What the UK General Election Means for Climate Change


Nobody could have predicted the outcome of the UK General Election nearly two weeks ago. Theresa May was expected to win by a landslide majority, consigning Labour to the history books for the foreseeable future. However, an eleventh-hour galvanization by Jeremy Corbyn meant that Theresa May’s lead was diminished greatly, so much so that we now face a hung parliament. With the Conservatives winning 318 seats, around 42% of the vote share, they are still short of the required 326 seats required for a majority government. To ensure they are still in the power, the Conservatives have turned to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, who won ten seats in the election.

Outlined in their manifesto, the DUP are in support of a revised energy strategy for Northern Ireland. The DUP state their strategy will make provision for renewable energy. Their focus is on energy security, through ‘interconnection, market integration and the development of new generation capacity.’ They are also buoyed by recent applications for new power plants. It is not stated in the manifesto what form these power plants will take, but various planning applications suggest a mix of wind farms, solar farms, conventional power stations and gas pipes. Perhaps more alarmingly, from an environmental perspective, the DUP want to radically increase the manufacturing output of Northern Ireland.

The Conservative Party seem more determined to tackle the issue of climate change, stating that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of tackling the issue, indeed it is mentioned on five separate occasions throughout the party’s manifesto. Though this seems at odds with the party’s plans to introduce hydraulic fracturing to the British countryside, establishing more fossil fuel use in the future. They will invest heavily in new public transport initiatives, such as High Speed 2 and High Speed 3, the former linking London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester, and the latter connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull. The Conservative manifesto also outlines plans for a Heathrow expansion strategy, and the development of millions of new homes, some of which will be built on green belt land.

Another aspect to consider is the fervor of both party’s to leave the European Union, and what impact this will have on environmental stewardship. The EU has provided many of our environmental protection policies since our induction to the union, transitioning us from the ‘Dirty Man of Europe’ to a leader in environmental governance. The European Union has implemented many key policies, such as the Water Framework Directive, the Habitats Directive, the Air Quality Framework Directive and the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. EU environmental policy has its foundations on the principles of precaution, prevention and remediation. It also seeks to act on the ‘polluter pays’ principle – a key notion in environmental law. The fate of these laws and policies within a UK context depends very much on how we leave the EU. If the UK government opts to remain in the Single Market, then most legislation will still stand. If the UK opts for a bilateral agreement, the law moves in to a grey area, whereby some laws could potentially be relaxed, but products entering the EU market would still need to comply with existing legislation.

It is difficult to say how the coming general election negotiations and our departure from the European Union will impact environmental policy in the long term. Several European directives have ensured the protection of our environment, though for how much longer this will endure remains to be seen.

Sources and Further Reading

Clifford Chance, 2016. Brexit – What will happen to Environmental & Climate Change Law https://www.cieem.net/data/files/2016_Environmental_and_Climate_Change_implications_of_Brexit_6032058.pdf

The Conservative and Unionist Party, 2017. The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017 https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/manifesto2017/Manifesto2017.pdf

Democratic Unionist Party, 2017. The DUP Manifesto for the 2017 Westminster Election http://dev.mydup.com/images/uploads/publications/DUP_Wminster_Manifesto_2017_v5.pdf

European Parliament, 2017. Environmental Policy: General Principles and Basic Framework http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ftu/pdf/en/FTU_5.4.1.pdf

House of Commons – Environmental Audit Committee, 2016. EU and UK Environmental Policy – Third Report of Session 2015-16 https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmenvaud/537/537.pdf