Ranking Party Manifestos on Climate-Change Policies

Do you know which of the parties standing for election on 4th July has the best climate-change policies? This is a critical question for those of us working on energy and climate issues who want to make an informed decision about which way to vote – and for anyone who is concerned about climate change and who wishes to use the ballot box as a way to communicate their concerns. We have scrutinised the party manifestos in detail to save you the trouble [1].

We have written this for VoteClimate so they have evidence to rank the parties lobbying for your vote on July 4th. If you have not met VoteClimate before they have a simple message: climate change is more important and more urgent than other Government policies, but it is too often relegated behind the economy, health, education and immigration. VoteClimate have persuaded more than 7,000 people to commit to vote for the party with the strongest climate policies, among those with a realistic chance of winning the seat. The idea is that they stick to this regardless of where they stand on the conventional left-right political spectrum.

Greenpeace picked up the idea, and launched Project Climate Vote with a similar promise.

If you want the two-minute summary, here’s how the parties rank:

Here is the detail about policies from all the party manifestos.

Labour

The Labour Manifesto says they want to end ‘the Conservative chaos’ and turn around the decline in communities, soaring mortgages, people waiting in A&E, and sewage in our rivers. They say this is the result of government that puts its own interests above the issues that affect families.

Labour outline six ‘first steps for change’, where Number 4 is setting up ‘Great British Energy’: a publicly-owned clean power company the party says will cut bills for good and boost energy security, paid for by a windfall tax on oil and gas companies. This is part of a wider programme of work they call the Green Prosperity Plan, which will include:

* investing in insulation and renewables in homes

* a ‘National Wealth Fund’, which will invest in ‘gigafactories’ to make batteries for electric vehicles and carbon capture and green hydrogen – as well as traditional industries like steel and ports, and

* the British Jobs Bonus, which they say will incentivise firms to offer good jobs.

Overall, they claim their Green Prosperity Plan will create 650,000 jobs by 2030.

The Labour Manifesto includes breakdowns of revenue and costs for their policies from 2028-29, with separate funding tables for the Green Prosperity Plan and changes to spending by Government departments. They say their fiscal rules will apply to every decision, and the current budget must move into balance. (By 2028-29 the figures show public services will be £2.5bn in credit – lower Government borrowing than now.)

Labour’s figures indicate about a quarter of the Green Prosperity Plan will be paid for from the windfall tax on oil and gas company profits, with the rest coming from borrowing ‘within fiscal rules’.

Conservatives

The Conservatives’ Manifesto was written jointly with the Northern Ireland Unionists. They are emphasising lower immigration, lower taxes and protected pensions – while also promising not to punish people with ‘hidden green taxes’. The manifesto stresses policies for a positive future.

The Conservatives say they will cut the cost of net zero by taking a more pragmatic approach, while also accelerating the rollout of renewables. They also say they will back motorists, by stopping road pricing and reversing expansion of the London Mayor’s ULEZ zone.

The Conservatives claim they remain committed to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. They also say they will legislate to ensure annual licensing of new oil and gas production from the North Sea. (These opposing commitments are hard to reconcile.) However, they say they will raise over £26m by retaining the windfall tax on high profits by oil and gas companies until 2028-29 – unless oil and gas prices return to normal earlier.

The Conservatives say they will build new gas power stations alongside new renewables – stating “when forced to choose between clean energy and keeping citizens safe and warm,” they will “keep the lights on”. They also say they will build two carbon capture and storage clusters, and approve two new fleets of Small Modular (Nuclear) Reactors.

They claim they will invest £1.1bn into the Green Industries Growth Accelerator – without providing any detail about this, or explaining how it might reduce carbon emissions. They also say they will rule out more costly action on Net Zero that will increase costs to families – including levies on flights. However, the Conservatives are silent on where money will come from for their two costed actions on climate change (and others). Promises of continued reductions to National Insurance, down to 6% by 2027, will make it very difficult to secure funding for Net Zero.

Greens

The Greens’ manifesto recognises from the start that successive governments have failed to prepare with anything like the urgency and ambition that climate scientists say is needed. It says that fairness can and must run through every part of the changes we face.

