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Green Showdown: The UK’s Election Battle for Climate Action

CRISIS - Viability of Life on Earth by Orkhan Huseynli Europe Apr 3rd 20249 mins
Green Showdown: The UK’s Election Battle for Climate Action

As the United Kingdom gears up for its forthcoming general election, attention is increasingly focused on the nation’s environmental issues and the climate agendas of political parties. With growing anticipation and voters seeking clear commitments on climate action, the electoral landscape is poised for a crucial showdown that will shape the country’s environmental direction and influence its role in the global fight against climate change.

Excitement in the UK is palpable as the country readies itself for the imminent general election, set to take place no later than January 2025. Amidst the political discourse, conversations are shifting beyond conventional topics like the economy, healthcare, and immigration to underscore the critical imperative for climate action. At the same time, there is also a prevalent concern about the potential impact of transitioning to net zero, particularly in terms of living costs. Therefore, achieving the optimal balance that caters to the majority of society’s needs is a significant challenge for all parties and policymakers vying for success in the electoral arena.

The UK is currently battling with a myriad of environmental issues. 2023 was the country’s second-hottest year on record, with a mean temperature of 9.97C. Eight out of 12 months were warmer than average – with June marking the hottest June ever recorded “by a wide margin,” according to the Met Office, the national weather service. September also saw its hottest day, with temperatures peaking at 33.5C. The Met Office predicts that climate change will affect the UK by raising summer temperatures by 1-6C and reducing rainfall by up to 60% by 2070, resulting in more intense rainfall and heightened flood risks.

Biodiversity loss is another pressing problem in the UK, with a September 2023 assessment suggesting that one in six species in the country is at risk of extinction due to habitat loss, extreme weather events, and other human-induced pressures. The analysis found that wildlife in the UK has declined on average by 19% since widespread monitoring began in 1970, though evidence suggests that biodiversity had already been “highly depleted” by reckless human activity, including traditional farming practices and rapid urban development on land as well as unsustainable fishing, marine development, and climate change at sea.

Summary of Red List assessment for Great Britain, showing the proportion of assessed species in the UK in each Red List category. Image: State of Nature 2023.
Summary of IUCN Red List assessment for Great Britain. Image: State of Nature 2023.

Despite efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts of climate change are expected to continue, highlighting the urgent need for adaptation measures to protect people, homes, businesses, and ecosystems. As per the recent assessment by the UK’s Climate Change Committee, the country’s current climate adaptation plan is inadequate, lacking the necessary scale, ambition, and funding necessary to effectively tackle the challenges presented by climate change.

UK Election: How Much Do UK Voters Care About Climate?

As candidates gear up for the campaign trail, the green agenda has quickly risen to prominence as a solid focal point. 

A report from Greenpeace UK, based on a survey conducted between August and September 2023, indicated that climate and environmental policies play a crucial role in influencing voter preferences, especially in key battleground areas like the Blue Wall and marginal constituencies. 

A survey published in December 2023 revealed that 41% of respondents are more inclined to support a political party that pledges robust action on climate change, while 40% believe that the government’s postponement or cancellation of certain net zero policies has negatively impacted Britain’s reputation abroad. Another 2023 Copper Consultancy report found approximately 10% of individuals intending to vote for the Conservative Party cited climate change as the most crucial concern. In comparison, this figure was 12% for the Labour Party and notably higher at 27% for the Green Party.

According to Asset Finance International, the demand among small businesses in the country for clearer sustainability guidance from the next government, driven by concerns over recent policy reversals and a perceived lack of emphasis on environmental issues, underscoring the call for improved leadership and support in this area.

Ahead of the general election, the forthcoming local elections, set to take place in May, are poised to gauge public sentiment. Voters are evidently seeking clear proposals and strong commitments from candidates, emphasizing the need for substantial measures to address environmental concerns.

You might also like: How Much Do Voters Care About Climate?

Conservative Government’s Environmental Challenges

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government stands at the forefront of this electoral battleground, facing challenges due to recent decisions that have halted crucial climate initiatives. In his speech on net zero last September, the PM outlined a strategy centered on promoting a pragmatic and transparent approach, alleviating burdens on families, advancing green industries, and fostering innovation in new technologies to attain the net zero target by 2050. 

