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Your Guide to Green Policies in Context

Updated: Jun 29

Can green policies really solve the environmental crisis, or is it too late? With the General Election fast approaching, Chloe Moriarty dives into the background of the main parties’ environmental pledges. 

The long-awaited General Election is almost upon us. Every political party is in the throes of campaigning for their idea of a ‘better Britain’, hurling words across the stage at each other in heated debates, all armed with their best defence:

“You can find it in our manifesto.”

These lengthy roadmaps to a brighter future, overflowing with complicated policies and often wishful budgeting, are full of promised solutions to many of the issues troubling Britons today; the NHS; the cost of living crisis; immigration. One such ever-expanding political battlefield is that concerning sustainability and the environment- a contentious topic frequently fought out by the major parties. 

Whilst there are points of overlap, the differing approaches to tackling environmental issues are often best imagined as two people  stuck on opposing sides of a ravine, each trying to build a bridge across to the other but both equally unwilling to agree on who should compromise the most by building beyond the halfway point. This election remains no different, and each party has laid out varying environmental priorities as small pieces in their puzzles of policies. 

Yet, what do any of these policies mean with context? Why are people debating over these issues in the first place? And who can provide the right solution to these problems?

The General Election will be held on Thursday 4th July, when all 650 seats in the House of Commons will be up for election. Image Credits: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Stephen Pike via Wikimedia Commons.

What follows is a focus on just one of the environmental pledges of each of the five main parties in England. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of green policies from each party or guidance on who to vote for, but instead a snapshot overview of the context behind  some of each party’s targets and their key debates. You can find out more information about the parties and their policies here.

Conservatives: Protecting our marine world

The Policy: The governing party rolled out their environmental pledges with a focus on the oceans, referencing their previous work in expanding the ‘Blue Belt’- a series of marine protected areas (MPAs)- and pledging to ‘consult UK overseas territories on opportunities to expand [the Blue Belt] further’ (p.65)

The Context: The health of our marine ecosystems is deteriorating, with rising sea level, ocean acidification, and overfishing contributing to declining biodiversity not just in UK waters but worldwide. MPAs have been proposed as an effective method of preserving vital ocean habitats and species, with the Global Ocean Alliance (of which the UK is a member) agreeing on a target of ‘30x30’- protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

Despite such ambitious targets, as of May 2023 only 8% of the ocean was protected and less than 3% of this area categorised as being ‘highly protected’. MPAs without full protection may still allow fishing or other activities to occur, diminishing their positive effect and threatening the survival of ocean species. Adequate policing of these vast expanses of ocean also remains an issue, with more resources required to ensure that regulations within MPAs can be properly enforced. Although the Blue Belt only forms a small part of the network of MPAs necessary to reach the 30x30 target, pledging its expansion is a positive step towards achieving the protections required to guarantee the future of our marine world.

Marine Protected Areas are essential to conserving the abundance of species found in oceans around the world. Image Credits: Gabriel Barathieu via Wikimedia Commons.

Labour: Bringing energy back home

The Policy: Labour are championing renewables in their manifesto, with their flagship policy involving the creation of publicly-owned Great British Energy, which ‘will be owned by the British people and [will] deliver power back to the British people’.

The Context: The demand for renewable energy is growing as the world looks for a way to divert away from fossil fuels and their associated emissions. The UK’s varied weather makes it ideally placed for the development of renewables, with solar and offshore wind power now well-established; below ground, the potential for Earth’s geothermal energy to heat our homes is being explored by the newly-formed National Geothermal Centre

Labour’s £8.3 billion investment in the establishment of Great British Energy aims to help them deliver on their promise of ‘doubl[ing] onshore wind, tripl[ing] solar power, and quadrupl[ing] offshore wind by 2030’, in a move that they believe will ‘make Britain a clean energy superpower.’ The guiding reasons behind this policy are to increase UK energy security in the face of global conflicts- gas prices rocketed by 129% after the outbreak of Russia’s war in Ukraine-, to create jobs in the green sector, and decarbonise our energy. 

However, critics argue that the plan to fund this company through windfall taxes on gas and oil companies could result in the loss of thousands of jobs. Whilst expanding renewable power is critical to staying below 1.5°C of warming, experts are still undecided on whether Great British Energy is the solution.

Liberal Democrats: Farming for success

The Policy: The Liberal Democrats unveiled a series of ambitious environmental policies, with particular emphasis on the transition to sustainable agriculture. They propose to ‘introduce a range of “public money for public goods” programmes’ that will reward farmers for moving towards more environmentally-conscious practice.

