How Green is Britain's New Conservative Government?

no heathrow photo

Image from the Guardian

Britain has a new government: a coalition between Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats. As Canadians, who have too long an experience of minority governments, know: often a coalition with a centre party pushes conservative governments towards the centre-right. And that's what's happening here.

This new government has come forth with 20 green initiatives. The biggest being the cancellation of the third runway at Heathrow Airport, something that activists have been wanting for years. And no new runways at the other two airports either. After the fold for more green shoots.

wind turbines photo

Image from climatechange.thinkaboutit

The new Prime Minister, David Cameron, has already announced the government's intention to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in the first year. A Liberal Democrat, Chris Huhne, will be the Energy and Climate Change Secretary. He has said that "Climate change is, in my view, our view, the greatest challenge facing man kind." And that he wanted to go "further and faster than ever before."

Caroline Spelman, a Conservative and one of the few women in the Cabinet, will be the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Her background is slightly suspect according to the Guardian because she used to have a firm which lobbied for GM crops. She does have a background in agriculture as she was a former sugar beet commodity secretary for the National Farmers Union and served as spokeswoman for environmental affairs. She is one to watch with some trepidation.

Other initiatives sound good. The parties have agreed to "set up a green investment bank, prevent coal-fired power stations being built, establish a high-speed rail network and establish a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles." In addition they will introduce measures to "make the import or possession of illegal timber a criminal offence, promote green spaces and wildlife corridors", and an over-all commitment "to implement a full programme of measures to fulfill our joint ambitions for a low carbon and eco-friendly economy."

On the nuclear front, the Liberal Democrats have always opposed new nuclear stations. The Conservatives support them but have promised not to pursue nuclear power unless it can be done without government subsidies which is highly unlikely. No nuclear means good bye to the Trident Ballistic Missile too. The two parties have agreed to the drafting of a national statement which the Lib Dem's can speak out against but cannot bring down the government over.

Environmentalists are a sceptical lot and for good reason. The agreement lists measures "to encourage marine energy". However the Lib Dem's want the energy mix to include 15,000 new wind turbines, but the Conservatives are not enthusiastic about wind power. Many represent constituencies in the countryside that oppose their construction.

green lucas photo

Image from the Guardian

The lone Green Party Member of Parliament, Caroline Lucas, was not sounding very impressed in her first interview since the election. She said "There was such hope that that could have led to some kind of breakthrough in making our parliament more representative, making it more accountable. We could have had more women in politics, we could have had lots of things which could have been about a new politics, which this isn't. This is still going to be about swingeing cuts in public spending, we're still going to be saddled with Trident, and on climate and energy it doesn't sound like there's anything of real ambition."

More on Britain's New Government

All Bets are Off on the UK Election But Fun and Games are On
Making Climate Change an Issue in the UK Elections
Zac Goldsmith, Environmentalist, Wins Conservative Seat in UK
First Green Party Member of Parliament Elected in the UK

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