Views from around the world: Why the UK election matters to energy and climate

From the US

Environmentalist Bill McKibben — “This is the great world-historical question of our time”

The UK has clearly become one of the intellectual centers of the climate debate–the Guardian’s amazing reporting and pressure around the science of climate and the need to keep carbon in the ground has captured the attention of the rest of the English-speaking world.

It’s getting harder, under this kind of scrutiny, for politicians to continue the dance of saying nice words about climate change and then acting as per usual. One hopes that the debate will be central to the election debate, if only because, as we will certainly recognize looking backward in a generation, this is the great world-historical question of our time.

From China

Greenpeace China energy analyst, Li Shuo, says as China cuts coal use the world is looking to the UK to see if it can lead on climate

Worldwide, it is becoming ever clearer that coal is the foremost contributor to climate change and it must be tackled. The emerging realization of this leads to the critical efforts in the US, Germany and perhaps most significantly in China where coal consumption dropped in 2014 for the first time in this century.

Driven by public concerns on air pollution and the need to transform the economy, the Chinese government is expected to set further cap on coal consumption for the next five year period. Instead of arguing about who should move first, climate change cooperation is now on top of the agenda when the leaders of U.S and China meet.

The UK is standing at the forefront of the move to end coal use but risks being caught or even surpassed as the rest of the world move rapidly forward. Last year the UK registered a close to double digit CO2 emission decline as a result of coal consumption reduction.  But the conversation should not stop now. As global emissions stabilise the world is eager to see how countries like UK can further bend the curve. This would be an important signal based on which other countries can move away from fossil fuels.

From Germany

Greenpeace’s political director Daniel Mittler finds a pleasing consensus on coal — but concern over Europe

Looking at the UK from Germany is a pleasing amount of  consensus on some key issues, despite the disturbing fights over renewable energy, a key opportunity for the UK. In Germany, where renewables are stronger and accepted, we dream of enough major parties committing to phasing out coal fast to make me confident that civil society will be able to get that step from the next government, whoever ends up as Prime Minister. That key parties are also committed to increasing marine reserves and ocean protection is also great news.

It’s also impressive to see many people reengaging with politics. That the Green Party in the UK now has more members than the German Greens, for example, is an impressive commitment to the political process.

That said, as a European, the often negative tone of the election makes me uncomfortable. I want Europe to succeed. The UK has often been a progressive force in climate debates globally. Will that continue? I hope so.

Follow our UK election coverage

From the UK

Tom Burke, chair of E3G: The next government will face four key choices which will influence global action on climate

The next government will decide four critical matters that will determine the role it plays in the global effort to keep the climate safe.

First, it will choose how to spend £25 billion a year on vital infrastructure. This can be designed to support a high carbon, business as usual economy or it can be designed to underpin the low carbon, resource efficient economy that will be globally competitive in the rest of this century.

Second, it will choose how best to use its influence in Europe to create a more ambitious outcome from climate negotiations in Paris than is currently on offer. Europe has traditionally been a global leader on climate change. Recently, its efforts have stalled. The next government  can choose to restore European momentum or not to bother.

Third, 65 million Britons must have a much clearer idea of the real magnitude of the risks a changing climate already poses to their security and prosperity. The next government can choose to create a fully informed and mobilised public to meet these current as well as the future risks or it can leave them in the dark.

Fourth, the Climate Change Act is the best guarantee to the rest of the world, as well as to the British people, that Britain will play its full part in avoiding dangerous climate change. Without a strong and well-funded DECC to deliver the carbon budgets it will amount to no more than words on a page. The next government can choose to keep or abolish DECC.

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK chief scientist: There is a big choice to be made on energy and climate — but it is not being discussed

It seems that voters feel environment issues are more under-discussed in this general Election campaign than any other. They are right to be worried about the lack of a more public scrutiny because at least on climate and energy issues there is a serious choice to be made between a broadly right-of-centre government and a left of centre one.

Regrettably the UK seems to be following the USA where there is a political split amongst voters on their attitudes to climate. Although at the headline level, there remains joint commitment to the Climate Change Act, the Tory manifesto (and obviously UKIP) is weak on actual mechanisms to deliver those emissions reductions.

It explicitly rules out the use of the cheapest existing low carbon technology, onshore wind. Meanwhile the Labour party have more explicit policy mechanisms which might not be perfect but would at least take the UK in the right direction in a lot of areas.

But the weakness of non-discussion are evident.

All major parties are committed – with little debate –  to what the Financial Times christened “Europe’s biggest and most controversial infrastructure project”, the proposed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.

All parties seem to be committed to roll-out of Carbon Capture and Storage despite almost nothing being known about costs, deliverability or effectiveness (seriously, would you even buy a toaster if you didn’t know those things?). Perhaps most importantly, technological change will drive a revolution in the energy system which could easily be impacting UK before the end of the parliament. The manifestos are silent on what this means and how to deal with it.

Tony Juniper, environmentalist and writer: The main parties have dismissed climate as an ‘environmental issue’ so threat to our economy, security and financial system is ignored

The climate change challenge has barely registered during the General Election campaign. Dismissed by the main parties as an environmental issue, the huge threat posed to our economy and security has been struck from the agenda.

Even as the tragic civil war in Syria that was in part sparked by long term drought continues and as the G20 begins an investigation into the threat posed to the financial system by a bubble of unburnable carbon, the big beasts in British politics hardly speak of any ambition to achieve a low carbon society.

A central role for any government is to protect the economy of the country and security of its citizens. The failure (with the honourable exception of the Green Party) to place climate change at the front and centre of manifestoes thus constitutes a massive abdication of responsibility.

In addition to the failure to properly manage risk the UK could also lose out in the emerging clean and green industrial revolution that will be rich in jobs and economic opportunity. To accuse the majority of political leaders as lacking in foresight hardly does justice to the scale of the failure taking place during this General Election campaign.

Mark Lynas, journalist and writer: The UK’s climate consensus is a good thing — but we need to talk about fracking, nuclear and onshore wind.

It is a mixed blessing that climate change is not a major subject in the ongoing UK general election debate. Partly this may be attributable to the notable achievement of Green Alliance in getting Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to sign a joint statement on climate change back in February.

With cross-party agreement on the need to limit global temperature rises to below 2C, to agree stronger carbon budgets and to accelerate the transition to clean energy (and phase out coal), there seems at first pass to be little between the main parties on this important issue.

This is surely better than the situation in the US and Australia, where climate change has become a casualty of cultural and political warfare, with outright climate denialism becoming a badge of loyalty on the political right.

However, forthright debate is always important – especially during an election campaign – and there remain important areas of disagreement. How much more onshore wind should we build in the UK? Is the £25 billion current price tag for Hinkley C really worth it? (I think not – there are better and cheaper reactor options out there if we want to build more nuclear.) When can the ultimate phase-out of unabated coal be achieved? Is there any role for gas fracking?

All of these issues need honest and open political debate, and the general election is surely the best time for this to happen. If Britain is moving towards another coalition government, we may be looking at substantial future changes in energy policy.