The Greens hold that solutions to the climate crisis are the same as those needed to end the cost of living and inequality crises. They say they have identified climate actions that result in better public services, warmer homes, stronger communities and a restored natural world. Their flagship £50bn initiative is a street-by-street or area-based retrofit programme, led by local authorities, to insulate homes, decarbonise heating and adapt homes to cope with hotter summers. They also propose to invest another £50bn in electricity generation, transmission and storage. Finally, they intend to nationalise the Big 5 retail energy companies, at a cost (together with all water companies) of £30bn.

The Green Party is unusual in publishing an appendix showing revenue and capital spending, and taxation, for each year from 2026 to 2030. They are honest and explicit in stating that additional funding will be needed, paid for by additional public borrowing and varying between £45bn and 85bn a year. The ‘Green economic transformation’ will be the largest element in their planned capital spending.

LibDems

The Liberal Democrats are majoring on change. They say the Conservatives’ neglect has pushed the country into crisis: the economy, the NHS, schools, housing and the climate. The Conservatives have wrecked our relationship with our European neighbours and left people feeling powerless.

The LibDems say they will invest in renewable power and home insulation to drive economic growth. They claim they will cut emissions and energy bills with an emergency Home Upgrade Programme, and at the same time invest in rooftop solar and clean energy. The Home Upgrade Programme will run for ten years and provide free insulation and heat pumps for households on low incomes.

However, none of their policies are costed or explain how they will be paid for. Whoever wins on July 4th will find it hard to raise Government money for investment (the national debt is at its highest since the 1960s), and the LibDems have lots of other expensive commitments. We are only counting emissions savings where there are no costs to Government, like re-introducing requirements on landlords to improve energy efficiency by 2028, and making it easier to build new solar and wind farms. We also take with a pinch of salt the pledge to ensure new homes are zero-carbon – the LibDems would not be the first government to try this, Building Regulations are already moving in this direction, and changing Building Regulations also takes a long time.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru’s Manifesto has a strong fairness agenda: fair funding for Wales, fair play for patients, and fairness for families and communities. They say £4bn is owed to Wales for HS2 (an England-only project, so they should be compensated for missing out) and Westminster funding for Wales should be based around needs, so the Welsh get the public services they deserve.

Plaid say the UK should re-enter the EU Single Market and Customs Union at the earliest opportunity, to mitigate the impact of Brexit on Welsh businesses. They also want to reverse the decision to close the blast furnaces in Port Talbot – and to explore options for greening steel production, including using green hydrogen.

Plaid say they recognise that the climate and nature emergencies are the biggest threat to mankind, and the Manifesto reaffirms their commitment to reaching net zero targets in Wales by 2035 – even more ambitious than the Greens. However, they offer little detail on how they would achieve this, or fund it.

SNP

The Scottish National Party manifesto leads on predictable concerns about independence: ‘We will put the interests of [Scottish] people first, and protect public services like the NHS.’ They lay out what they describe as ‘moderate, left of centre’ policies including doing all they can to stop further austerity measures being imposed on Scotland. They also want Scotland to rejoin the EU.

Climate change is almost completely absent from the SNP’s key pledges. The only loosely related pledge is the commitment to ‘demand the devolution of new borrowing powers to invest in a just transition’. They also plan to demand that the new UK Government matches their £500m Just Transition Fund for the North East [of Scotland] and Moray, to create jobs and ‘deliver a fair and managed transition to net zero’.

The SNP propose a package of measures aimed at alleviating the cost of living crisis and fuel poverty in Scotland, and these are welcome, but there is every chance this will increase Scottish emissions. They want the UK Government to invest at least £28bn a year in the green economy, and to devolve full powers over energy legislation, pricing and generation. They also call on the UK to introduce EV car leasing for low-income families.

There are no funding details for these policies in the SNP manifesto.

Reform

The Reform Party is unusual for lots of reasons, and unlike other parties it has published a ‘Contract with You’ rather than a manifesto. It says this is deliberately issued as a working draft, to be finalised ‘later in the year’, and they invite comments on the Contract. They are leading on ‘slashing’ Government waste, rebuilding the economy, tackling immigration and the NHS – with the tagline ‘Let’s Save Britain’. (You almost hear ‘Rule Britannia’ playing in the background.)

The first page of Reform’s Contract says: ‘Net Zero is making us poorer and colder, damaging British industry and forcing motorists off the road.’ Whether or not you accept this, the style and chutzpah are at once refreshing and alarming. The Contract goes on to say the Government has made mistakes in ‘bet[ting] our future on unreliable wind and solar power’, in worrying about CO2 emissions at all, and in failing to accept that the climate will always change, whatever we do.

