Live UK election debate

Green Watch – Election Special

Welcome to Green Watch Election Special. This is the place to get expert opinion on all the sustainability issues being discussed during election season.

On 23rd May 2024 UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that a general election would take place on 4th July. Over the next few weeks each political party will lay out their commitments for the next parliament and beyond. The Grantham Centre Green Watch team will be watching with interest, providing expert opinion whenever the conversation turns to green issues; whether its energy, decarbonisation, climate adaption, resources use, water and pollution, transport, housing or anything else that could impact our vision of a sustainable future.

Friday 7 June

This week has seen the campaigns starting in earnest. The first skirmishes have taken place and we witnessed the first live TV election debate. Our Green Watch team has been keeping a close eye on all the environmental and sustainability topics being discussed.

The Reform UK Contract

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Reform UK has launched their version of a Manifesto, which they call a ‘Contract‘. It contains an Energy and Environment Section which many outlets were quick to fact check the claims made within it.

There is so little serious policy within the document that was difficult for our Green Watch team to know where to start. So instead we decided to look at the deliverability of plans, projects and ideas. The Reform UK Contract starts from a position of anthropogenic climate change denial. It mixes in some discussion of the requirement of CO2 for plants to live and finishes with a comparison of the emissions of the UK and China.

Reform UK’s policy statements are all concerned with abolishing the programme of Net Zero infrastructure projects and subsidies for the energy transition. It claims that an expansion in North Sea Gas and Oil will deliver energy security and lower bills. Adoption of these would require abandoning commitments made in law under the climate change act. It would mean abandoning the UK’s signature to international treaties. It would also prevent the UK from taking advantage of the lower costs and oil price independence that renewable energy can bring.

Climate Leadership

The latest Britain Talks Climate report, published by Climate Outreach, actually showed that the UK population is much more committed to climate action than the current political discourse suggests. It highlights that people are looking for strong leadership in this space from our politicians.

The First Live Leadership Debate

(Photo by Jonathan Hordle – ITV via Getty Images)

This brings us to the first leadership debate of this general election. On Tuesday 4th June, Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer went head-to-head on ITV’s live election debate. Amongst the questions about the cost of living, immigration and housing, the following question was posed…

“The world is facing a climate catastrophe now both of you have broken promises on the environment. What are you doing to put climate at the very centre of your policies?”

With only 45 seconds to respond, we should maybe not be surprised that the responses were not detailed. Both leaders focused almost solely on energy. The debate mirrored earlier disagreements on the possible costs of a transition to a net zero energy system. The clash centred around which party would compel change and which would not.

Interestingly analysis undertaken by Aurora Energy Research suggests that the most expensive option for consumers would be to remain on our existing decarbonisation pathway. More ambitious targets would actually produce reduced costs.

On our current pathway, we expect total consumer costs to be £112/MWh (average annual costs, 2025-50).
In a 2035 net zero scenario, costs would be 2% lower (£109/MWh).
In a 2030 net zero scenario, the costs would be 4% lower (£107/MWh).

As discussed in our previous blog, we are looking for the parties to expand their conversation on Net-Zero, climate, nature and environmental issues. They need to understand that this isn’t simply about the cost of replacing fossil fuels with renewables. It isn’t simply the electrification of our existing industrial process, heating systems and transport. Sustainability must encompass all these things while simultaneously addressing economic and societal inequalities.

We may have to wait for the manifestos to be published in full to see if our hopes are met.

Friday 31 May

This week we asked our Green Watch team to list the key sustainability issues they want to see addressed by the next Government:

Carbon Budgeting and Targets

We would like to see a recommitment to the UKs moral and legal obligations to reduce emissions inline with the Paris Agreement. We need to see a coherent plan to deliver on the requirements of the Climate Change Act. This needs to involve mechanisms for more stringent sectoral and geographical budgets and targets.

Domestic Decarbonisation

There needs to be a focus on building a resilient skills, supply chain, investment and engagement ecosystem to improve the energy efficiency and decarbonisation of the UKs housing stock across all tenures.

Industrial Decarbonisation

We would welcome a joined up industrial strategy that helps large energy consumers to deliver the reductions necessary. This has to be focussed on proven technologies. We also recognise the need for incentives around the reuse of industrial heat through the use of district heating networks.

The Cost of Inaction

Debate is currently turning to the costs of “Net Zero” and focussing on possible impacts on consumers bills. Instead we would like to see an honest conversation about the benefits that decarbonising infrastructure will bring; from increased resilience to decoupling energy costs from volatile global markets. We’d also welcome an acknowledgement that the costs of adaptation will likely to be far less than the costs of the unchecked impacts of climate change on our society as a result of a ‘do nothing’ approach.


The UK’s reliance on private vehicles drives carbon emission, poor air quality, road injuries and deaths as well as transport poverty. We hope to see plans for affordable, reliable and accessible public transport systems as well as more enabling of active travel.

Reuse and Recycling

We would welcome an incoming Government taking seriously the need for refill and reuse as well as recycling. These should be core components of any proposed deposit return scheme or shakeup of kerbside recycling. Our Many Happy Returns research team have done extensive research on reusable packaging systems to reduce single-use plastics.

Nature Recovery

Some of the best opportunities for climate adaptation lie in nature based solutions. These solutions can be combined with restoration of ecosystems.

High Consumers

Recent reports have again highlighted that a small segment of the UK population are responsible for a significant proportion of emissions, particularly in sectors like aviation and transport. The next Government will need to tackle this through taxation mechanisms such as frequent flyer levies.

Inequality of Impact

We would like to see a recognition that the impacts of air pollution, climate change, are not experienced equally across regions, communities and people. The solutions offered need to recognise this.

Alternative Economic Models to Growth

Standard models of economic growth are not compatible with the need to reduce consumption of resources and energy and to address societal inequalities. We are hopeful that the parties will be willing to look at alternative models and metrics for success.

Community Engagement

How we work with communities is critical to the success of the systemic changes we need to create a thriving and sustainable country. We are looking to the Government to see how it will do this. We must ensure there is clear messaging around the need for change, highlighting its benefits and how it can be co-designed.