The terms of the UK’s departure from the EU were the primary driver resulting in a third general election in just four years.
However, increasingly climate change concerns appear to be coming to the fore, with a growing narrative and each of the major parties outlining policies with a focus on carbon reduction, energy efficiency and methods of clean energy generation.
Public Support for Action
In a wide-ranging survey of UK voters by environmental law firm ClientEarth, two-thirds of respondents acknowledged climate change as the most pressing issue facing humankind.
A similar proportion believed that fossil fuel companies should be made to foot the bill for the damage caused by extreme weather.
More than half backed a ban on fracking, while 63% felt a Green New Deal, providing large-scale, long-term investment in the green economy and jobs, was a necessity, it said.
Political parties are paying attention. A moratorium effectively banning fracking across the UK has been one of the Government’s largest vote-winning moves of the campaign so far. This was followed by the announcement that the Conservatives intend to deliver a post-Brexit ‘clean energy revolution’, a key aspect of Boris Johnson’s first policy-focused campaign speech.
Choosing an electric vehicle factory as the location, the speech reaffirmed Conservative commitments to environmental election policies that already include investment in nuclear energy, EV infrastructure and a new Future Homes Standard.
Labour have led their own campaign with a pledge to spend billions on energy efficiency upgrades for housing, a move they claim would cut the UK’s net emissions by 10%, while also specifically targeting ‘big polluters’ in campaign messaging.
Liberal Democrat proposals include an environmental ‘duty of care’ for UK businesses, potentially being made liable for the actions of overseas partners and suppliers in line with UK guidelines.
Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have all backed a televised election debate specifically focusing on climate change.
The Implications for Business
A potential Green New Deal carries with it massive implications for almost every aspect of business, proposing an almost total overhaul of the Government’s current carbon reduction target and would switch focus away from economic growth towards reducing inequality, tackling the climate emergency and protecting the natural environment.
The chief executive of the Committee for Climate Change, Chris Stark, has called the coming election ‘the climate election’ and highlighted the scale of the task UK business faces, saying: “The things that need to be done to get to the goal of net zero emissions, it’s absolutely enormous. It involves things in every sector of the economy and of course we need government policies in every sector of the economy to deliver that.”
Reducing air travel, cutting consumption of meat and dairy, shifting towards electric vehicles and cutting down on single-use plastics and packaging were all key points in legislation tabled by cross-party MPs in September.
With some businesses already either making significant strides towards existing 2050 carbon-reduction targets or, conversely, worrying what impact it will have on them, moving the goalposts so drastically means a large-scale overhaul of any existing sustainability strategy for many organisations.
Labour have been the leading proponents of the Green New Deal and, if in a position of influence following the election, would possibly roll out significantly more dramatic sustainability and carbon reduction targets for business than those currently in place.
However, even in the case of a Conservative win, mounting pressure from campaigners, businesses and the general public means that targets are likely to continue to tighten, with the 2050 target for net-zero carbon no longer as set in stone as it first appeared. An article from sustainability news platform BusinessGreen called the coming election a ‘net zero arms race’, with each party looking to push the limits of ambition while remaining credible. In the aftermath, business will face the prospect of legislation that attempts to fulfil these lofty goals.
For many UK businesses, there is likely to be some level of planning in place to ensure that the organisation is able to contribute to wider carbon reduction efforts, as well as ensuring they meet all current and upcoming sustainability legislation. The upcoming election being fought in such large part on environmental issues likely means that these targets are only going to become sooner and steeper.
The quicker companies act to begin adapting their energy and sustainability strategies to begin making strides towards these requirements, the better positioned they will be to achieve them successfully and the less disruption they will face from new, tougher requirements.