Manifesto Check: Tories promise more of the same on energy and the environment

Offshore wind may provide the answers the Tories seek. Anna Gowthorpe/PA

Welcome to The Conversation’s Manifesto Check, where academics from across the UK subject each party’s manifesto to unbiased, expert scrutiny.

Perhaps the most significant promise in the energy and environment sections of the Conservative manifesto is not news at all: the pledge to continue to support the UK Climate Change Act, the bipartisan legislation passed in 2008 that forms the legal basis for the UK’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The significance of the promise is that the Conservatives would continue to strengthen climate policies despite the ideological wariness within the party about state action.

What this means is that the promise to end public subsidies for new onshore wind farms, and to give locals a veto on new windfarms, may ultimately be of little consequence. Adherence to carbon budgets would oblige the government to find alternative means of securing emissions reductions. These may be more expensive, for instance if the shortfall in renewable energy was made up by additional energy from offshore windfarms for which public subsidies via feed-in tariffs are higher.

Other energy pledges mostly consist of fairly general promises to continue the status quo: support for nuclear and gas (but not coal), backing for “good-value” green energy, encouragement of new energy investment, steps to reform the energy market, delivery of smart meters to everyone by 2020, and support for low-cost energy efficiency with the aim (but not a commitment) of insulating a million more homes by 2020.

The only real exception is the promise to encourage support for fracking in the North of England by setting up a Sovereign Wealth Fund not dissimilar to that established for Shetland. While fracking would not increase UK emissions if shale gas only replaces imported gas, however, it would increase the net global gas available for use and therefore runs counter to the goal of reducing global emissions.

In other areas of environmental protection the most significant promise is to build 1,400 new flood defence schemes to protect 300,000 homes. The increasing demand for flood protection is perhaps the clearest UK evidence of the accumulating impacts of climate change. However, experts believe much more is needed.

Other policies are somewhat illusory. Using £3 billion from the EU Common Agricultural Policy to enhance the countryside should make a difference, but this money is earmarked for this purpose anyway.

Spending £300 million on minimising the environmental impact of new roads would be unnecessary if these roads, which by facilitating travel by car contribute to increasing COsub>2 emissions, were not built. Extending Marine Protected Areas would help to restore parts of damaged ecosystems around the coasts of the UK and its Overseas Territories, but only to a limited extent.