Lib Dems pre-empt Tories with zero-carbon plans

The Liberal Democrats set out plans yesterday to make Britain carbon neutral by 2050 and fulfil the UK's contribution to limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

In their report ‘Zero Carbon Britain – Taking a Global Lead’ the Liberal Democrats say that by the mid-century all British electricity can be carbon neutral, without any reliance on nuclear power. This step alone could save over 60 million tonnes of carbon, the party claims. Energy companies would become ‘energy service companies’, receiving incentives to make more money by selling less energy.

And in proposals also addressing housing, transport, offices and factories the report sets out plans for green mortgages to finance the upgrading of existing housing stock to energy efficient standards and a new high speed rail line funded by taxes on lorries. Airport Travel Duty would be replaced with a pollution charge covering passenger and freight flights. If current trends continue air emissions could account for a quarter for all emissions by 2038.

To achieve these ambitions the party envisages placing a ‘legal duty’ on UK ministers to achieve carbon neutrality, introducing incentive schemes for renewables and micro-generation, increasing taxes that make the polluter pay, providing long-term finance to develop markets in green technologies and strengthening the EU emissions trading scheme.

The party wants to increase targets in the negotiations for the second period of the Kyoto protocol. They envisage allocating emissions “on a per capita basis”, first in the developed world, and later in the developing world which would be given help to adapt through an “international leapfrog fund”.

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat Leader, said that these proposals would set Britain as a world leader in tackling climate change “along with Sweden, Norway and New Zealand.” By ramping up some of the Labour party’s existing policies – such as bringing forward the deadline for new homes to be carbon neutral from 2016 to 2011 – and rejecting some of its others, including its plans to build more nuclear stations, the party also seeks to position itself as the most credible political leader on green policies in the UK.