Little did Daija Angeli, NCI project officer, know that she had one of the “hottest tickets in town” in her pocket when leaving the office to head to the Question Time event “What role for the environment in the next Parliament?” on Tuesday.

In the lead up to the General Election, the Aldersgate Group hosted a debate where senior representatives from major parties shared their views on the green policies likely to take shape in the next parliament. Chaired by Damian Carrington (The Guardian), Rt Hon Greg Barker MP (Conservative Party), Jonathan Reynolds MP (Labour Party) and Rt Hon Ed Davey MP (Liberal Democrat Party)* debated the proposals set out in the Aldersgate Group’s Manifesto “Priorities for the next parliament” and answered questions from the audience.

Unsurprisingly, Greg Barker MP,  Minister of State for Climate Change from 2010 to 2014, stated that overall, he was proud of the Government’s achievements with regards to the environment in light of the challenges of a failed UN climate summit in 2009 in Copenhagen and the economic crisis. He pointed out the Green Investment Bank, a substantial growth in renewable energy (an increase in solar power from 40MW at the beginning of the Tories term to almost 5GW now) and – though the Green Deal proved more challenging than expected – improvements in energy efficiency. He urged the next government to continue to build on these achievements, and said that the  Conservatives would put the consumer at the heart of the agenda and drive innovation in the energy sector.

Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change Jonathan Reynolds MP gave credit to the current Government as the “greenest Conservative government in history”, though the “green crap” arguments have undermined confidence in Conservatives taking a leading role in a transition to a low carbon economy. He emphasised Labour’s dedication to Britain’s EU membership and said that leaving would fundamentally undermine the UK’s ability to decarbonise its economy. Reflecting on the Aldersgate Group Manifesto, he also views the green economy as an opportunity, not a burden and also pointed to the need to prevent fuel poverty.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey MP gave a sneak peek into the Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto which will include a proposition of five green laws:  a Zero Carbon Britain Bill in order to make Britain as a zero carbon nation by 2050; a green homes bill focussing on heating and energy efficiency; a Zero Waste Britain Bill; a Green Transport Bill to tackle air pollution which he called a significant threat to public health, second only to tobacco smoke; and a Nature Bill. Among other things, the last would include legally binding targets for biodiversity as well as clean air and water.  His party would also back a 25year plan for nature recovery. While being proud of the government’s achievements in DECC, he stated that the current government was “the greenest government ever but the hurdle wasn’t very high”.

Arguments over current climate change and energy policies such as the effectiveness of Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) programme, the best measures to overcome fuel poverty and the shortcomings of the Green Deal dominated the remainder of this important debate.

Personally, I had hoped the debate would turn to future government plans on enhancing natural capital, which the Aldersgate Group identified as a priority in its Manifesto. The event showed a great effort by the Aldersgate Group to attract both influential policy makers as well as a diverse audience from across the sectors. However, I left feeling disappointed that the panel equalled environmental concerns with climate change. Rather than this being a reflection of panellists background, according to Karl Mathiesen analysis of whether a Labour or Tory government would be better for the environment, this is a general sentiment in the major parties: “Nature is the thorn in the free market’s side, that pesky “externality” that the UK’s major parties don’t really know what to do about. So on the whole, they ignore it.”
It remains to be seen if a future government will make the important link between a low carbon economy and investments in the natural capital which underpins our society’s well-being – and also can play a major role in climate change adaptation.
The Aldersgate Group is an alliance of leaders from business, politics and civil society that drives action for a sustainable economy.  Members include some of the largest businesses in the UK, spanning a wide range of industry sectors, as well as leading NGOs, key professional institutes and politicians of all parties. The Aldersgate Group Manifesto “Priorities for the next parliament”, published 2nd December 2014, sets out six priority areas for progress in the next parliament and how business, politicians and civil society can work together to enable a transition into an efficient, resilient and low carbon economy.

Download the Manifesto on the Aldersgate Group website (1.59 MB pdf)

*Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, could not participate in the debate for health reasons, and all senior leaders of the UK Independence Party were busy with other affairs.