Where's the action on air pollution?
When David Cameron stood beside Friends of the Earth’s then-boss Tony Juniper in 2006 and launched the Conservative Party campaign for the Climate Change Act, the Tories were on the front-foot on climate change. This is what Theresa May’s manifesto refers to when it says the Conservative helped to frame the Climate Change Act.
Given the life-threatening impacts the poorest in the world are already facing from extreme weather, and given the huge inter-generational injustices of climate change, it is reassuring that Conservative Party has made clear its commitment to both the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement. In doing so they have rebutted the pressure from some right-wingers and rejected the nonsense espoused by President Trump and his acolytes.
But — and it’s a big but — there is a world of difference between pledging to take action on climate change and having the policies to deliver on them. The same is true in other areas, notably air pollution and nature protection. And this is where the Conservative manifesto fails.
Here are three areas where they fall short or have it wrong are:
May has followed in the footsteps of Cameron and George Osborne by cheer-leading for the fracking industry. Proposals for fracking are rightly facing opposition across the country, including in Conservative heartlands. It’s just plain wrong to suggest that fracking is much cleaner than coal or that it will contribute to cutting carbon pollution. Instead it will, if it is allowed to go-ahead, develop a new fossil-fuel industry just at the time when the price of renewable energy and energy storage is tumbling.
Supporting fracking is a nonsense of a policy, and making it easier for developers by removing the rights of local people and local politicians to say no is plain wrong. One thing is certain, fracking will continue to be resisted and the removal of democratic rights will add grist to the mill.
2. Air pollution
Right now, across the country, children’s lungs are being harmed by pollution in the air we breathe, particularly from diesel vehicles. While the manifesto has a welcome re-commitment to invest £600 million in electric cars by 2020, its lack of immediate policies to deal with the dirty air crisis is astounding.
Polluting and cheating car manufacturers will sleep easy knowing that if the Conservatives are elected, and policies are unchanged, they will be let off the hook. This is a national disgrace. The UK could gain economic advantage and increase jobs by being at the fore-front of a transition to electric transport.
Theresa May should have embraced this new technology, and the opportunities that come with it, by promising to clear our streets of diesel by 2025 and ensuring that within 10 years only electric cars are sold.
The prime minister has made welcome commitment to ‘to leave the environment better than we found it’ and fully transfer EU environmental protections to UK law. Her party has also made encouraging noises about the important role that green subsidies have in helping farmers look after nature. But there are precious few firm policy commitments.
The EU has provided incredibly important legal safeguards to nature but the manifesto fails to commit to these being maintained post-Brexit or improved upon over time. Spending on farming and nature is secured for a while longer but the warm words on the role farmers play in stewardship of the countryside needs firmer commitment and increases in spending.
It is a relief to see that the Conservatives have once again nailed their colours to the mast in supporting action on climate change, but their determination to back fracking is plain wrong. Warm words on nature are welcome but don’t go far enough.
But the biggest surprise is the inaction on air pollution, an issue that is generating rising concern among parents, teachers, doctors and others across the UK, and is a crisis that cannot wait to be dealt with.
Mike Childs is head of policy, research and science at Friends of the Earth
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