Green Party environment manifesto published

The first words on the environment have been uttered by the political parties – the Green Party of England and Wales has produced its environmental manifesto.

Well done to the Greens for having the first word – is this the last word on the environment?

It’s a mere 10 pages with half of them being occupied by images so it won’t take you long to read it – it won’t take you long to read it several times.

Here are my thoughts on likes and gripes:

Eye-catching good things:

  • The Green Party will ensure that existing environmental laws are retained, or enhanced, no matter our future relationship with the European Union.’ – will we see anything similar in the Tory manifesto? I doubt it.
  • ‘We will introduce an Environmental Protection Act, this will: Guarantee strong protections for our natural environment and oceans, especially for the Green Belt, National Parks, SSSIs and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and including a long-term 25 year target for biodiversity, water and air quality.’
  • Create a new environmental regulator and court to effectively monitor and enforce environmental law – this would include new statutory requirements for updates
    to (and debates in) Parliament on the state of nature and biodiversity.’ – this would be very good as a safety net to prevent environmental damage from future administrations post-Brexit.
  • Promote a network of new inter-linking local ecological spaces on both land and sea, ensuring that both our wildest places and urban green spaces are protected and allowed to flourish.‘ – this is intriguing rather than convincing. I wonder what it would mean in practice.
  • Establish a right for every person in the UK to have access to a healthy and safe natural green space promoting good mental health, physical exercise, and building community‘ – I believe similar rights exist for access to sporting amenities and have driven policy by local authorities. It’s a good idea.
  • We will stand alongside those countries across the world fighting for climate justice, and push for concerted global action to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. We would clearly outline how the UK would meet our domestic and international obligations – ending the current policy uncertainty – whilst making climate change a major foreign policy priority.‘ – we won’t see this from any other party, will we?
  • The Green Party will refocus public funding for the rural economy towards restoring biodiversity, sustainable land management and farming, improving animal welfare, and tackling climate change.‘ – good words but see below
  • We will ensure the completion of an ecologically-coherent network of well-managed marine protection areas around the UK, and in UK Overseas Territories. In addition, any new fisheries legislation must contain a legal requirement to fish below a level that allows fish stocks to fully recover‘ – good and an area where the Tories have failed almost completely to deliver on their promises.

 

My gripes:

  • the cover – yes it’s green but… It shows a planted wood with mown grass. Even the Greens don’t have a true feel for nature do they?
  • the manifesto has the appearance of having been thrown together in a hurry but that’s forgivable for the first party to get their message out – although slightly less so for the Green Party which is supposed to have its thoughts straight on these matters.
  • personally, I’m in the ‘under these circumstances we don’t have the luxury of dismissing nuclear energy so we’d better do it well’ camp. All-out opposition to nuclear power looks old-fashioned and dogmatic given the scale of climate change
  • I’m not keen on fracking but the key thing is keeping fossil fuels in the ground, not how we get out those that we are going to use (provided that we regulate the process so hard that developers are scared witless of screwing up) so I wouldn’t have an all-out ban.
  • the words on public funding for the rural economy are the right ones but I wonder whether there is any detailed policy behind them? The next level of thinking is laid out on energy but not on land use – typical of the environmental movement.

 

Overall assessment: I’d give it a B+

Could do better, and given that this is the Green Party perhaps should have done better. Looks like a bunch of energy nerds got to write it without thinking too much about the natural and rural environment but they did pick up some good ideas from the NGOs.

This sets the standard for other parties and I am pretty confident that no other UK party will produce anything as good. We’ll see. The Greens are a tempting refuge for those who wish to shout out ‘a plague on both your houses’.   I’d vote for Caroline Lucas or Natalie Bennett whoever they were up against from any other party but I don’t live in the right places.

 

 

 

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24 Comments

  1. Roderick Leslie says:

    Actually, the Greens and Labour have had over 6 years to get it together - what have they all been doing ?

    And what comes out now is, I'm afraid, pretty uninspiring - I'd go with your B+, Mark, but I suspect both of us are being generous because we'd like them to do better. For me, the thing that seems to be passing everyone by is the opportunity - in fact absolute necessity - to make the way we do things work for people, wildlife and the economy at the same time and even disasters like flooding seem only slowly to be bringing some limited thinking round this way. There's not much substance here - in contrast to the NCC proposal for 250,000 ha of green space around our towns and cities - that is a hard proposal and, despite everything, it could and should work. Just imagine having a 'new' New Forest right on the edge of your city - we can do it !

    Interesting comment on onshore wind - yes, quite right, but surely there should be some acknowledgement of the way lack of Government interest and an engineer-led approach completely alienated so many people - and if you can't see why, go and live right next door to a turbine.

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    • dr m parry says:

      Of course, if anyone wants any of this to happen then we need a PR system, or the Greens (in fact, all us greens) will be left with one or no MPs. www.makevotesmatter.org.uk !