In February, the government announced that the UK had successfully halved its emissions between 1990 and 2022 while experiencing significant economic growth, outperforming other major economies like France and the US. This achievement is largely attributed to the transition from coal to renewables, with over 40% of the country’s electricity now sourced from clean energy sources. What’s more, the UK has consistently exceeded its carbon reduction targets, demonstrating its commitment to combating climate change and achieving net zero emissions.

However, Rishi Sunak’s concurrent decisions, such as delaying the ban on new petrol and diesel cars and slowing the phase-out of gas boilers, have drawn strong criticism from environmental organizations, opposition parties, and segments of the public. Sunak’s move to scrap regulations targeting heat pump installations and fines for heating system manufacturers also jeopardizes the government’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and undermines its global credibility, especially following the UK’s hosting of the COP26 climate conference in 2021. 

In response to these moves, the Tories’ perceived prioritization of short-term economic interests over long-term environmental sustainability has sparked intense scrutiny and criticism, fueling skepticism about its real commitment to tackling the climate crisis.

Labour Party’s Climate Agenda

On the other hand, opposition parties, led by the Labour Party, have exploited the Conservative government’s vulnerabilities to advocate for more ambitious climate policies. 

During the annual Mais lecture in March 2024, Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves laid out the party’s vision, stressing the significance of prioritizing the battle against global warming and integrating environmental sustainability into broader economic growth strategies.

The party, led by Sir Keir Starmer, announced an 8.3 billion pound (US$10.5 billion) investment in floating wind farms to enhance energy security and create jobs, furthering their pledge to decarbonize the UK by 2030, a move that contrasts with the Conservative Party’s target of achieving a net zero energy supply by 2035. Alongside the Tories, Labour’s environmental strategy is also facing criticism from other parties and voters. Amidst this, Starmer’s recent move to markedly scale back the party’s decarbonization plans, reducing the annual allocation from 28 billion pound to 23.7 billion pound ($35.3 billion to $29.9 billion) over five years, has sparked considerable attention and debate. The decision, driven by concerns over fiscal responsibility, reflects Labour’s endeavor to reconcile environmental goals with financial realities, utilizing funds from both borrowing and a windfall tax on oil and gas companies.

While Labour grapples with internal debates over the feasibility and scale of its proposed decarbonization plans, it remains resolute in its commitment to aggressive climate targets, positioning itself as a viable alternative to the Conservative government’s environmental track record. The party’s emphasis on investing in renewable energy, green infrastructure, and sustainable industries resonates with voters increasingly concerned about the environmental and economic implications of inaction on climate change.

Diverse Environmental Landscape

The UK’s environmental agenda extends beyond the traditional dichotomy of Conservative versus Labour, with smaller parties and civil society groups exerting considerable influence. The Green Party, in particular, champions radical climate policies, castigating both major parties for what it perceives as inadequate action on environmental issues, and wins. It also maintains high favorability rankings in political party polls. Mainstream parties’ stances, particularly if adversarial or accommodative toward green issues, impact Green party support, with accommodative positions benefiting new parties and reinforcing established ones.

With mounting public awareness and concern regarding climate change, these smaller parties and grassroots movements possess the potential to disrupt the political landscape and shape the narrative surrounding environmental policies. Their advocacy for bold and transformative measures, such as divesting from fossil fuels, implementing carbon pricing mechanisms, and prioritizing environmental justice, adds depth and diversity to the discourse on climate action.

Importance of Voter Choice

The imminent general election presents voters with a pivotal directive: to endorse competing visions for the nation’s environmental future. Beyond mere rhetoric, the election serves as a referendum on tangible policy proposals and the credibility of parties’ commitments to addressing climate change. 

Voters increasingly scrutinize parties’ environmental platforms, demanding concrete plans and measurable outcomes rather than vague promises and greenwashing. The outcome of the election hinges on the electorate’s assessment of which party offers the most credible and effective strategy for mitigating climate change and transitioning to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

Global Implications

The outcome of the election also holds profound implications not only for domestic policy but also for the UK’s standing on the global stage. As nations worldwide grapple with the urgent demand of mitigating climate change, the UK’s credibility as one of the climate frontrunners hangs in the balance. A failure to deliver on ambitious climate commitments could tarnish the country’s position in international climate negotiations and undermine efforts to galvanize global action. Conversely, bold and decisive action by the incoming government could reinvigorate international momentum towards achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and averting catastrophic climate change.

