The Climate Election in Sheffield Central

54% of voters say climate change will affect how they vote, according to a recent poll. But which party will they vote for?

As soon as the candidates were announced I wrote to the prospective MP’s for Sheffield Central, asking them about the climate crisis. I had two comprehensive replies, from Colin Ross the Lib Dem and Alison Teal, the Green Party candidate. Paul Blomfield sent me a link to the Labour manifesto.

Like the Channel 4 climate debate, I must “empty chair” the candidates that didn’t reply. The ice sculptures that represented Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage in the debate did a better job than the party leaders would have done if they had turned up! Throughout the evening the sculptures kept their cool, never told a lie or rudely interrupted their opponents! Boris Johnson has described global warming as a “primitive fear… without foundation” and Nigel Farage has said “I haven’t got a clue whether climate change is being driven by carbon-dioxide emissions.”  I think it is safe to assume those that put the climate crisis at the top of their agenda won’t be voting Conservative or Brexit.

Photo by Jack Owen

Here are some of the questions I asked and a summary of the replies.

Do you support Extinction Rebellion’s first demand, which is “Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.”?

Labour Lib Dems and Greens have all backed the climate emergency declaration in Parliament and in many Councils around the country. What is lacking is the desire to tell the truth about the urgency for change. Political parties are full of promises of what they will do, but they are failing to inform the public about how global heating will accelerate out of control if we fail to dramatically cut our emissions.

Do you support Extinction Rebellion’s second demand, which is “Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025?”

The Greens have a target of 2030 and Alison Teal comments “the sooner the better”. Lib Dems target is 2045 (Colin Ross says 2030 is not plausible but will significantly reduce emissions by 2030). Labour backed the 2030 date at conference, but then had second thoughts when writing the manifesto, which now says “the substantial majority of emissions will be achieved by 2030”. None of the parties have shown how their policies would get to carbon neutrality by publishing a carbon budget. I fear their policies will not be able to deliver the necessary carbon reductions quickly enough.

Do you support Extinction Rebellion’s third demand which is “Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice”?

Lib Dems and Greens both agreed to this, although Alison Teal had some reservations. She said “sometimes the consensus can be insufficiently radical. Expert guidance would be a vital component to ensure citizens have the latest evidence to base decisions upon. “There are lots of references to Citizen’s Assemblies in the Labour manifesto, but it is not clear a Labour Government would be led by their decisions.

Do you support a levy on frequent flyers?

Lib Dems and Greens said yes. Labour do not mention it.

Do you support the expansion of airports, particularly Robin Hood Airport?

Greens and Lib Dems oppose new runways in the UK. Labour do not.

Do you support the construction of HS2?

Lib Dems support HS2 and Labour would continue the route up to Scotland, but they do say they would try to avoid the destruction of ancient woodlands along the route. Greens would scrap HS2 and invest in local transport instead.

Do you support further road building programmes in the UK?

Greens said no. For Lib Dems it is not a priority but schemes to improve traffic flow and consequently reduce emissions should be a factor in considering any new scheme.” Labour will invest in improving local roads.

We are currently experiencing the 6th mass extinction of species. How will your policies reverse this and start to increase biodiversity?

The Green Party propose an ecocide law which would prevent crimes against the environment. Lib Dems want a Nature Act to invest in restoration of our natural landscape and Labour plan 10 new National Parks.

There is much more to consider. Please do read the manifestoes which are available online and find out more about your candidates before December 12th. If you are still undecided, try VoteforPolicies.org.uk where you can choose your favourite policies and then find out which party is proposing them! More details of your candidates can be found at whocanivotefor.co.uk.

Meanwhile Extinction Rebellion hunger strikers have entered their second week without food, urging politicians to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.

Graham Wroe

(This article was unfortunately not published in the Sheffield Telegraph)

Alison Teal’s reply in full

  1. Do you support Extinction Rebellion’s first demand, which is “Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.”?

Yes. 

2. Do you support Extinction Rebellion’s second demand, which is “Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025?”

Yes, it’s important to include biodiversity loss along with greenhouse gas emissions. 2030 is the Green Party target, but obviously, the sooner the better. 

3. Do you support Extinction Rebellion’s third demand which is “Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice”?

Yes. There is mixed evidence on Citizen Assembly, sometimes the consensus can be insufficiently radical. Expert guidance would be a vital component to ensure citizens have the latest evidence to base decisions upon. 

4. Do you support a levy on frequent flyers?

Yes. Travellers need to face the actual environmental costs of their flights. 

Green Policy:

Frequent Flier Levy

The Green Party would replace the Air Passenger Duty (APD) with a Frequent Flyer Levy (FFL), which would vary depending on the number of previous flights taken by an individual. The Frequent Flyer Levy would be zero for an individual’s first outbound flight in each year and increase continually for each subsequent outbound flight.

5. Do you support the introduction of carbon rationing?

Carbon rationing offers an equitable potential to create a user pays system which I would support. 

6. Do you support the expansion of airports, particularly Robin Hood Airport?

No.

7. Do you support the construction of HS2?

No. 

8. Do you support further road building programmes in the UK?

No. 

9. We are currently experiencing the 6th mass extinction of species. How will your policies reverse this and start to increase biodiversity?

There are a number of policies which will address the loss of biodiversity and instead encourage an increase. For example, reverting to smaller scale agriculture without the use of pesticides. Planting forests on pasture land. Stricter planning regulations to protect the loss of green space, wildlife corridors and destruction of habitat through insensitive development. Rewilding schemes and the re-introduction of species where possible to restore biodiversity. 