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  2. Peter Ryan says:

    Your observation re nuclear energy is outdated. Nenergy is ridiculously expensive, dangerous and a hostage to fortune for generations to come.
    Only truly renewables can be considered as acceptable for teh future.
    I agree though, that onshore wind is becoming less attractive.

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  3. Hi Mark,

    I think the killer argument with nuclear is that it is way too slow for what we need now. At an absolute minimum a dozen years before anything would start generating, by which time way too late for tackling climate change. Whereas renewables take a couple of years (Swansea Bay tidal lagoon if the government ever gives go-ahead) at most.

    Re farming, I think these two reports from Molly Scott Cato will give you a great deal more on our views on that - https://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2017/02/21/green-mep-launches-post-brexit-agriculture-reports/

    The problem with manifestos is balancing getting people to read versus detail. You could write a book, indeed we have: https://policy.greenparty.org.uk/cc.html

    Regards
    Natalie

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    • Mark says:

      Natalie - thanks for your comment.

      I'm very much in favour of renewables but Swansea Bay will take a good deal longer than two years. We need to throw a lot of things at climate change and that might include nuclear too (IMHO).

      Re farming - it's not really in your manifesto so it looks as if the Green Party either hasn't anything to say or can't find a way to say it. If the Greens have somthing good to say then say it - and say it in a manifesto which is what will be rad in the next few weeks.

      I still think the Green environmental manifesto is likely to be the best of the political parties - but we'll see fairly soon. the Tories want to kill wildlife and Labour thinks that animal welfare is the only issue related to animals. the Greens could have shown how good you are on this issue.

      Best of luck in Sheffield!

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      • Nuclear is a long and complicated discussion, but the short answer is:

        Just insist that it is fully insured. Then see how cost-competitive it is.

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        • Mark says:

          Richard - thank you for your comment.

          However, the planet isn't insured either. We don't expect health care to make money, we expect it to save patients. It would be ironic if we decided not to deal with climate change on economic grounds when traditional economics don't deal very well with the externalities, which in this case are rather large.

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  4. P.S. Also I think your criticism of the cover is not entirely fair. Wildlife trusts (and many others) are focusing on the landscape approach to conservation - just looking after the remaining (semi-)wild parts won't get us anywhere near where we need to get.

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    • Mark says:

      Natalie - thanks for your comment. My comment on the cover is probably not entirely fair - just 90% fair, I'd say.

      Best of luck in Sheffield!

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    • jbc says:

      Wishing you all the best, Natalie. But one tip; your cover picture should also have people in it. Ask the marketing person at any conservation organisation, except perhaps NE :-(. I'd prefer a wilder place to be shown, but for mass appeal you need people that readers can relate to in that wilder place, not a picture of what could be someone's exclusive private estate.

      I'm with Mark on Nuclear; climate change was a game changer for me. We need wind AND solar AND wave AND tidal AND some Nuclear if we're to pull this off. There is no sign of a renewable technology that can deal with the Coronation St teabreak surge in demand. And the little known fact is that all nuclear, incl Chernobyl, has released less radiation and killed fewer people than coal has (particulate pollution plus dead miners, though it seems no-one cares about the dead miners). There are no risk free ways of keeping the lights on - just as there are no risk free ways of travelling and yet no one is talking about banning cars and trains and planes because they are too dangerous.

      And 2 years for an off shore wind farm, never mind a tidal barrage, is fantasy. A barrage in particular will probably take nearly as long as a new nuclear power station, ie well over a decade from conception to operation. But that's Ok - we'll need power in a decade just as we need power now. It's a long term business with or without climate change.

      I'm still voting Green though!

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      • Random22 says:

        Hydro energy is specifically used to cope with the Coronation Street type short term surges. Just want to put that out there. It is very good at generating short term/high demand electricity. The grid actually uses it precisely for that right now. As soon as the high demand period hits the sluices are opened, the turbines spin, and it comes online. It is perfect for short term/high demand electricity generation.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity

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      • Olivia says:

        Call me naive, but couldn't we just persuade folk to switch the lights off more!

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    • Filbert Cobb says:

      It has Silver Birches. A guarantee that it will be clear-felled and restored to a lovely bleak heath as someone's Vanity Project.

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      • Hazel Pollard says:

        'A guarantee that it will be clear-felled and restored to a lovely bleak heath as someone's Vanity Project'

        Yep. Something the NT is very good at. Do you bring this up when discussing your contract with them?

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    • Yes, but a green image with people in the photo would have more impact and connect with people.

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  5. Haematopotamus says:

    One might have hoped for something more progressive: seeking to implement natural capital and ecosystem (service) approaches across government, and from national to local and community scale, building on the recommendations of the Natural Capital Committee; going the full Monty on the Lawton recommendations in connection with this; and recognising the importance of local distinctiveness on the wildlife and national character areas front too.

