The Climate Change Challenge



Twelve commitments the government must make NOW if it’s really serious about stopping climate change


Dr Spencer Fitz-Gibbon

Green Party spokesperson on climate change



13 September 2004



Contact Green Party press office

020 7561 0282









Why the Tories, Labour and the LibDems can’t be trusted on climate change



In a speech at the World Clean Air and Environmental Protection Congress in London, 24 August 2004, environment minister Lord Whitty stated that  "internationally our first priority is climate change, in the long term probably the most important issue we face as a global community." Tony Blair himself has described how “critical” climate change is on a number of occasions.


And this week the Conservative and Labour Party leaders will be delivering major speeches on climate change. The Independent on Sunday on 12 September 2004 described the speeches, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday respectively, as “an unprecedented double-act".


The Liberal Democrats actively masquerade as a “green party” – but continue to support policies that make a mockery of their fine pronouncements. This could probably not have been better symbolised by Charles Kennedy’s choice of air travel – the most polluting form of travel – for his 2001 general election tour of the UK. Anyone who flies around claiming to be environment-friendly is surely missing something.


But whatever Conservative, Labour and LibDem politicians may say about climate change the fact remains that none of these parties have the policies necessary for the UK to make its fair contribution to the global effort of stopping climate change.



The need to go beyond Kyoto


Tony Blair has repeatedly claimed Britain leads the world with the Kyoto Protocol – but in fact Kyoto, while providing a potentially crucial international framework for agreement, contains targets which are far, far short of what’s needed. “Leading the world” in the pursuit of clearly inadequate targets is not much to be proud of – but the claim does give the false impression that Labour is on the case.


The Blair government has accepted the view of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, that the world must make 60% cuts in CO2 emissions by 2050, from 1990 levels. But the RCEP went further. It embraced the “Contraction and Convergence” principle, in which high-polluting countries will inevitably make much greater reductions than the lower-polluting countries, in the interests of global equity. For the UK to adopt Contraction and Convergence, we must commit ourselves to 90% CO2 reductions by 2050 at the latest. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have toyed with the idea of Contraction and Convergence, but neither party will commit itself wholeheartedly, and the fact is that most Labour and LibDem MPs still don’t understand the issue or its importance.



Aiming at the wrong targets – with the wrong policies


In short, the neoliberal parties – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat – are simply not facing up to climate change:


a.       They have inadequate targets.

b.      They do not have the policies necessary to meet even their inadequate targets.

c.       They have some policies that are taking us in precisely the wrong direction.


All three neoliberal parties support increased roadbuilding – Labour and the Tories to the tune of £30 billion during this decade – and we know that roadbuilding serves to generate traffic. Road traffic directly contributes at least 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions.


All three neoliberal parties support airport expansions. Labour wants to double or treble the size of the UK aviation industry within twenty years, although aviation is already the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and aircraft emissions at cruising altitudes are disproportionately damaging compared with the same emissions at ground level. Neither Labour nor the Tories are prepared to end the £9 billion annual tax-break given to the UK aviation sector. The LibDems, ever striving to appear “green”, have said they would make freight aircraft pay airport tax as passengers do, which would mean a LibDem aviation tax-break of £8 billion a year. And the LibDems would continue to tax passengers rather than tax fuel, meaning a passenger causing fewer emissions would pay as much tax as a passenger causing far greater emissions. That is no way to “make the polluter pay”.


All three neoliberal parties are keen to support economic globalisation, even though the process is known to increase trade - not least increasing the average distance travelled by goods - and thus increasing the ecological impacts of trade. The parties of unrestrained “free trade” are ideologically disadvantaged when it comes to cutting emissions.



Real progress on climate change – through Green economic policies


The neoliberal approach to climate change is doomed to failure. For the neoliberals, the bottom line is economic growth. There must be economic growth even if it causes climate change. This is economic folly, because climate change causes environmental damage (including greater and more frequent storms, floods, droughts, disruption of agricultural systems, sea-level rises, loss of inhabitable land) which then impacts negatively on the economy. For Greens, the bottom line is sustainability with social justice – we must promote equity, prosperity and sustainability in parallel with one another. That means, amongst other things, stopping climate change.


Real progress on climate change and economic development together is eminently feasible. Notwithstanding the Green critique of economic growth per se, the Green industrial revolution that we need to help stop climate change will mean massive growth in certain sectors of the economy – energy conservation measures, non-nuclear renewable energy production, low-emissions transport, low-emissions waste management, recycling and re-manufacture, and so on. The Green industrial revolution will generate, at a conservative estimate, 200,000 jobs in the Green energy sectors alone, and probably another 200,000 in Green waste management. Growth in this sense will not be an end in itself, but a means to an end – the creation of a prosperous, fair and sustainable economy.



