Liberal Democrats on energy policy and climate change

liberal democrat logo with energy symbols

Brexit may loom large in current politics, but in the years to come the 12th of December could well be seen as the UK’s ‘Climate Election’. Selectra looks at how Britain’s third-largest national party plans to make the energy sector fit for purpose in a time of climate emergency.

While the Conservatives promise to deliver a net-zero emissions society by 2050 and the Labour Party pledges the same by the 2030s, shockingly the Liberal Democrats offer something in the middle.

An emergency ten-year emissions-cutting programme, along with a deadline of 2045 to tackle the more stubborn sources of greenhouse gases are laid out in their manifesto. Let’s see how this policy would work in detail.

What will the Liberal Democrats do about energy bills?

UK households produce 67 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (Mt CO2e) or 15% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas output. So, like Labour and the Conservatives, the Lib Dems see upgrading Britain's homes to make them more energy efficient as a priority.

The manifesto calls for all homes to be properly insulated by 2030, with free retro-fits for low-income households and reduced VAT on home insulation, which will both cut emissions and lower fuel bills, especially important for those in fuel poverty.

With effective insulation, double-glazing and new heating systems, the Lib Dems estimate their plan will reduce energy costs for the average household by £550 a year and end fuel poverty by 2025.

Stamp Duty Land Tax will be tied to the energy rating of the property and all new-builds, not just homes, will be designed to balance energy used with energy generated on site from renewable sources like solar panels to achieve carbon neutrality.

Private landlords will be obliged to improve the energy efficiency standards of their rental properties and the cap on costs will be removed.

Zero-carbon heating systems are also mooted with the planned installation of heat pumps in homes and businesses, along with small-scale experimental projects to explore other clean heating technologies.

Some energy-saving responsibilities will be devolved to local councils, which could lower costs by rolling out energy efficiency improvements of homes street by street for example.

Where Labour plan to spend £60bn and the Tories £9.2bn, the Liberal Democrats budget for upgrading homes and buildings is £6bn per year over a five-year parliament or £30bn in total. Given a second term, the Lib Dem expenditure would match Labour’s promised investment, although the Labour programme is costed at £250bn in total, with the other £180bn paid for in energy savings.

What do the Liberal Democrats say about renewables?

The Liberal Democrats want to have a minimum of 80% of UK electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030. That’s 10% less than Labour’s target, but orders of magnitude more specific than the Tories, who have promised only to double the UK’s wind power by the end of the next decade.

More investment in renewables and the removal of the Conservatives’ incentive restrictions on solar and wind along with the encouragement of decentralised energy generation by councils and communities are the tools the Lib Dems plan to use to achieve their goal. The party also intends to build more interconnectors to safeguard the nation’s energy supply.

Another one of the manifesto pledges into research and development of tidal and wave power, energy storage, and hydrogen technologies will receive government investment.

Energy regulator Ofgem will work with National Grid, the National Infrastructure Commission and the Crown Estate to meet the Liberal Democrats' net-zero targets.

The party is promising to invest £12bn in its first term to pay for its green revolution.

Where Labour plan to spend big and expand the state, the Lib Dems believe government incentives can attract private investment to cover much of the additional cost.

What about the fossil fuel industry?

Although the Lib Dems do not overtly attack the oil and gas industries in this manifesto, they state they will follow through on the UK’s G7 promise to end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry by 2025.

Although the current Tory government deny the UK provides subsidies for fossil fuels, the EU Commission found that the UK was the biggest subsidizer of the industries in Europe, giving them more than €12bn in support.

The definition of subsidy as used by the UK comes from the International Energy Agency, while the EU Commission uses the one set by the World Trade Organization which considers tax breaks as subsidies.

The Lib Dem pledge also includes leveraging trade, foreign investment and aid to end such subsidies around the world and help developing countries move to greener energy.

Extra funding will be made available to help UK communities affected by the transition to green energy.

Emissions from industry are to be tackled through future carbon capture and storage technology along with implementation of less damaging industrial processes and a ban on fracking is also mentioned.

As a Liberal Democrat-led UK will scrap Brexit and remain in the EU, the party will advocate for a net-zero by 2050 policy to be made binding across the 28 member states and maintain its role in the EU’s internal energy market.

What else is in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto?

A Lib Dem government will ensure that all new cars and small vans on the market in 2030 are electric. The VAT on Electric Vehicles (EVs) will be lowered to five per cent and the installation of charging points in residential areas and ultra fast chargers at service stations will be ramped up.

The manifesto pledges £2bn to transition all taxis and other private-hire vehicles and new buses in towns and cities to low-emission or zero-emission technologies by 2025.

The overall number of cars will be reduced by encouraging ride-sharing, community car clubs and public autonomous vehicles.

In light of the contribution made by aviation and the primitive state of electric flight, the party says it will reduce demand for flying, by taxing the 70% of flights used by 15% of the population.

How do the Liberal Democrats’ plans measure up?

All three of the main national parties are proposing some form of “green new deal” or “green industrial revolution”, a positive sign that the reality of the climate emergency is finally dawning on the establishment, even if it’s at a few minutes to midnight on the world's environmental clock.

In the party’s typical Goldilocks style, the Liberal Democrat energy policy plots a course somewhere between the radical changes envisioned by the Labour Party and the ploddingly reluctant pace offered by the Conservatives’ manifesto.

That said, if you eliminate the radical nationalization programs from Labour’s plan, the Lib Dem manifesto for energy looks quite similar to Jeremy Corbyn’s offer.

The home insulation and efficiency upgrades, the focus on renewables and investment in research and development are close in intention to Labour’s ambitions.

The remaining difference is in terms of how much each party is planning to invest in its proposals overall and how the money will be raised. Here, the Lib Dems look a lot more like the Tories and in light of the climate crisis, we wonder if it will be too little, too late.

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