In the first 100 days of the new government, Reform want to ‘scrap’ Net Zero and related subsidies, and renewable energy subsidies. They want to ‘use the treasure under our feet’ and fast-track North Sea gas and oil, including shale gas licences for 2 years, saying this will mean cheap, secure energy.

Reform have costed their policies, and they claim their proposals will create an extra 1-1.5% of growth a year, meaning £10bn a year in additional tax revenue.

Greenpeace said when the election was first announced that voters should be looking for commitments in six areas. We have scored the manifestos against those areas in the table below. The Greens come out top again, but the margin is not as pronounced as you might think. By this reckoning – unlike a simple count of policies in the table above, which suggests the Greens are way ahead in all areas – Greenpeace’s criteria suggest Labour and the LibDems are not far behind, and the LibDems are actually better than the Green Party in addressing draughty homes.

Conclusions

Both Labour and the Greens say they will put a halt to new oil and gas exploration licences in the North Sea, and Plaid Cymru are with them. However, the Green Party is the only one to commit to cancelling recent licences including Rosebank. They are also alone on introducing a carbon tax on all fossil fuels, which would rise over time to reflect increased costs ‘to the planet’ of coal, oil and gas.

The LibDems prioritise renewable energy and set a target of 90% of UK electricity to be generated from renewables by 2030. This is a very ambitious target compared to 47% last year. They also say they will achieve the Paris Agreement’s commitment to cut total emissions 68% by 2030 (from around 50% today) – they are the only party to say this.

The Conservatives and Labour also have very high aspirations for renewables, with Tories aiming to triple offshore wind, and Labour aiming to quadruple it by 2030. Labour also plan to triple solar generation and double onshore wind over the same period – meaning many more onshore wind turbines.

In contrast, Reform want to stop subsidies for renewable energy and dash back to more gas and oil from the North Sea, and shale gas.

The Conservatives favour nuclear generation alongside renewables, whereas the Greens view nuclear power as a distraction and a waste of money, and Plaid do not want more nuclear sites in Wales. Similarly, the SNP will veto further nuclear power plants in Scotland. The Greens say it is possible to decarbonise the energy system before 2030 using interconnectors and grid-level storage, without nuclear power.

The Greens also want the Bank of England’s mandate to change so the transition to sustainability and addressing the climate crisis become central objectives, while the Conservatives want structural change in the opposite direction: they say the Climate Change Committee’s terms of reference should include householder and generation costs as well as GHG emissions.

There is one thing the Conservatives and Labour agree on: avoiding compulsion to force households to switch to low-carbon heat pumps. Both parties say: ‘Nobody will be forced to rip out their boiler as a result of our plans.’

Unsurprisingly, the Greens have engaged more successfully in planning policies that would reduce UK climate change emissions. The Labour manifesto is a decade behind, on planning and some other areas – short on detail, and long on warm words and aspirations that will not bring down emissions. (Like the absence of any date for achieving Net Zero.) However, their commitments to invest heavily in local power generation and upgrading the energy-efficiency of homes substantially compensate.

So who do you vote for if you are concerned about climate change and you want to see the best policies after the election? Vote Green if they have a realistic chance of winning your constituency, then Lib Dems, closely followed by Labour, with Conservatives further behind – with the same proviso that they must have a decent chance of winning, and in descending order of strength of climate policies. This is based on manifesto pledges and assumes parties will follow through on their intentions. Plaid Cymru have made some efforts to consider climate change in their policies, so you are advised to choose them over Reform in Wales. But they fall well behind the other UK parties. The SNP and Reform have the weakest policies overall, although if you are considering voting for them, climate change probably is not your motivation.

We hope this provides what you need to make an informed decision at the ballot box.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Peter Roscoe, energy and climate-change specialist in the Building Stock Lab at UCL’s Energy Institute, for reviewing a draft of policy ratings. Also to Ian Cooper, my friend and mentor from Eclipse Research Consultants, for reviewing a draft of this article.

[1] There is a more detailed description of the methods used in this evaluation here: https://www.buildingsandcities.org/insights/commentaries/political-manifestos-climate-change.html.

[2] The thresholds for what constitutes ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ savings are different for UK compared to Household Impact. For UK Impact, UK Impact <2% of total national emissions = low, 2-10% = medium, and >10% = high. For Household Impact, <10% of total emissions from households affected = low, 10-50% = medium, and >50% = high.