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How climate change is dividing the UK in similar way to Brexit | Climate News

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Combating climate change could be emerging as a new political fault line in the UK, a Sky Data survey has revealed.

Some 58% of those who voted Labour at the last election said it mattered “a great deal” that the party they support makes tackling the issue a priority – compared to just 30% of their Conservative counterparts.

But it is not just a simple split between parties – it’s also split between Remain and Leave voters.

:: Over half of Remainers agreed it mattered a great deal as a policy priority
:: Just over a quarter of Leave voters said they agreed
:: 67% of Leave voters said prioritising tackling climate change mattered only a little or not at all

What the Tories say

For the Conservatives, who are running on a Brexit platform, this means navigating fraught territory.

The party has been accused of not doing enough to tackle the issue, including introducing a moratorium – but not a ban – on fracking, freezing fuel duty, banning onshore wind farms, ending subsidies for solar panels, and approving significant spending on new road building.

Minister of state for environment, food and rural affairs Zac Goldsmith told Sky News the government could be doing more.

He said: “If the science is right, and I believe it is, then we face an emergency.

“And I don’t think the collective response of governments around the world, including ours, has been enough, and I would never pretend it is.

“I think we need to continuously do more.”

Minister of state for environment, food and rural affairs Zak Goldsmith said more could be done
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Minister of state for environment, food and rural affairs Zac Goldsmith said more could be done

Under the Conservative government the UK became the first major economy to pass a legally binding commitment to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Green Party have all promised to go further, faster.

Mr Goldsmith said: “I think from the government’s point of view, 2050 is the right target. I actually think we could get there sooner, but I don’t think we should legislate for it to happen sooner. We just don’t know if that’s possible.”

What the Liberal Democrats say

The Liberal Democrats have also been accused of not doing enough on climate change. The party has pledged to get to net zero emissions by 2045 but is deeply concerned about bringing people with them.

It is pledging to set up non legally binding citizens’ assemblies to help.

Spokeswoman for the environment and climate change Wera Hobhouse said: “Unless we get individuals on board with the difficult transition we need to make – and it needs to be a fair transition – we might get backlash like we have seen over the gilets jaunes in France.

Spokesperson for the environment and climate change Wera Hobhouse warned of backlash
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Spokeswoman for the environment and climate change Wera Hobhouse warned of backlash

“And we absolutely need to avoid that because that will stop progress.

“I’m absolutely committed to making sure that this doesn’t end up in a party political ding dong. This has to become something that we embrace as people together or we are finished.”

But it is too late to take the politics out of climate change.

It was an afterthought at the last election, but not anymore.

Now the issue is firmly part of the pitch to voters.

What the Green Party says

The party with the most uncompromising view of what needs to be done is, rather unsurprisingly, the Green Party, which wants to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Co-leader Jonathan Bartley told Sky News: “The UK needs to transform, it needs to completely transform.

“We need to de-carbonise every sector of the economy, agriculture, industry, energy, transport.

Co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the UK needs to transform
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Co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley said the UK needs to transform

“We said our Green New Deal will cost £91bn a year in terms of borrowing, and another £9bn for the running costs through increasing corporation tax from 18% to 24%.

“It is a very significant increase in government borrowing, but we know that the climate emergency and climate breakdown will cost us far more in the long run.

“We are going to have to spend this money as a country.

“The question is not ‘should we spend it?’, the question is ‘when?’

“At the end of the Second World War we were more in debt as a country as a proportion of GDP than we are today, yet we set up the NHS, we set up the welfare state, we established a new social contract with people, we revolutionised the way our country lived and we can do the same thing today.

“Time and time again, (the Green Party) has set the agenda.

“Where Greens lead, others have followed, and I believe on this, they will also have to follow. There is no choice.”

Mr Bartley would not be drawn on whether his party is willing to sacrifice growth in exchange for such rapid de-carbonisation.

He said: “Well, I think growth in GDP is a very blunt instrument by which to measure success or indeed failure.

“We are saying let’s have new measures of economic success that look at our mental health and look at our leisure hours and look at the amount of carbon we’re emitting, that look at how quickly we can get to work, how comfortably we can get to work. We need to bring the economy back to who it’s supposed to be for, and that’s you and me.”

What the Labour Party says

Labour has promised a similar radical, big spending ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ to work towards net zero carbon emissions “well before” 2050.

As part of this it would create a £250bn green transformation fund and a million new green jobs.

Sky News challenged shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Rebecca Long-Bailey on whether her party was promising too much and engaging in wishful thinking.

She said: “It’s not wishful thinking because we’ve got the credible plans to back it.

“If we don’t take this action, not only will we be heading towards climate catastrophe, but will have missed the biggest opportunity we have seen in generations to transform our economy and usher in the next industrial revolution.

She was dismissive of the Conservative approach to tackling climate change, saying: “You can have targets until the cows come home.

Shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Rebecca Long-Bailey says Labour's plans are credible
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Shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Rebecca Long-Bailey says Labour’s plans are credible

“But there’s no point having a [2050] target if you don’t have a credible pathway and a plan to get there.

“The reality is that they’re falling behind on their carbon budgets at the moment.”

But Labour’s “revolution” includes an ambitious plan to retrofit nearly every UK home with energy saving measures like insulation, better windows and heating systems.

It would mean upgrading at an approximate rate of 7,000 homes per day, every day, for the next 10 years to hit the target.

She said: “We’re not going to force any homeowner to have changes made to their home that they don’t want to, it’s all their own personal choice.

“But we think that by explaining the scheme to them, showing them that their energy bills are going to come down, it would be a no-brainer.”

View from the North West

We went to the North West to see how voters feel about the increasing emphasis on climate change.

Rob Jones has already retrofitted his own house.

Adding insulation, triple glazing and even solar panels has saved him thousands on his bills, but he has doubts about plans to do the same to nearly every single home in the country.

He said: “This kind of national programme hasn’t really been seen since maybe the war.

“I don’t think any of the parties are particularly serious about how this is going to be accomplished.

“I can’t underestimate the amount of work that took place in this house, replicating that across tens of millions of households across Britain is a serious task.

Heavy goods vehicle driver Brian McDonald said his main priority was leaving Europe
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Heavy goods vehicle driver Brian McDonald said his main priority was leaving Europe

“I’m not sure many of the parties are very honest with the public about the impact of that, or about the fact that there isn’t much of a choice, arguably.”

But there are other issues at play than just practicality.

Despite the spin from the parties, voters know that transformation on this scale almost certainly means sacrifice.

Teacher Faye Bye said: “We’re in a position where money seems to be needed in every area of our country: NHS; education; you name it.

“But I guess it’s something that we have to think about because without a world to live in safely, what future have we got anyway?

For others, in a part of the country that helped drive the industrial revolution, there’s also a lingering sense that tackling climate change is an unfair attack on a precious heritage.

Heavy goods vehicle driver Brian McDonald said his main priority was leaving Europe, and that he was irritated about how important the issue is becoming when there are much bigger polluters not playing by the same rules in other parts of the world.

He said: “Without Manchester in the 1860s/1870s, would the world be where it is now?

“Why should we be punished as our little nation for what’s happening now in the world, when you’ve got the likes of China, Russia?

“And they come to our country and say you can’t have a light bulb on for more than 10 minutes because it’s polluting the air.”

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