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In summary:

  • Net zero: the two main parties are aiming for net zero emissions by 2050, with the Liberal Democrats targeting 2045 and the Greens 2040. Labour and the Conservatives both have specific goals for clean power production and increasing renewables by 2030
  • Fossil fuels: the Conservatives propose delaying the ban on petrol and diesel cars to 2035, while Labour and the LibDems support a 2030 target. The Tories are backing more gas exploration and oil & gas licences, while Labour and the LibDems would halt new O&G projects
  • Brownfields & planning: all main parties are prioritising strategic planning for housing on brownfield sites, with Labour wanting to strengthen the 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' in its planning reforms
  • Environmental protection: plans by both major parties to remove consents system red-tape to expediate major projects threaten nature protection, but the LibDems are pledging to fully integrate environmental considerations into infrastructure decisions. The Labour manifesto is weak on nature and biodiversity

Looking only at headline climate targets, there is not much difference between the main parties. Both Labour and the Conservatives have 2050 as their net zero target. The Liberal Democrats have a slightly more ambitious goal of 2045, while the Green Party is targeting 2040 or sooner. Labour will aim to decarbonise power generation by 2030, while Conservatives have a previously stated target not in their manifesto, however to hit 95% decarbonisation by 2030 and 100% by 2035. The Liberal Democrats have a goal of 90% renewable power by 2030.

On electric vehicles (EVs), the Conservatives will delay the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars until 2035, but ostensibly retain the target of having 80% of cars sold in 2030 be electric. Labour and the Liberal Democrats would reinstate the 2030 target. 

Labour will aim to have 50GW of solar capacity by 2030, the Conservatives want 70GW by 2035 as their target. Both those parties have a 2030 target for offshore wind Labour’s is 60GW, the Tories will aim for 50GW. The Liberal Democrats have no explicit targets, though they would remove "unnecessary restrictions on new solar and wind power".

But targets are famously fragile things. The Scottish National Party one of the first governments in the world to declare a climate emergency had a bold plan to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030. That target was scrapped earlier this year when the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said it was no longer credible. More important than headline figures in a manifesto are the expressions of intent. Reform Party plans would see the next parliament axe net zero goals altogether, based on claims it would save the public sector £30bn per year for the next 25 years.

Green power 

Here the gap between the major parties widens. Labour has promised to make the UK a "clean energy superpower". The Liberal Democrats place tackling climate change "at the heart of a new industrial strategy". There is far less green energy ambition in the Conservative manifesto. 

Labour plans to double the UK’s onshore wind capacity to 35GW by 2030. The Conservative government relaxed what was an effective ban on onshore wind in 2023, but this has had minimal impact and the party has no onshore wind target in its manifesto. The LibDems do not mention onshore wind specifically, though they do promise to empower local authorities to develop "local renewable electricity generation and storage strategies"

On fossil fuels, the difference between the parties looks stark. Daniel Särefjord, CEO of heat pump specialist Aira UK, notes that the Conservatives’ manifesto energy section "contains around half a dozen references to gas, granting more gas exploration licences and building gas-fired power stations."

While the Tory manifesto restates a commitment to annual oil and gas licences, Labour would honour the Rosebank licence approved in September last year but allow no further oil and gas projects. Nor would Labour allow the proposed coal mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria to open. The Liberal Democrats would ban new coal mines and oil and gas projects, end fossil fuel subsidies and implement a one-off windfall tax on the oil and gas sector. 

Infrastructure

One of the biggest challenges to new renewable and grid projects is the UK’s planning system. The main parties all touch on this issue but with varying degrees of detail. As noted above, the LibDems would empower local authorities to develop renewable power and storage strategies. Their focus on planning has a strong environmental focus, which would:

  • Ensure new developments result in significant net gain for biodiversity, with up to a 100% net gain for large developments
  • Introduce a strategic land and sea use framework to effectively balance competing demands on our land and oceans
  • Empower local nature recovery strategies to identify a new 'wild belt' to enable nature’s restoration

The Conservative manifesto touches on infrastructure delivery more explicitly, but with less environmental focus. Their manifesto claims the party would "speed up the average time it takes to sign off major infrastructure projects from four years to one". This has been met with considerable scepticism by independent analysts, although the acknowledgement of how long infrastructure takes to approve and build is laudable. 

Labour also acknowledges that the current planning regime "acts as a major brake on economic growth". The party has promised to set out national policy statements and update national planning policy. This will make "major projects faster and cheaper by slashing red tape" and make it easier to build laboratories, giga factories and digital infrastructure like data centres. 

Housing

The housing shortage is perhaps the biggest economic issue facing the country and one with significant environmental components. All three of the main parties promise to tackle this crisis and build new homes. The Liberal Democrats would build ten new garden cities, expand neighbourhood planning across England, and encourage development of existing brownfield sites.

The Conservatives also focus on brownfield development, promising to deliver "a record number of homes each year on brownfield land in urban areas" through a new fast-track route on the planning system.

Labour would update the National Policy Planning Framework and restore mandatory housing targets. The party has promised "tough action" to "ensure that planning authorities have up-to-date local plans" and that it will "reform and strengthen" the ever-controversial "presumption in favour of sustainable development".

Recognising that brownfield development alone is not enough, Labour will require all combined and mayoral authorities to "strategically plan" for housing growth in their respective jurisdiction.

The Labour manifesto is the only one to mention the controversial topic of net neutrality. The party says it will "implement solutions to unlock the building of homes affected by nutrient neutrality without weakening environmental protections."

Environment & nature

When it comes to environmental protection, the Liberal Democrat manifesto calls for the National Infrastructure Commission to fully take into account the environmental implications of all national infrastructure decisions. Their manifesto would also ensure that nature-based solutions, including tree planting, form a critical part of the UK’s strategy to tackle climate change.

The Labour manifesto is 142 pages, but mentions the word "environment" only 10 times, and several of those refer to the policy or business environment. Although the party promises to "restore and protect our natural world" and "promote biodiversity", there is little in the way of detail. 

As the Social Market Foundation noted: "The manifesto is as long as a short novel and yet we still are no clearer on the character or plot of the next Labour government. There is more unsaid than said."