Parties challenged on lack of environmental leadership

Friday 13th September 2013

Stephanie Hilborne OBE cpt ChrisTaylorPhotography.comStephanie Hilborne OBE cpt ChrisTaylorPhotography.com

In a report published today, seven leading charities, including WWF, RSPB, Greenpeace, The Wildlife Trusts and Friends of the Earth, assess the green performance of coalition ministers and Labour shadow ministers since the last general election.

They review the parties on four key areas: the economy, communities, nature and international leadership.

Our economy and society are entirely dependent upon nature

The assessment has identified good performance by individual ministers and shadow ministers. However, it concludes that none of the parties has a coherent environmental programme and there is no consistent public leadership on the environment from any of the party leaders.

Among the findings The Green Standard 2013 states that the Liberal Democrats have made an impact on low carbon decisions but have failed to make the environment central to their governing project; it is subsequently losing its identity as a ‘green party’. 

Political leaders need to catch up fast if we are to redress the damage we have done to our natural capital to date

The groups say that David Cameron has failed to address the growing scepticism about climate change in the Conservative Party and that, as prime minister, he needs to signal stronger support for UK green policies.  However, a number of Conservative ministers are praised for their performance in international negotiations.

Whilst Labour in opposition receives recognition for supporting the development of a low carbon economy, and for opposing the sell-off of public forests and the badger cull, the review concludes that there is still “no real sense that the environment is at the heart of One Nation Labour.”

Matthew Spencer, director of the think tank Green Alliance, which edited the review, said: 

“In private our party leaders speak eloquently about the importance of environmental stewardship to their political mission, but they have rarely made the case publicly since the election.  As a result the coalition has lost momentum as a reforming government seeking to be green. The opposition is raising its game, but has been slow to develop the policy ideas necessary to realise its ambition.”

The review identifies the most significant ministerial interventions of the past three
years:

Conservative:
George Osborne has framed environmental policy as an obstacle to growth, not as a route to prosperity. William Hague, Richard Benyon and Greg Barker are praised for their leadership in international negotiations.

Labour:
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have shown promising leadership on the low carbon economy.  But Labour has not developed a programme for delivering its green ambitions.

Liberal Democrat:
This party has won some significant battles on climate change.  But Ed Davey’s performance on the detail of electricity market reform has been patchy.

Millions of people place a high value on wildlife, and this dependency is increasingly recognised by business leaders, health professionals and others

Notes for editors:
The assessment was published jointly by The Wildlife Trusts, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF, the Campaign for Better Transport, Green Alliance and the RSPB.  Collectively, these groups represent a membership of over 2.5 million people in the UK.  It is estimated that the three main political parties have a declining membership of around 372,000.

Stephen Joseph OBE, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport said:

“All three parties have focused on getting the economy moving again and have seen transport and other infrastructure as a way to do this. But true political leadership should focus on getting the right kind of infrastructure that we need for a modern and green economy. Too often politicians have either kept quiet on the environment or else seen it as getting in the way of a return to concrete and tyres.”

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts said:

“Our economy and society are entirely dependent upon nature.  Millions of people place a high value on wildlife, and this dependency is increasingly recognised by business leaders, health professionals and others.  Political leaders need to catch up fast if we are to redress the damage we have done to our natural capital to date.”

Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth said:

“The overwhelming response of people in Britain to the dramatic decline in our bees is a vivid illustration of how highly we value the environment and yet there is a deeply troubling trend among our political elite to disregard our views and favour vested interests.  Nothing exposes this more clearly than the appetite of our politicians to start fracking, which is demonstrably against the will and
interests of ordinary people who time-and-again say they want locally-owned renewable power.”

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said:

"The UK public love nature and expect their politicians to do more to preserve the environment for future generations. There’s also strong public support for renewable energy, action on pollution and tackling climate change – in short, for going green.

“The green economy has also bucked the trend of the recession and is the UK’s strongest growth sector. But these areas all need support, and mainstream politicians from each of the parties have failed to show visible and consistent leadership on the environment.

“Given that our leaders recognise that we’re in a global race to develop environmentally sustainable economies, it’s in their interest to show environmental leadership.”

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said: 

“Whilst David Cameron urgently needs to address the willingness of his ministers to openly challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, our review also shows why the Liberal Democrats are fast losing their image as a ‘green’ political party.

“Their failure to stop the chancellor from undermining efforts to cut carbon pollution, and their support for fracking for more fossil fuels in the English countryside, will have left many of their voters feeling betrayed.

“It’s a wonder that, given all this, Ed Miliband hasn’t seized the initiative and given more attention to the coalition’s failings on the environment and the potential for green growth and jobs.”

Mike Clarke, chief executive of RSPB said: 

“We hope this report will help political leaders get the natural environment re-established as a central concern in political debate.”

You can read the report in full here.

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