A moratorium on fracking announced last week generated positive headlines for the Conservative government, which has long been criticised for promoting the controversial practice.
Business secretary Andrea Leadsom announced on Saturday that earthquakes at the UK’s only active fracking site - at Preston New Road near Blackpool - led the government to conclude “that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect”.
Experts view the latest announcement as an attempt to neutralise a politically explosive issue. “It’s not a debate that Conservatives want to be having over the next few weeks,” Chris Curtis, political research manager at YouGov, told ENDS.
While heavily criticised for removing level playing field provisions on the environment from the EU withdrawal agreement, the Conservative government has sought to emphasise its commitment to reaching net zero by launching a climate change cabinet committee to be led by prime minister Boris Johnson.
In recent weeks it has launched a new scheme for tree planting, hinted it is considering a ban on blanket bogs, remained ambivalent on the prospect of expanding Heathrow airport, and set out details for a post-Brexit governance system in its Environment Bill.
The Labour leadership has stepped up its rhetoric on environmental issues in recent months, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell telling Channel 4 News this week that “climate change is our number one priority”.
McDonnell said the Labour manifesto will include details on “an intensive level of investment on solar, wind and wave power, on retrofitting homes to tackle the issue around insulation and making sure our transport network in particular is decarbonised as much as it can”.
He also told the BBC on Sunday that Labour could scrap the Heathrow expansion project.
The Conservatives dismissed a motion agreed at the Labour Party conference to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 as “total tosh”, and it remains to be seen whether the pledge will appear in Labour’s election manifesto.
However, a recent report said the target could boost the economy by as much as £800bn and create 850,000 skilled jobs - supporting the party’s commitment to a ‘green industrial revolution’ that would tackle social justice alongside the environmental crisis.
On Brexit, the party has made clear it would seek to renegotiate a deal with the EU that would preserve social and environmental standards, before giving voters a chance to approve it or remain with the EU.
Jo Swinson, the recently elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, has repeatedly emphasised her commitment to addressing climate change. However, she has come under fire for previously taking donations totalling £14,000 from Mark Petterson, the director of a company with multiple fracking licences in England, and for voting against a Labour-backed motion to suspend fracking.
Since Swinson’s election, however, the party has introduced a range of climate-friendly policies. It supports a ban on fracking and would seek to set up citizens’ assemblies to determine policies, revive the Green Investment Bank and create a chief secretary to the Treasury to oversee the work of all government departments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The party also supports a ban on airport expansion, would give local authorities new powers to cut emissions, ban new diesel and petrol car sales by 2030 and bring the UK’s net zero goal forward to 2045.
In October, Swinson announced the party would give businesses a “duty of care” on environmental issues that would force them to make sure their supply chains were not contributing to global environmental issues such as deforestation.
Seeking to ride the ‘green wave’ that has seen environmental issues dominate elections across Europe this year, the Green Party has launched its campaign today with a pledge to spend £100bn a year on addressing climate change - roughly equivalent to the UK’s education budget.
The money would largely come from borrowing, with only £9bn generated from extra tax, and would be invested in projects to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Amelia Womack, the Greens’ deputy leader, said the party would build 100,000 energy efficient homes a year, improve public transport and create “hundreds of thousands” of jobs linked to the green economy.