10. How will your policies improve local public transport and facilities for cyclists and pedestrians?

The Green Party are proposing to revolutionise our transport system and end our dependence on carbon. Public transport will be cheaper than travelling by car with electric buses and electrified train lines. Public transport networks will be radically improved and better connectivity will increase efficiency and reliability. Buses will be under local authority control and trains will be gradually returned to public ownership. We are committed to spend £2.5 billion per year on new cycleways and footpaths using sustainable materials. We will cancel HS2. 

11. Have your party calculated a carbon budget to ensure your policies will enable the country to reach zero carbon by the date specified in your manifesto?

We have proposed a range of policies designed to reach a 2030 target, unfortunately it appears too difficult to calculate a carbon budget without knowing the times scales for the implementation of the GND, for example. We have a programme of radical action which will require rapid implementation to be effective. 

12. How will your policies help those unfortunate enough to have to leave their homes, due to flood, drought, forest fire, tornado or other extreme weather? 

Taking flooding as an example, policies to reduce flooding through moorland planting and slowing the flow of water through restoring species such as beavers need to be rapidly implemented. Buildings and homes which were granted permission to be built on flood plains may need to be subject to purchase by the government and owners compensated with the fair market value of their home to enable them to purchase a new property in a none flood prone area. 

13. How will your policies encourage people to eat less meat and dairy and move towards a plant-based diet?

We will make the case for a plant-based diet through health benefits in addition to the correct pricing for high carbon cost of particular foods such as meat. 

14. How will your policies encourage households to switch from gas boilers to renewable methods such as air source heat pumps?

The government will fund the renovation of homes to meet the highest standards of low energy usage. Local Authorities will be responsible for the work to be done in improving housing stock and energy production through increasing solar panels, etc. The improvements in insulation will need to be completed before the installation of air source heat pumps. 

Colin Ross’s reply in full

I joined the Liberal party back in the 1980’s as they were the party with the most forward thinking environmental policies. There has been a green thread running through every Liberal Democrat policy for many years.

There is a climate emergency, indeed Liberal Democrats voted for this when proposed in a Council motion in February this year. Targets have to be set that are achievable and net zero by 2025 is not plausible. Therefore our policy is to significantly reduce emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2045. We do support a Citizens Assembly on climate and ecological justice, in fact this was proposed by the Liberal Democrats in the Sheffield City Council Motion in February 2019 and accepted.

Liberal Democrats would reduce the climate impact of flying by reforming the taxation of international flights to focus on those who fly most.

We are in favour of the EU emissions trading scheme which puts a cap on carbon dioxide emitted by business with the total amount of carbon credits being reduced as time goes on.

Liberal Democrats would place a moratorium on the development of new runways in the UK including Robin Hood Airport. We oppose the expansion of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead and any new airport in the Thames estuary. We have been at the forefront of opposing the additional runway at Heathrow.

We support HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse rail but would ensure tighter financial controls and increased accountability. HS2 is more about increasing the capacity of the rail network to allow more passengers and freight to be transported rather than purely being about the speed of connectivity.

Building extra capacity on Britain’s road is network is not a priority but schemes to improve traffic flow and consequently reduce emissions should be a factor in considering any new scheme, alongside improving cycling and pedestrian provision.

Liberal Democrats would introduce a Nature Act which would set legally binding targets for improving water, air, soil and biodiversity with funding of £18billion over 5 years to support this. Further we would invest in large scale restoration of peatlands, heathlands, native woodlands, saltmarshes, wetlands and coastal waters. We would also plant 60 million trees a year.

Surface transport is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and we therefore need to invest in public transport to enable people to travel more easily and reduce the impact on the environment. We would provide £4.5 billion over five years to restore and add new bus routes. Walking and cycling are the healthiest forms of transport and so a high priority will be placed on making journeys by foot or cycle easier including the creation of dedicated cycle lanes. We would accelerate the transition to ultra-low emission transport – cars, buses and trains – through taxation, subsidy and regulation.  I was proud to support the Liberal Democrat motion on cycling at the November Council meeting.            

Bringing back a Department of Climate Change with a new Minister who will attend Cabinet and oversee policy across departments to ensure the net zero carbon pledge is met.

By investing in upstream improvements such as the restoration of peatlands it will slow water flow and reduce the risk of flooding. We propose a £5 billion fund for flood prevention and climate adaption to combat the changing climatic conditions.

Agricultural practices do have a significant impact on climate change and biodiversity. We would encourage agricultural practices that would have a lower impact on the environment.

We would decarbonise the power sector completely by supporting renewables and expanding community and decentralised energy, support councils to develop local energy generation and require all new homes to be fitted with solar panels. We would implement a 10 year programme to reduce energy consumption from all buildings by such actions as improving insulation and requiring all new homes and non-domestic buildings to be constructed to a zero carbon standard and requiring the phased installation of heat pumps.

I have taken personal steps in my own life to reduce my own carbon footprint such as by installing solar panels, eliminating single use plastics and I reuse and recycle as much as possible. I would encourage everyone to look at their own lifestyle so that we can all help make a difference.

Colin Ross

Liberal Democrat Candidate Sheffield Central

References

Opinion poll on climate

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/30/climate-crisis-affects-how-majority-will-vote-in-uk-election-poll

Info on Sheffield Central Candidates

https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/elections/parl.sheffield-central.2019-12-12/sheffield-central

Nigel Farage

https://www.climatechangenews.com/2015/03/11/nigel-farage-on-climate-change-in-his-own-words/

Vote for Policies

https://voteforpolicies.org.uk/

Who can I vote for?

https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/elections/parl.sheffield-central.2019-12-12/sheffield-central/

Hunger Strike

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/27/meet-extinction-rebellions-hunger-strikers

Green Party Manifesto https://campaigns.greenparty.org.uk/manifesto/#gnd

Labour Party Manifesto https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/

Liberal Democrat Manifesto  https://www.libdems.org.uk/liberal-democrats-2019-manifesto

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