    Alongside the proposed new regulator, I'd also merge the national natural environment delivery agencies into one body (in each country).

    The manifesto exaggerates the declines reported in SoN 2016 and also fails to include the qualification that those figures relate only to those species for which there is sufficient information to show such a trend (i.e. whilst we can make general assertions, we don't currently have all the data that is required, especially when you look at action at a local level). Additionally, there are a quantity of species that are increasing in numbers/distribution but these are often invasive species (many non-natives) or generalists whose success highlights a decline in habitat/ecosystem quality/integrity.

    All species are at 'risk of disappearing' but for around 15% of UK biota (for which there is information!) UK extinction is probable unless there are significant changes in the way we all do business with the natural environment. It ought to be clear that although EU directives resulted in better protection than might otherwise have been the case (and far better underlying approaches too, as highlighted by the Water Framework Directive) '60%' of species might have preferred something better. It's going to take something pretty significant to shift us from the current direction of travel, however. Sticks and carrots will both be required.

    The word evidence doesn't appear in the manifesto but the main problem with many of past and present policies is that they aren't evidence led, ignore or actually fly in the face of what the available evidence shows. Let's have some Earth Realism. The evidence which shows that insect biomass in Germany has declined by up to 80% or the (not as well-funded as they once were) Rothamsted survys here highlight changes that are hugely important to our well-being, probably more far reaching than anything that is portrayed as 'news' in the Daily Mail.

    Although Nathlie Bennett's comment about the prominence now given to landscape scale approaches is correct, it's also vital that the remaining high-quality sites and their distinctive assemblages, features, functions and integrity are given prominence within such strategies and within any natural capital approach.

    Otherwise, there are lots of good points in what is a necessarily brief document.

    Apart from Wildlife and Countryside Link's 5 point call for all political parties to do their bit, where (oh where) is there a joined up message from the scientific and conservation community on the environment.

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  6. Lindy Brett says:

    Good grief Mark, if you could do better, come and join the conversation. If the image shows mowed grass, its because its a path, and maybe the policy wonks are not so good at communicating, or the communication wonks missed the dark green point.

    Its effing hard being a political party, and most of us did not intend to join one, but there is no other party that focuses on the environment (AND social justice), so I did and slowly we make headway. Do not expect the Green Party or any other party to be perfect, and remember, we have to beg for all our funding.

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    • Mark says:

      Lindy - thank you for your comment.

      Though, good grief, I write that the Green Party manifesto is probably going to be better than any other party's and you moan. Well done.

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  7. Tom Oliver says:

    Mark, curiously enough, I agree with most of what you say about the Green manifesto. Specially your first and last bullet points. As I'm a definite Conservative, that may not be awfully welcome to you! But there it is. In case it's a consolation, I'm keener on fracking than you and probably keener on nuclear power as well, but that's a matter of shades of green, I hope, (rather than any other colour!)

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    • Mark says:

      Tom - hi! Your considered views always welcome. If all Tories had your feeling for the environment then we'd be in a better place.

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      • Tom Oliver says:

        V kind! I would contend that lots of Tories do and always have. I find differences in environmental policy surprisingly unrelated to party stripe, with the possible exception of the problem of 'renewables anywhere, anyhow'. I think the divisions rest with the 'imaginative' involvement of a few, over dire ideas such as biodiversity off-setting...

        What IS the matter with the Forestry Commission over your local wood? It sounds like a very poor plan for development.

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  8. 1. "Promote a network of new inter-linking local ecological spaces on both land and sea, ensuring that both our wildest places and urban green spaces are protected and allowed to flourish.‘ – this is intriguing rather than convincing. I wonder what it would mean in practice."
    2. "‘Establish a right for every person in the UK to have access to a healthy and safe natural green space promoting good mental health, physical exercise, and building community‘ – I believe similar rights exist for access to sporting amenities and have driven policy by local authorities. It’s a good idea."

    You, Mark in this case and the Green Party are sadly wrong in my opinion.
    The two elements above on land result in urbanised green space, irrespective of where it occurs because it is primarily done for people at the expense in heathland and moorland areas, of where bare ground and bare natural soils are situated on footpaths and tracks and are important for nesting solitary bees and wasps and in special places nesting sand lizards. Sadly we are suffering this on a Site of Interest to Nature Conservation in Bordon which will be a future SANG. The related and future problem that comes from the same stable is the drive to convert all NNRs into "access land" as promoted by the former nature conservation organisation called Natural England. When are organisations such as NE, The Wildlife Trusts, the Green Party and the National Trust going to learn that the more you promote access for humans and their well-being to wildlife sites. the more you damage and disturb the wildlife on them?

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