The Context: Large-scale intensive farming is known to have detrimental environmental impacts, including the eutrophication of rivers due to agricultural runoff, a reduction in soil quality due to heavy tilling, and widespread decline in pollinator populations due to the use of pesticides. However, alongside key policy changes, empowering local farmers to reduce the environmental impact of their work is pivotal to restoring nature. 

A sustainable transition requires effective financial support, which the Lib Dems believe comes in the form of ‘public money for public goods’ incentives. Using this principle, taxpayer money will be distributed to farmers in return for their commitment to sustainable agriculture, which may come in the form of hedgerow restoration, wildlife protection, organic farming, and more. The Liberal Democrats state that this is ‘contingent’ on those responsible supporting the Environmental Land Management scheme - either the existing version or an adapted system. Overall, this policy promotes the type of collaboration that is intrinsic to increasing social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

The Liberal Democrats are proposing rewarding farmers financially for their efforts in transitioning to sustainable agriculture. Image Credits: Lewis Clarke via Wikimedia Commons.

Green Party: Saying no to nuclear

The Policy: With their environmental policies rated most favourably by Friends of the Earth, the Green Party have centred their manifesto on sustainability. Yet, their pledge to facilitate the ‘phase-out of nuclear energy’ has created controversy. 

The Context: Nuclear energy, generated via the splitting of atoms during the process of nuclear fission, currently accounts for approximately 16% of the UK’s electricity supply. Unsurprisingly, investment in nuclear power remains a point of contention due to its high costs, long start up times, and environmental impact- notably the production of radioactive waste, which remains active for thousands of years and poses an extreme health threat in the rare case of nuclear meltdown. 

Whilst some argue that nuclear power is a less than ideal but necessary step in the transition away from fossil fuels, others question its cost-effectivity and suggest that the government’s current pro-nuclear stance is ‘difficult to justify’. Regardless, nuclear power continues to grow around the world as countries attempt to rapidly decarbonise their energy sectors. The Green Party’s stance on this issue is not uncommon, but it is worth considering that without the substantially greater efficiency of nuclear power, other renewable sources will have to be ramped up significantly in order to meet Net Zero targets.

The development of nuclear power remains a controversial topic, despite its potential to support the transition away from fossil fuels. Image Credits: Ad Meskens via Wikimedia Commons.

Reform UK: Accepting it’s time to adapt

The Policy: Perhaps not as known for their environmental policies, Reform UK have announced a headline pledge to ‘scrap Net Zero’, boldly stating that ‘we must not impoverish ourselves in pursuit of unaffordable, unachievable global CO2 targets’ (p.8). 

The Context: Ditching Net Zero, removing renewable energy subsidies, and fast-tracking oil and gas licences goes directly against the firm recommendations of the majority of experts around the world. However, Reform UK’s environmental statements are revealing in their departure from prevention strategies in favour of the acceptance of environmental decline; mitigation is prioritised. 

This debate is more commonly seen in hazardous environments, where governments try to balance the prevention of a natural hazard with the consideration of the hazard as inevitable, instead aiming to mitigate against the severity of the event. Climate ‘doomism’, the overwhelming feeling of anxiety related to the climate crisis, often also results in similar inaction and is widely studied in environmental psychology. Whilst these pledges swing substantially further towards adaptation than prevention, the balance of the two approaches remains an important consideration for policymakers, particularly when allocating finance. 

So, what’s next?

There is no one way to solve the climate crisis, and interdisciplinary collaboration is critical to create effective action in the face of environmental decline. The General Election provides an important opportunity to project your voice and hold your elected representatives to account. We have reached a crossroads that will determine our future, and it is more important than ever that we exercise our democratic right and stand up for what we believe in by turning out to vote.

The General Election will be held on Thursday 4th July 2024. Polls will be open 7am-10pm on polling day. Please remember that photo ID is required to vote.

About the Author: Chloe Moriarty is a second-year BSc Geography with Proficiency in Law student at the University of Exeter, with a keen interest in historic extinctions, human-wildlife conflicts, and environmental law. She runs an environmental campaign on campus, and volunteers weekly for an environmental education charity. You can find out more and connect with Chloe via her LinkedIn.

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Great piece and an excellent way to get some insight. Accurate and informative, but also easy to understand. Very well written!



Great piece. I learnt a lot about issues I had no idea about previously



Really interesting piece Chloe- I love the breadth of issues that you have covered here.

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