Political parties put environment centre stage for first time but will pledges translate into results at the polls?

Tom Clarke

Former Science Editor

The environment has always been a niche issue in politics. One of those “nice to haves” in the manifesto, often nothing more than to serve as light relief from pledges on crime, healthcare or the minimum wage.

But this election is different. Every major party is talking about it.

Each manifesto has significant commitments to environmental issues. And unlike previous elections, many of the policies are actually the ones needed to make a meaningful difference.

Take housing - which accounts for around 20% of the UK’s carbon emissions. All major parties promise to improve the energy efficiency of new build homes.

Labour, the Lib Dems and the Green Party are also promising significant investment in retrofitting existing properties to make sure less of the energy to heat and cool them isn’t wasted.

All major parties promise to improve the energy efficiency of new build homes. Credit: ITV News

On transport, there’s a jam of new policies to reduce the contribution cars, buses, trains and planes make to our carbon footprint.

The sector currently accounts for a third of our total emissions. Labour is promising to fully electrify the railways (after they’ve re-nationalised them),

The Greens and the Lib Dems are also pledging to spend money on public transport and encourage cycling and walking in towns and cities to reduce the number of cars on the roads.

The Tories, whose manifesto is by far the thinnest on green issues, commit to improving local roads and also to spending a billion pounds on a fast-charging network for electric cars.

Labour have pledged to fully electrify the railways. Credit: PA

Why the sudden shift? Well, it’s got a lot to do with Theresa May’s government which committed the UK to reducing its carbon emissions to zero by 2050. That target requires some extremely ambitious green policies.

But it also reflects the gradual shift in public opinion towards accepting the dangerous reality of how our planet is responding to global warming and the impact of over-exploitation of our forests and oceans.

In the battle to appeal to as broad a base of people as possible, the environment has becoming a vote winning issue - especially among the under 25s.

It may explain why the Conservatives’ rivals have all promised to achieve a “net zero” emissions Britain earlier than their target of 2050.

It’s a tactic that might appeal to voters, but in an election where Brexit and the impacts of austerity loom so large, will it translate into results at the polls?