Monday, March 12, 2007


Green with envy?

An interesting debate has been taking place in the media today about which party has the strongest “green” credentials, after David Cameron’s policies on flight taxes were unveiled yesterday and both he and Gordon Brown spoke on the issue today. Noticeably lacking from the discussion though were policies from the Lib Dems.

This was pretty annoying because we Lib Dems have long been the standard-bearers for policies on the environment that are practical and workable but still reflect the seriousness of climate change and the threat to our environment. I know I’m biased, but neither Gordon Brown nor David Cameron are the most sensible when it comes to the environment. We are!

In fact, all of our policies have a “green thread” running through them, because Liberal Democrats have long understood that environmental policies aren’t just a flight-tax here and a road-charge there. They’re about much more than that. They’re about the environment being at the heart of policies on health, education and the economy. After all, climate change has the potential not just to damage our environment, but also impact on personal health, impoverish economies and weaken communities.

The Lib Dem Green Tax Switch campaign goes far further than piecemeal measures like the Conservative plan to tax flights. It’s about more than flights, and crucially it’s about more than tax rises. It’s about cuts in tax for green behaviour as well.

Mr Cameron may appear to be taking a tough line, but he’s stopping at flight taxes when he could be doing far more to reward green behaviour and provide practical greener alternatives to frequent flying. Lib Dems would. We’d reward people who drive low-emission cars by cutting road tax, and we’d pay for it by charging drivers in higher-polluting vehicles more. To encourage more fuel efficient aircraft we’d press for multinational agreement on aviation pollution, and meanwhile implement per aircraft rather than per passenger charges, based on aircraft emissions, to encourage more efficient aircraft and higher passenger loading of aircraft.

What’s the point of simply raising air taxes and doing little else? There needs to be incentives as well as taxation, or else Mr Cameron will turn people away from environmentalism, rather than towards it.

Why stop at flights Mr Cameron? So much energy is used in so many other walks of life. Liberal Democrats are committed to providing well thought-out, wide-ranging policies on our environment, from the generation of our power through to how and where it is used. On the issue of taxing air travel, we make this simple promise:

We would scrap all airport departure taxes paid by passengers - which simply raise money for the Treasury and do not encourage more sustainable aviation and replace this with a duty to be paid by airlines for each commercial aircraft - passenger and freight (which currently pay nothing under the current system) - taking off from a British airport. (The new duty would be set to raise the same amount of money as the old).

Here are the Liberal Democrat promises on other aspects of the environment and climate change:

Power Generation
Encourage Combined Heat and Power schemes to reduce the energy wasted in power generation, a set a target for 30% of electricity used in the public sector to be generated from Combined Heat and Power by 2015

Domestic Energy Efficiency
Make building regulations tougher. We would cut fuel bills and reduce pollution by requiring all new housing to meet improved energy and water efficiency standards through the use of environmentally friendly building materials and techniques.

The Kyoto Protocol and Emissions targets
Place Britain at the forefront of climate change negotiations, pressing other nations to ratify and implement the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Ensure that Britain achieves its own target well before the deadline, and establishes a new target of a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010, setting an example to the world. Our long-term target is for a 60% reduction by 2050.

Promote a new Europe-South initiative for a long-term global framework to cap CO2 emissions through contraction of greenhouse gases emissions to the level needed to stabilise the climate, and convergence to equal emission quotas, with common institutions to ensure and support compliance under democratic control ('contraction and convergence').

Emissions trading
Make urgent preparations for participation by UK firms in the European Union Emissions Trading scheme which will become mandatory by 2008, particularly by drawing up a fair National Allocation Plan which will achieve real emission reductions,

It’s a shame that the announcements by Mr Cameron and Mr Brown, which represent little more than tinkering at the edges of this massive issue, get all the publicity. In reality the Liberal Democrats have been the only party to give serious consideration to these issues for many years, and they are the only party with serious ambitions to address the problems facing our environment today.


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