Environmental leaders have welcomed a rare cross-party deal to tackle climate change struck between Britain’s leading political parties ahead of the general election.
Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and opposition leader Ed Miliband of the Labour Party have jointly agreed to end the use of ‘unabated’ coal for power generation unless it uses new clean-up technology – and achieve a “fair, strong, legally binding” global climate deal.
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK executive director, said: “This pledge marks a turning point in the collective effort to take Britain’s energy system out of the Victorian age and into the 21st century.
“For the first time all of the UK’s main political parties have committed to ending carbon pollution from coal plants, giving this country a better chance of tackling climate change.”
This “highly unusual” deal was brokered by environmental think tank Green Alliance and supported by NGOs including WWF, Christian Aid and Greenpeace. It also sees the three parties promising to work together to transition to a “competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy” as well as set carbon budgets in line with the 2008 Climate Change Act.
The deal comes after a survey released last week showing that Cameron’s failure to live up to his ‘greenest government ever’ pledge could cost him the election.
Climate change policies will likely have a significant influence on voters in the May general election. According to the survey, almost 70 percent of voters want their party to have a “strong policy for tackling climate change”.
Al Gore, former US vice president, said: “This agreement represents inspiring leadership and true statesmanship by all three men. The political courage it represents on all sides is exactly what our world most needs in order to solve the climate crisis.”
The cross-party agreement contrasts sharply with the US, Australia and Canada, where right-of-centre politicians argue against the need to act on global warming.
However, some have criticised the cross-party pledge for its lack of any new commitments.
The government already supports the official EU policy calling for a legally-binding climate deal consistent with limiting warming to 2C. And, setting carbon budgets in line with the Climate Change Act is already a legally binding obligation.
New unabated coal plants are already banned in the UK. The Liberal Democrats had pledged to ban all unabated coal by 2025. The coal phase out pledge is a new policy for Labour and the Conservatives but it reflects current government expectations that unabated coal use for energy would, in any case, cease by around 2030.
What’s more significant perhaps is the show of cross-party political unity on climate change. This might help reduce the chance that the next government could weaken the UK‘s stance on climate change.
The pledge comes at the same time as international leaders at UN climate talks in Geneva have agreed a formal draft negotiating text for the Paris climate summit in December.
The 86-page document prominently features plans to completely phase out fossil fuel emissions. It also includes important language on the health benefits of climate action, safeguarding human rights, and intergenerational justice, along with strong options for growing the resilience of developing countries in the face of climate extremes.
Cameron said: “Climate change poses a threat not just to the environment, but also to poverty eradication abroad and to economic prosperity at home. I strongly support a global deal at Paris this year to tackle that threat head-on.”
Scientists have today warned that rising temperatures in Europe caused by climate change could bring traditionally tropical diseases, such as dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis and chikungunya, to the UK.
Senior military officials have also previously warned that climate change will increase mass migration and radicalisation, as 2014 was shown to be the hottest year on record.
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