After months, or even years, of political upheaval, the UK will now go to the polls once more on 12 December. Since the last general election in 2017, large-scale demonstrations have grabbed the headlines and pushed climate and the environment up the list of voters’ concerns. More than half of people say climate breakdown will affect how they vote in a general election.
School striker Greta Thunberg sparked a global movement of youth climate activists fighting for their future. And Extinction Rebellion did the same for all generations. Occupations around the country drew attention to the climate emergency and ecological crisis facing our planet.
However important Brexit might be, the time for evading responsibility on climate and nature is over. Our society must begin living within environmental limits, with a government committed to making the transition to a sustainable economy that’s fair for everyone.
Here are five reasons why this general election must be a vote for the planet above all else.
1. The next 10 years are critical for climate change
The UN’s 2018 climate report said that we have until 2030 to keep temperature rises below 1.5C. That’s 10 years to make the crucial changes needed to maintain a liveable planet. Whoever wins the election in the UK will potentially be in power for five of those 10 years and will be able to set the pace of those changes.
Parliament has acknowledged the need for radical action by declaring a climate emergency. The government has also set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (although that date should really be sooner).
But targets need action plans, as there’s a lot that needs doing – and fast. One senior civil servant with responsibility for advising the government on infrastructure projects said that achieving this 2050 target requires “comparable ambition, imagination and creativity to that of putting a man on the moon”.
2. The UK hosts the annual UN climate conference in 2020
Next year, the UN Conference of the Parties meeting – COP 26 – comes to Glasgow. As members of the host government, UK ministers will play a key role in shaping the agenda of the meeting.
Our country can’t solve the climate and nature emergency alone. But it can play an important role in moving the world swiftly towards a low-carbon future. As the UK has historically been one of the world’s largest polluters, it has a clear responsibility to setting an example on the world stage and inspiring other nations to act.
3. The new government will have the power to stop projects threatening climate and nature
One way the next government can set an example is to stop the irresponsible projects that would lock us into emitting carbon for years to come. These include airport expansion, fracking, and North Sea oil licenses.
Ministers are still granting billions in subsidies to fossil fuel companies, propping up nuclear power stations, and backing projects like a £25-billion road building programme and the HS2 rail project that will carve up ancient woodland.
These are risky, bad for climate and nature, and often terrible value for money. They need to be phased out as quickly as possible, while supporting workers to retrain for roles in sustainable industries such as renewable energy.
4. Those elected will have the power to shape a clean, green, low-carbon future for generations to come
Another way to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to climate action is to invest in renewable energy sources. This needs to happen at the same time as moving away from fossil fuels, phasing out petrol and diesel cars, and much more.
A new 10-year programme of action is needed to put us on the path to net zero emissions. This needs to be supported by the government spending billions – at least 2% of GDP per year – on urgent projects. These would range from insulating our homes and increasing clean public transport, to enhancing British wildlife and nature. This investment should be increased even further over time.
Investing more now will reduce the huge economic and social costs compared with delaying, but it will also guarantee many other important benefits. There’s a big list, including cleaner air, greater social equality, better mental wellbeing, healthier food, improved water quality, better flood control and increased access to nature.
The UK needs a government that sees the incredible potential in investing in a new green economy that brings jobs, new skills and clean air to the communities that need it most.
5. They’ll decide how Brexit plays out in UK law, farms and fisheries
A new environment bill had been making its way through parliament, and the election makes its future uncertain. But whatever happens in the election or with Brexit, the next government will need to shape its own environment bill, which will determine the UK’s environmental regulations outside of the EU on everything from cleaning up polluted air and reducing single-use plastic, to restoring the natural world so wildlife can flourish.
Ministers will also be tasked with deciding what system we use to replace the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy in the UK. These will have an impact on our countryside and our seas.
But regardless of Brexit, parties campaigning to lead the UK will face voters increasingly concerned about environmental issues. Recent polling revealed that nearly 70% of people want the UK government to go further and faster on climate.
This general election is a chance to make the climate and nature count.