Climate policy without the greenery: Is this the new face of Conservative environmentalism?
- 04 Feb 2014, 16:00
- Mat Hope
The Conservatives entered the 2010 elections promising
voters that if they wanted to 'go green' they
needed to 'vote blue'. But the Conservative party's climate
change agenda has suffered a
setbacks since David Cameron set foot in number 10 four years
Now a group of Tory politicians has made a bid to
reboot the party's environmental agenda - but they're being very
careful how they talk about the plans.
Climate policy without the greenery
Yesterday, a group of self-acclaimed "progressive"
Conservatives launched a
report they hope will get the party's environmental agenda back
The report was authored by the "2020 Group", which includes
climate minister Greg Barker and
"green champion" Laura Sandys. The Guardian described the
report as the
"pro-Green Tory" manifesto, and claimed it is intended to push
back against the influence of climate skeptic party members.
It's not immediately obvious the report has much to do with
climate or environmental policy, however. Notably, the word "green"
doesn't appear once.
Instead of promoting policies explicitly aimed at tackling
climate change or preserving the UK's green and pleasant land, the
report proposes ways to make the economy less wasteful and more
It certainly has some eye-catching policy proposals.
For example, it recommends a ban on chucking plastics, wood,
textiles and food into landfill sites. It says materials should be
recycled and re-used instead - a process it describes as "sweating
While such policies could have a significant environmental
impact, the report takes a more detached approach to another big
issue: climate change.
The report doesn't assess how its proposals might impact carbon
dioxide emissions, or call for industries to curb emissions in the
name of tackling climate change. Instead, it argues that the
government should help companies reduce their emissions to minimise
the impact of policies that make polluters pay - such as carbon
levies and taxes.
The language of "resource efficiency", a "circular economy" and
"putting a value on a unit of energy saved" is a long way from the
brand of green conservativism Cameron promoted in 2010.
Back then, the party's leader was urging his colleagues and the
public to back
a "new green revolution" that included policies to explicitly
reduce emissions, decarbonise the economy, and tackle climate
change. Now, the most 'green' Tories of all don't even mention
"climate change" in a report ostensibly promoting policies to drive
a decarbonised economy.
So how did the Conservatives go from promoting a green
revolution, to hiding environmental policy beneath the language of
financiers? The answer partly lies in the Tory party's internal
politicking, according to one academic.
Professor of politics at the University of York, Neil Carter,
looks at the evolution of the UK's climate policy from 2006 to
today in a new
paper. He concludes that one of the main drivers behind the
Conservative party's shift away from climate action since 2010 has
been a growing opposition on the right of the party.
In the paper, he argues the party's right wing:
"... has developed a deep partisan
hostility to climate policy by framing it 'variously as a ''green
tax'', as ''subsidies'', as an unwarranted intervention by the
state, and sometimes as associated with Europe - all frames which
connect with wider political values at the core of the Tory right
He says the prime minister appointed a number of climate policy
antagonists to ministerial posts - such as the current environment
Owen Paterson, and ex-energy minister, John
Hayes - largely to calm the party's right.
Carter also argues that the conservative right has recently
found an ally in the chancellor, George Osborne. He claims that
since 2010, Osborne has made it clear he is "unconvinced by green
growth arguments" and has "made several moves that were
inconsistent with a low carbon strategy".
As a consequence of such internal pressure, the Conservative
party's leadership has moved away from climate-friendly policies.
The 2020 Group's report is intended to bring the leadership
So is this the new face of conservative
It's tempting to draw parallels with the US, where the political
right has fractured into factions of those that support climate
action, and those that don't see the need for it.
Faced with such conditions, President Obama has started using a
new phrase to talk around the issue of climate change:
"carbon pollution". The term is supposed to be more politically neutral than
the terms "carbon dioxide", "greenhouse gas emissions" or "climate
Obama arguably paved the way for political acceptance of his his
Climate Action Plan - the most far-reaching climate policy
programme the US has seen in over a decade - by changing the way he
talked about climate change.
Perhaps the 2020 Group are trying to take a leaf out of Obama's
book: By not talking about climate change, maybe it will create the
space for government action. That would suggest 'pro-green'
Conservatives have decided the best strategy to nudge their party
back towards climate action is by promoting environmental policy
under the radar.
While the US's experience shows that could work, it
would mean the new conservative environmentalism is a far cry from
2010's confident blue-green revolution.