVs. For goodness sake, we need to put those three together. They all need power. They all need connectivity, which is a key element to future autonomous driving.
“There needs to be a strategy that actually deliver these in a sensible joined up way.”
The Q&A: The carbon tax, CCS and onshore wind
As the general Q&A part of the night kicked off, carbon tax, carbon capture and storage, and the role of onshore wind quickly came up.
The Green Party is the only one committing to a carbon tax, as we need “bold actions”, Womack said.
It was criticised by Simpson, who said it was a “blunt instrument” and that other methods should be looked at. Instead he suggested that carbon budgeting was a better approach, with fairer ramifications.
In response, Womack said: “I feel like it’s really disingenuous to imply that it’s the poorest communities that create the biggest environmental problem. I mean, just look at flying, for example, it’s only 15% of people that take 70% of the flights.”
She suggested therefore that a carbon tax was not likely to hurt those poorest, and that under a Green Party government there would be sufficient social support to ensure that doesn’t happen.
When challenged on the previous Conservative investment pledge for CCS, which subsequently was rescinded, Kwarteng said that CCS would form a part of the Conservative’s plans going forward. Simpson instead highlighted that actually it could be more effective to just plant trees. The Labour Party is planning to plant two billion more trees if elected.
A report released today by the Centre for Alternative Technology suggested that CCS is not necessary to meet net zero, if renewables and storage capacity were expanded and efficiency measures for reducing demand implemented.
The lack of mention of onshore wind in the Conservative manifesto also came under fire, with Kwarteng responding:
“So onshore wind, there are issues with the auction, the offshore wind auction that we had that people are interested in, in terms of how we develop an onshore wind auction if that’s what we want to do.
“But it’s an ongoing issue. And it’s something that if we get back in we’re absolutely going to be focused on,” he said.
This received criticism from Lord Fox, who said “offshore wind was one of the casualties of the post-coalition cull”, along with the Green Deal, zero carbon homes, and subsidies for solar PV.