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|Disappointment greeted the Labour
environment manifesto today as experts from all quarters suggested
there was nothing new, it was too cautious about cutting climate
change emissions, and there was not enough detail about policies
Buried in section 8 of the party's manifesto, however, was a radical
statement which might also herald a very different time ahead if
Labour is elected to government for a fourth term.
Introducing the Green Growth chapter, it says: "Only active
governments can shape markets to prioritise green growth and job
creation. Environmental sustainability cannot be left to individuals
and businesses acting alone."
Where for so long Labour policy has focused on targets,
encouragement and partnerships; this appears to herald a new era of
firm rules, limits and sanctions; what Ed Matthew, who runs
Transform UK, a group working on the UK's shift to a low carbon
economy, calls a "seismic shift".
To encourage more low carbon energy, for example, Matthew said
government needed to offer more subsidies, grants and low interest
loans to the new companies.
"After 13 years they have finally understood that they can't create
a low carbon, secure energy supply in this country without some more
intervention," said Matthew. "[We need] certainty for investors so
they shift their money from high to low carbon energy services. They
need that support to get off the ground, but eventually they'll
stand on their own and end up cheaper than the fossil fuel
Such a fundamental shift in policy would open up the prospect of a
battle of ideas between the main parties on the environment. Liberal
Democrats have already - more overtly - embraced the intervention
agenda; Conservatives have taken more cautious steps, advocating new
financial institutions like the Green Investment Bank and a
feed-in-tariff for big renewable energy schemes, but might not be
willing to go this way for industrial policy, said Matthew.
Supporters of this approach point to the global success stories in
creating green industries: China, South Korea and Germany have all
been more interventionist.
"Regulation has been such a dirty word for 13 years for Labour,"
added Matthew. "It's about realising regulation isn't red tape:
regulation is the building blocks on which our society is built, if
you get it right it's great for the economy and, critically, for the
Clues as to how brave Labour would be in office were mixed: the
manifesto repeated an early suggestion that the party would ban many
items from landfill in future, and promised that if the European
Commission did not ban illegally logged timber, the UK would do so
unilaterally. However, it continued to say that better food
labelling would be designed "with" (although they presumably mean
"by") the food industry and retailers, and that it wanted to
introduce more competition into the energy market, something which
could make it harder, not easier, to meet climate and security
There were few new ideas in the manifesto, though many of the
existing proposals are either fairly recent (local communities to
share in renewable power profits) or very long term (400,000 new
One new initiative is the promise to create more protected areas,
and forest and woodland, as well as to "sustain" the amount of
greenbelt land. Protected areas will be especially picked to create
wildlife "corridors" along which species can migrate as they adapt
to climate change, something that conservationists have long been
The party also tantalisingly promised a new "framework" for land
use, to balance the competing demands of housing and development,
wildlife and climate change, and food security. However there was no
detail about what this would be, or how it would be determined.