Extinction Rebellion Return for their April Rebellion in 2022 on the international use of Fossil Fuels in the world
Extinction Rebellion UK protest against fossil fuels in April 2022. Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/Unsplash.

Voters Taking Initiative: Empowering Change

While the UK voters acknowledge the importance of climate change and achieving net zero, there remains a lack of urgency in embracing climate targets, primarily due to concerns about bearing the associated costs of a fully green agenda.

Firmly speaking, irrespective of which party wins the election battle, society must take initiatives into its own hands if it desires to create a sustainable and healthy environment for its future. It is essential for citizens to play an active role in compelling politicians to consider not only immediate profits and welfare but also to devise long-term strategies for the nation and its people to thrive in improved planetary conditions, even if it entails enduring short-term inconveniences and costs.

Ultimately, UK businesses and corporations have the opportunity to proactively tackle the climate crisis and champion a sustainable future by taking decisive action. This could involve investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, advocating for policies that promote renewable energy adoption, establishing targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, committing to operational carbon neutrality objectives, and engaging in voluntary carbon credit trading initiatives between firms. 

They can also lobby for government regulations that tax or cap carbon emissions and encourage the trading of carbon credits. Moreover, they can actively participate in global cooperation initiatives like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, playing a role in shaping policies for a sustainable future.

Individually, people wield considerable influence over the environment through their daily decisions. Making sustainable choices can have a profound impact, including reducing energy consumption by switching off lights and electronics when not in use, opting for energy-efficient appliances, utilizing carpooling or public transportation, and incorporating renewable energy sources like solar panels.

Furthermore, individuals can reduce waste by adopting practices like recycling, composting, and reusing items instead of disposing of them. They can also support eco-friendly products and services, such as locally sourced foods, organic products, and sustainable fashion brands, thus promoting a more sustainable lifestyle. By taking these intentional steps, individuals play an active role in advancing environmental sustainability and combating climate change.

Electric car battery charger on the side of the road
The government’s ban on new petrol and diesel cars can significantly promote the adoption of electric vehicles, as practice shows. Photo: Ernest Ojeh/Unsplash.


The upcoming general election represents the next juncture in the UK’s environmental strategy. To show their dedication, leaders must prioritize actions that align with the Greening Government Commitments (GGCs) framework for 2021 to 2025, which includes targets on greenhouse gas emissions, waste and water consumption, procurement, nature recovery, climate adaptation, and Information and communications technology (ICT). It is also imperative to address the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized communities, ensure a just transition for workers in carbon-intensive industries, and promote equitable access to clean air, water, and green spaces.

By centering environmental justice in their climate agendas, policymakers can work towards building a more inclusive and sustainable future for all members of society in the UK. Voters can also hold candidates accountable for their commitments to environmental justice and advocate for policies that prioritize the needs and voices of vulnerable communities in the fight against climate change. 

It is clear that public support for achieving net zero in the UK is strong, emphasizing the necessity of transparently outlining both the challenges and benefits while acknowledging that the transition will require time, contributions from all sectors, and individual efforts.

As voters, businesses can take sustainability initiatives by embracing renewable energy and advocating for policy changes, while individuals can wield their influence through everyday eco-conscious choices, collectively propelling environmental efforts forward and combating the looming threat of climate change.

Featured image: Number 10/Flickr

About the Author

Orkhan Huseynli

Orkhan Huseynli is a freelance science and environmental writer. His academic journey has encompassed fields such as Public Administration, Management, and Economics, culminating in a master's degree in Environmental Economics and a Ph.D. specialization in Industrial Management. Transitioning from a career in IT, Orkhan is now dedicated to pursuing his passion for science and popular science writing. Orkhan is keen to contribute his writing skills to the world of articles and essays, covering topics like Climate Change, Biodiversity, Environmental Economics, Ecology, Paleoscience, and Environmental Politics. For him, the prospect of writing for scientific outlets represents a chance to share his knowledge and raise awareness about crucial scientific advancements, fulfilling his aspiration to engage with a broader readership.

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