Clegg the Kingmaker: What deal for the climate?

Friends of the Earth emailed all their supporters this morning describing the hung parliament situation as “a fantastic opportunity”.

Friends of the Earth emailed all their supporters this morning describing the hung parliament situation as “a fantastic opportunity”. Urging their members to write to Nick Clegg, Friends of the Earth said:

“In the run up to the election, over 200 Liberal Democrat candidates signed personal pledges to support our key climate change policies. When over 8,000 of you co-signed our letter to Nick Clegg, he responded within hours.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto was the best among the three main parties – and the response of Clegg’s candidates was better than the other major parties (if not up there with the Greens). We need to make sure that some of the key pledges that Nick Clegg made are not dropped.

We’ve got to send a clear message to Clegg now, telling him we’re going to hold him to the environmental promises he and his party made during the campaign.”

So, with speculation suggesting Clegg could be made climate change secretary in any deal, what does the hung parliament mean for policies to reduce carbon pollution and protect the environment?

With most indications pointing to a likely Lib-Con deal, with both parties firmly opposed to the Heathrow expansion plans, it certainly looks like plans for a third runway are now over. However, green groups are still looking for a clear statement from the new prime minister within the first 100 days of office to confirm this. In any case, this would obviously mark a huge victory for the climate movement.

In the last Parliament both the Lib Dems and the Tories worked together, and voted together, to try and clean up the power sector by trying to introduce new emissions performance standards to stop the most polluting power stations – so any deal could mean that such a policy, hard fought for by NGOs, could be back on the table. Again, this is good news.

But on the building of a low carbon economy, things are less clear. On the campaign trail Nick Clegg promised £3.1 billion for a green stimulus as well as £400 million to upgrade British ports to accommodate the coming offshore wind boom. But David Cameron made no such commitment – and hasn’t said whether even existing spend on clean energy would be protected.

Equally on nuclear power, things are uncertain. The Liberal Democrats have solidly and consistently opposed a new generation of nuclear power plants, and so whatever happens, the outcome produces a huge new element of risk for investors. The Tories were only ever lukewarm in their support for nuclear power anyway – and the increased prospect of another general election within the next couple of years produces more risk still.

Take a look at the changing nature of the energy market, and you see that, in large part because of new discoveries of shale gas, the economics of nuclear, like the politics, are also looking even shakier than before; the veteran environmental writer, Geoffrey Lean, thinks that whatever the outcome on who forms the government, it can only really be good news for the green movement.

In The Telegraph, Lean writes:

“Government is surely about to get a great deal greener as the result of the wheeling and dealing that have followed the election. It was always likely that a hung parliament would bring green issues sharply up the political agenda, given the need for Liberal Democrat support.

“But if there were any doubt, it will have been dispelled by David Cameron’s much-praised statement on Saturday afternoon when he identified the ‘low-carbon economy’ as a key priority for co-operation with the Lib Dems, whether inside a coalition or not.

“And should the talks fail, and Labour be able to form a ‘rainbow alliance’, that is likely to be greener still.”

But on Friday the Greenpeace UK blogger Jamie Woolley blogged to encourage people to go on Saturday’s demonstrations in favour of electoral reform. He wrote:

Making the voting system fairer is a key part of the wide-ranging political reforms needed to reduce the influence of vested interests which are hampering the move to a low-carbon economy and lower emissions.”

On fair votes, it remains to be seen if that could ever come out of a Lib-Con deal. Right now that seems about as far away as nuclear power stations that don’t produce radioactive waste, or planes that don’t cause climate change.

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