Lily Draper, student and blogger, shares her thoughts on the recent climate Hustings hosted by the UK School Climate Network at the Malthouse, York.
In the weeks running up to December’s General Election, a lot has happened. Nature released mounting evidence that climate tipping points may have been exceeded. Residents of South Yorkshire have been inundated with flooding as the River Don burst its banks.
On Friday 29th November, we experienced another round of global climate strikes. Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was replaced by a melting ice sculpture in his absence at Channel 4’s climate debate.
Closer to home in York, this year has experienced pivotal change in the environmental movement. The City of York Council declared a climate emergency in March with activists holding a People’s Assembly in June. Still though, real action has yet to be taken.
On the 29th November, local political candidates were invited to York’s first ever climate Q&A ‘hustings‘.
Attending was James Blanchard for the Liberal Democrats, Nick Szkiler for the Brexit Party, Rachel Maskell for Labour and Tom Franklin for the Green Party. Conservative Fabia Tate sadly never replied to her invite and was absent from the event.
So what do the city’s political candidates think are the main issues, and how seriously are they taking climate change?
Rachel Maskell, Labour Party. Carbon neutral date: 2030
“We can either pay for mitigation in the future, or we can invest in our future now.”
Labour plan to reach net zero through a Green Industrial Revolution, which is similar to the Democratic Green New Deal in the US. Here the party will bring together social and environmental issues. This has the potential to create jobs and provide skills for a just transition into a greener economy. In terms of employment Labour aim to create one million new jobs, also working closely with trade unions.
Maskell showed a concern for transport, recognising its contribution to nationwide pollution. In response, she aims to decarbonise rail, preparing for a reduction of 15% each year for the next ten years.
Labour will incentivise public transport, particularly for young people, with free bus services for under 25s. These changes will work alongside promotion of ‘active travel’ helping people access cycling and walking alternatives in York.
Maskell was keen to hand greater authority to local governments and communities. She fully backs a People’s Assembly to bring people into decision-making.
With regards to biodiversity, the labour candidate expressed concern with Yorkshire’s grouse hunting. She explained the impact farming can have on soils and ecosystems, noting the need for organic growing methods.
Finally, the labour candidate expressed the importance of bringing sustainability into all aspects of life. This would include a circular economy to focus on reusing goods and reducing waste. There would also be a system of accountability to hold polluters responsible for their actions.
Nick Szkiler, the Brexit Party, carbon natural date: 2050
“We need to preserve our way of life.”
The Brexit Party don’t have a tradition of embracing environmentalists. Back in Extinction Rebellion’s Spring disruption, Nigel Farage dubbed the group “economic terrorists”. More recently, the party failed to show at the nationally televised climate debates.
The Brexit party were receptive to the need to reduce air pollution, strongly opposing the burning of biomass at Drax power station in Yorkshire. Szkiler also endorsed the planting of more trees and emphasised a ‘make-do-and-mend’ culture to recycle and preserve goods.
He expressed the need to incentivise public transport, enforcing better local links on bus routes. Likewise, energy for electric cars and heating would have to be sourced from renewable and sustainable means.
Real, tangible change however, was lacking. Szkiler instead showed concern with the ‘weaponisation’ of the climate by the youth, emphasising the need for experienced people in leadership to lead the way. He argued “we need to preserve our way of life” despite the fact that our current trajectory is draining the planet of its resources.
For example, farming, which is amongst the largest causes of greenhouse gas emissions globally, would remain mostly unchanged. If climate tipping points are already being crossed, there needs to be more ambition in all future policy-making.
James Blanchard, the Liberal Democrats, carbon neutral date: 2045
“Climate change is happening here and now.”
The Lib Dem leader explained that to tackle climate change, technological solutions were needed. According to him, 2045 was the closest realistic date to aim for 0 carbon. With his focus on technological solutions, however, he neglected vital natural solutions such as rewilding, the role of soil as a carbon sink and reforestation.
Blanchard recognised the impact climate change is having on health. For example, air pollution contributes to around 40,000 deaths per year in the UK. As a result, the Liberal Democrats are hoping to ban diesel and petrol by 2030.
Blanchard also addressed the need for a pollution tax that targeted the ‘polluter’ instead of the consumer. Buses would be free to those in full time education. With regards to housing and energy, the Lib Dem candidate explained that the UK struggled with some of the most expensive energy bills in Europe.
The cost of cold homes can cost the NHS £2.5 billion per year with people suffering mental and physical illness as a result. Blanchard discussed the potential for micro generation of power, which would see centralised energy re-localised.
District power can often provide local residents with cheaper, cleaner energy if used in the right way. The Liberal Democrat candidate used the example of wind energy hub in Yorkshire, Hull.
To help workers transition into greener practices, their party promises to provide essential new skills. Blanchard also emphasised the circular economy, recognised the need for a degrowth in consumption and raised the importance of local decision making.
Finally, the Liberal Democrats placed importance in the role of youth and education. For example, sustainable and healthy diets must start at an early age, to build positive habits.
Tom Franklin, the Green Party, carbon neutral date: 2030
“Even if we have reached climate tipping points, we must still slow down.”
Tom Franklin outlined the party’s own ‘Green New Deal’ to ensure a transition into green jobs. He endorsed systematic change, focusing on de-growth in consumption, and a transfer of power from central government to local authorities.
New legislation would be introduced demanding ecocide, the destruction of nature, would be made illegal. Equally, the party planned for a carbon tax to hold companies to account for their emissions.A people’s assembly would also help residents have a voice in local issues.
The carbon deadline would be met by bringing together natural solutions, considering ecosystems and soils reserves, and technological solutions, such as carbon capture. New roads and airports would be prevented to cap increasing carbon emissions.
Franklin explained higher wages (£12 minimum wage) would help people afford to take public transport. A rethinking of bus routes, seeing cuts to fares, would also supplement this.
The Green candidate emphasised his concern for clean air, looking to active transport to counteract both health and environmental issues. Supporting access to cycle and pedestrian routes can help people’s health and fitness, whilst reducing transport emissions. ‘Active travel’ has been estimated to generate around £17 billion to the NHS within 20 years.
So who is taking climate change seriously in York?
Ultimately, that’s for you to decide. The environment might not be on the top of voters’ agendas, but it does affect all of our lives. Our ability to breathe relies on clean air; we need energy to keep ourselves warm and healthy, and we need safe, nutritious food to eat.
Increasing emissions and biodiversity loss has the power to turn this security upside down. The Green Party propose systematic change, understanding the importance of our natural world on our lives, but sadly they’re often undermined by the major parties.
The Liberal Democrats, whilst passionate and heartfelt about vital issues, neglected the need for nature in the face of technological alternatives. Their aim for carbon neutrality lagged behind the Greens and Labour.
Labour, for many, might offer a middle ground, bringing together the social with the natural; workers’ rights with an environmental understanding.
Whilst the Brexit party were lacking in environmental ambition, they were present and able to hear constituents concerns. Sadly, the Conservatives missed this opportunity to do the same.
Ballots will open on Thursday 12th December. To find out more, visit https://www.york.gov.uk/info/20035/elections/841/elections_in_york