28 Nov 2019

In the last few days the focus has shifted to the environment, both on the EU level and on the election agenda ahead of Britain's first televised debate on the election's green issues.

Wednesday saw the EU Parliament elected the new von der Leyen Commission and the agenda (the Political Guidelines for Europe 2019-2024) and the headline ambitions for Europe over the next five years. 

The first in the list of six headline ambitions is, immediately and longer term, a 'European Green Deal', (to be proposed in her first 100 days in office), with which "Europe must lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world". The Guidelines state that "carbon emissions must have a price" and that the EU Green Deal will include:

  • the first European Climate Law to enshrine the 2050 climate neutrality target into law
  • extension of the ETS to cover the maritime sector and reduce the free allowances allocated to airlines over time and propose to extend this further to cover traffic and construction
  • a Carbon Border Tax, fully compliant with WTO rules starting with a number of selected sectors and to be gradually extended
  • a proposal for a EU 'Just Transition Fund', and
  • a proposal to turn parts of the European Investment bank into 'Europe's climate bank'.

The Guidelines also include a commitment to bring forward "a comprehensive plan to increase the EU's target for 2030 towards 55% in a responsible way". The EU currently has a goal of 40% emissions reduction by 2030, but the Guidelines state that the Commission will be looking "to reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2030."

Wednesday also saw the Labour party publish its environment manifesto – 'A Plan for Nature' which promises £10bn over 10 years to restoring nature, including, creation of 10 new National Parks, a Green Transformation Fund (also included in the Manifesto), 1bn new trees planted by 2030 and an 'Environment Emergency Act' which would establish duties on public authorities to act for the recovery of nature.

Then today brought news that the EU Parliament has declared a climate emergency. The Parliament approved a resolution declaring a climate and environmental emergency in Europe and globally. In a separate resolution the EU Parliament calls on the Commission to ensure that all proposals are aligned with 1.5 C target, that the EU should cut emissions by 55% by 2030 to become climate neutral by 2050 and calls to reduce global emissions from shipping and aviation.

Also today Jeremy Corbyn set out Labour's environmental policies in a speech ahead of the first televised election debate on green issues. 

Mirroring the new EU agenda the Labour Manifesto contains both a "Green New Deal" which contains the watered down statement that it "aim" to achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030", and a proposal for a £250bn "Green Transformation Fund" for renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, biodiversity and environmental restoration, and a statement that Labour's approach would be one of social justice. The Labour party's policies therefore appear to be in some measure of alignment with future EU policy. 

On aviation the Labour manifesto states that, "Labour recognises the Davies Commission's assessment of pressures on airport capacity in the South East. Any expansion of airports must pass our tests on air quality, noise pollution, climate change obligations and countryside benefits." This has been reported as not ruling out that a labour administration would cancel Heathrow expansion and it is less clear than the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment to placing a moratorium on the development of new runways (net) in the UK. The Conservative manifesto is also not entirely clear and states that "Parliament has voted in principle to support a third runway at Heathrow", but that the project "will receive no new public money".

The Conservative leader will not be taking part in Thursday's TV debate.