Brexit First, Environment Last In Conservative Election Promises

The British Conservative Party has come in for both criticism and praise of its green energy and environmental commitments, as laid out in a new election manifesto.

In the manifesto, released yesterday, the Conservatives say that under their leadership, offshore wind capacity is expected to reach 40 gigawatts by 2030, and that they will spend £500 million ($644 million) helping British industry transition to low-carbon energy. On fracking, the Conservatives say a moratorium on the controversial extraction technique will remain in place “unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”

Renewable energy industry bodies welcomed the proposals, while experts and environmental groups responded with stark warnings.

Luke Clark, director of strategic communications for trade body RenewableUK, said: “It’s great to see the Conservatives reinforcing their commitment to net zero emissions by increasing our offshore wind target to 40 gigawatts by 2030 and pledging support for innovative floating offshore wind projects … As the party’s manifesto acknowledges, we will need to use a range of renewables to modernise our energy system—and that must include using the cheapest sources available, as well as innovative new technologies.”

But Matthew Hannon, senior lecturer and director of research at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde Business School, sounded a note of warning:

“This bid to grow installed capacity by almost five times in just 10 years is at odds with the Conservatives’ central commitment: getting Brexit done,” Hannon said. “The reason is simple: the U.K.’s offshore wind supply chain relies on technologies and skills imported from Europe.” 

Speaking to Forbes.com, Hannon said Brexit had the potential to disrupt the flow of such goods and services through the imposition of new customs checks, trade tariffs and work permits.

“With a lack of U.K.-based companies able to quickly step in and fill any major supply chain gaps these European companies might leave behind, a ‘hard Brexit’ could cast serious doubt on the Conservatives’ lofty offshore wind ambitions,” Hannon said.

Environmental groups were unimpressed by the Tory pledges, with Greenpeace U.K.’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom saying the proposals did not go far enough.

“Our planet is getting oven-ready thanks to the climate emergency, but the Conservative policies to tackle it are on the half-baked side,” Newsom said.

“This manifesto offers a sprinkling of promising commitments for climate and nature but not the radical action needed to set us on track for net zero and fundamentally reverse the decline of our natural world,” she continued. “The party still insists on supporting polluting and destructive infrastructure that we cannot afford if we are to have a healthy and safe future, as the emphasis on road building, Heathrow and North Sea oil and gas make clear,” Newsom added, referring to the controversial expansion of London’s main airport, and fossil fuel exploration off Britain’s east coast.

The Conservatives’ main rivals, the Labour party, last week issued their own manifesto, pledging hundreds of millions of pounds in investment for everything from renewable energy to social programs. In the positioning of their climate change and energy policies, the Conservatives’ manifesto could hardly contrast more strongly with that of Labour, with the Tories placing their environmental policies on page 55 of a 59-page document. Labour, conversely, open their manifesto with plans for a “green industrial revolution.”

Most opinion polls show the Conservatives holding a considerable lead over Labour in the run up to the December 12 election. Boris Johnson’s government has capitalised on public antipathy towards the lengthy Brexit process, employing the slogan “get Brexit done,” though offering few specifics about what that might entail. The Conservatives’ choice to release their manifesto on a Sunday was widely interpreted as a measure intended to minimise media scrutiny of the document.

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