Assisting sustainable development in poorer countries


There are those who say it doesn’t matter what we in this country do, because big countries like China and India will more than counteract our CO2 reductions. But this is only true if those countries pursue the same model of unsustainable economics that we in the West have. But the poorer countries can learn from our mistakes, with our assistance. It is in the UK’s own interests to make free transfers of technology to developing countries to help them develop sustainably.


Because climate change is the biggest threat to Britain’s and the world’s economy (let alone the human costs and the environmental costs), it isn’t a case of not being able to afford to stop climate change. The simple fact is that we can’t afford not to.



The challenge facing the Conservatives, Labour and the LibDems


This report lays down a challenge to the neoliberal parties: we say to the Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, instead of just telling us how serious climate change is - in the hope that you will dupe the voters into thinking you’re doing enough about it – make a crystal clear commitment, right now, to the radical policies Britain needs to play our full part in averting the worst consequences of climate change.


The following explains twelve important points. If they will not commit itself to achieving these twelve steps, as a minimum, then we know they aren’t serious about climate change.




Twelve urgent commitments on climate change



If the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats will not make these twelve commitments – NOW – they are not serious about climate change.




1. Contraction and Convergence strategy


We must immediately adopt the "Contraction and Convergence" model for CO2 reductions, which is calculated to achieve the necessary reductions in a globally equitable manner. This was pioneered by the Global Commons Institute, promoted by the Green Party and is now supported by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and many other bodies (1).




2. 90% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2050 or sooner


We must set targets nationally, and campaign globally, within the Contraction and Convergence framework, to limit the global mean temperature rise to 2 degrees C (2). For the UK, this means aiming for 40% CO2 reductions by 2020 at the latest, and 90% by 2050 at the latest.




3. Pass the Home Energy Conservation Bill

We must immediately revive and pass the Home Energy Conservation Bill, intending to achieve 30% reductions in UK domestic energy demand within 10 years (3).


4. Scrap the £30 billion national roadbuilding programme

We must immediately scrap the national roadbuilding programme and invest the £30 billion saving over 10 years in Green transport measures (4).




5. Pass the Air Traffic Emissions Reduction Bill

We must immediately pass the Air Traffic Emissions Reduction Bill, which was steered through the House of Lords in March 2004 by Green peer Lord Beaumont, and which would achieve 50% CO2 reductions in aviation by 2050, starting with 5% by 2010 and 10% by 2015 (5).




6. End all nuclear and oil industry subsidies

We must immediately end all subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear power, and set targets for non-nuclear renewable energy production to meet at least 90% of UK domestic and industrial energy demand from zero-emissions sources by 2050.


7. Two million solar roofs by 2010

By 2010, we must establish two million solar roof systems in the UK, following and surpassing the lead taken by Germany (6).


8. Two million small-scale wind energy systems by 2010


We must embrace the latest technology in micro wind turbines suitable for many homes, businesses and public buildings.



9. End all aviation tax breaks

By 2010, we must end the £9 billion annual tax break currently given to the UK aviation industry (7).




10. Smart Energy strategies in all local authorities

All local authorities must implement the Green Party's Smart Energy Conservation Strategy - developing a comprehensive strategy to cut the local authorities own CO2 emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020 and 90% by 2050, including traffic reduction, energy efficiency in the local authority itself, home energy conservation, a Zero Waste strategy, and energy efficient  procurement (8).




11. £2 billion a year from ecotaxes for renewables


By 2010, we must be raising at least £2 billion a year from ecotaxes to invest in non-nuclear renewable energy production, not including small-scale systems described above.




12. Financial support for sustainable development in poorer countries

We must campaign internationally for global action. And we must back up our words with financial commitment, including the free transfer of renewable energy technology to developing countries to help them develop sustainably.








1.        For further information, search the Green Party website for “Contraction and Convergence”. For the Global Commons Institute see

2.       There is now a broad consensus amongst NGOs and scientists that this is a reasonable upper limit to avoid catastophic changes.

3.       This Bill in 2002 had the support of over 400 MPs but was sabotaged by the government. See for the Bill itself, and for further information.

4.      See eg The Green Transport Revolution (and how to pay for it), 2001 general election briefing, at Also Real Progress on local transport, 2004 local elections briefing, which argues that
Green Party policies could cut traffic by 20% in 10 years:

5.       See Green Party press releases of 22 March, 31 March and 26 April 2004, at

6.       See eg Solar Century: How local authorities can fuel the solar revolution of the 21st century, Green Party 2003 local elections briefing,

7.       See Aviation's Economic Downside, Green Party, 2003 edition, at

8.       See Smart Energy: Real Progress in local council energy policy, at













Published and promoted by Spencer Fitz-Gibbon for The Green Party, both at 1a Waterlow Road, London N19 5NJ.