UK election: Where do the parties stand on net zero?

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reacts as he delivers a speech during a press conference on the net zero target, at the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London, on September 20, 2023. The UK looked set to backtrack on policies aimed at achieving net zero emissions by 2050 with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expected to water down some of the government's green commitments. The move comes amid growing concern over the potential financial cost of the government's policies to achieve net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. JUSTIN TALLIS/Pool via REUTERS

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reacts as he delivers a speech during a press conference on the net zero target, at the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London, on September 20, 2023. Justin Tallis/Pool via REUTERS

What’s the context?

Labour and Conservatives at odds over how to tackle climate change as they campaign in the general election

LONDON - A big wedge issue dividing the parties fighting Britain's July 4's general election is how to tackle climate change.

Five years ago, the country signed a legally binding target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which scientists say is crucial to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

But the debate over how Britain should achieve this target, and how quickly, has heated up since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's watered-down net zero targets such as heating, insulation and banning petrol cars.

What could the general election mean for net zero in Britain?

Far in the lead, Labour wants to accelerate net zero

Led by Keir Starmer, polls consistently show the Labour Party about 20 points ahead of the Sunak's Conservatives and likely to win a commanding majority in July's election.

The Labour manifesto calls for an acceleration towards net zero, including an aim to decarbonise the power system by 2030 - five years earlier than the Conservatives.

The party would aim to double onshore wind - overturning a de facto ban in England - triple solar power and quadruple offshore wind. It plans to form a national energy company, and create a national wealth fund to invest in green technologies.

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Labour's plans are more modest than its previous proposal to eventually spend 28 billion pounds ($35.6 billion) each year, which it scrapped in a U-turn in February, blaming the economic outlook.

Conservatives focus on net zero costs

Sunak moved his government in a new direction on net zero last year by slowing some climate policies, such as moving a ban on new petrol cars to 2035 from 2030, while saying he remained committed to the 2050 legal target.

The Climate Change Committee, Britain's independent watchdog, said at the time that Sunak's pivot would make net zero "considerably harder to achieve" and created uncertainty for consumers and supply chains.

The Conservative manifesto calls for an "affordable and pragmatic" transition to net zero that "eases the burdens on working people".

This involves more investment in clean energy such as trebling offshore wind capacity and scaling up nuclear power, while lowering green levies on household energy bills and holding annual North Sea oil and gas licensing rounds.

Reform UK wants to scrap net zero

Nigel Farage's Reform UK, which is third in the polls behind the Conservatives, said it would scrap net zero and related subsidies in its first 100 days in government.

The party's manifesto blamed net zero policies for increased domestic energy bills and said it would fast-track North Sea oil and gas licences, and nuclear power, while incentivising domestic lithium mining for electric batteries.

Green levies make up about 11% of energy bills, according to the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, which said the rise in wholesale gas prices following Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine had been a larger driver of price hikes.

Liberal Democrats and Greens target net zero sooner

The Lib Dems - fourth in opinion polls - have committed to reaching net zero five years earlier than the legally binding target, by 2045.

The party says it would launch a home upgrade programme with free insulation and heat pumps for low-income homes, renewable investments such as rooftop solar power incentives, and a new Net Zero Delivery Authority.

The Green Party, meanwhile, would push the government to transition to net zero even quicker - more than a decade ahead of 2050 - by scaling up wind and solar power alongside energy storage capacity, while phasing out fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

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