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Party With One of the Least Ambitious Climate Plans Wins UK Election
The Conservative Party emerged victorious in Thursday's UK elections with a majority of 78 seats in the House of Commons, its largest majority since 1987, as BBC News reported.
With one seat left to count, the Conservatives now have 364 seats, the Labour Party has 203, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has 48, the Liberal Democrats have 11, the Welsh Plaid Cymru has four and the Green Party has one.
Conservative Leader and defending Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had focused his campaign on a promise to "get Brexit done," hailed his party's victory as a "new dawn" in British politics. But what does the Conservative win mean for the planet?
Previous Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May made the UK one of the first major economies to commit to a 2050 carbon neutrality deadline before leaving office in June, The Guardian reported. And the Conservative election manifesto repeated that pledge.
"And you the people of this country voted to be carbon neutral in this election," Johnson said in his victory speech, according to a Press Association transcript published by Al Jazeera. "You voted to be carbon neutral by 2050 and we will do it."
However, analysis by environmental groups found that the Conservative Party actually had one of the least ambitious manifestos of the competing parties when it came to environmental issues.
Greenpeace UK gave the Conservative Party a rank of seven on a 20 point scale. The Green Party topped the list with 19, and the main opposition Labour Party came in second with 16. The Conservatives also scored low on the Friends of the Earth 45-point scale, earning only 5.5 points to Labour's 33 and the Green Party's 31.
"Despite the Conservative Party manifesto offering decent policies on plastics and agricultural subsidies and restatement of the moratorium on fracking, in sector after sector its commitments were invariably weaker than the other parties, entirely absent or just plain bad," Friends of the Earth head of political affairs Dave Timms said. "Their manifesto consistently failed to step up to address the climate and nature emergencies, which are hurting communities right now and will deliver catastrophe in the future. We were concerned that they failed to restate commitments to some existing positive government policies."
Where did the Conservative Party fall short? For one thing, the other parties set much more ambitious timelines for tackling the climate crisis.
The Green Party and the Labour Party both promised versions of what they called a Green New Deal. The Green Party aimed to invest in green jobs, homes and transport with a goal of reducing emissions to net zero by 2030. Labour, meanwhile, promised a "Green Industrial Revolution" to green transport, energy, industry, agriculture and buildings while creating one million jobs and restoring nature. It promised to "achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030." Plaid Cymru also set a 2030 deadline for net zero emissions and a ban on the sale of new diesel and gas vehicles, according to Greenpeace.
The Liberal Democrats promised a 10-year intensive program aimed at reducing emissions, with a goal of cutting emissions from the most challenging sectors by 2045 at the latest, according to The Guardian. The SNP promised a 75 percent emissions reduction by 2035, net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and net zero emissions overall by 2045.
Only the Brexit Party, which had set no net-zero emissions target and made no promise to restore nature, had a less ambitious manifesto, according to Greenpeace. The Brexit Party did well in the European parliamentary elections this summer, but won no seats on Thursday, according to BBC News.
In addition to its less ambitious timeline, Greenpeace also noted that the Conservative Party continued to support the fossil fuel and aviation industries and had committed to building new roads. A Greenpeace investigation reported by The Independent Thursday further found that the Conservative campaign had received more than £1 million in donations from fossil fuel investors.
"The motives behind these donations are unknown, but there has to be suspicion about whether donors' interests may shape the future government's response to the climate crisis we're in," Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK's director of policy, told The Independent. "Voters deserve to know who is propping up these election campaigns and, if elected, how they may get preferential treatment with the governing party who has taken their dirty money."
Johnson also failed to participate in a party leaders' debate on the climate crisis hosted by the UK's Channel 4 and was replaced by a melting ice sculpture.
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Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.