4 people in suits with cartoon images of Earth imposed over their faces, some looking happy, others sad

Green policies and the general election: who leads the pack?

Urgent climate and nature action is needed from the next government. With an election date set, campaigner Connor Schwartz and policy expert Mike Childs assess how the parties’ policies are shaping up.
  Published:  29 May 2024    |      14 minute read

The starting pistol for the general election has been fired, and over the next 6 weeks we’ll see promises galore from the different parties. Some of these promises carry more weight than others. For example, if they’re made by the party leader or are in the manifesto, then there’s a greater certainty that they’ll be honoured (although this isn’t a cast-iron guarantee, sadly). Other promises need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

We’ve carried out a rapid assessment of where the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties stand right now on climate, energy, nature and the environment, and where they’re strongest and weakest. We’ve scored them out of 10 on the 10 biggest green challenges for the next government, and we’ll be using this to encourage the parties to strengthen the areas where policy is weak or lacking, and even to firm up areas where they’re currently strong.  

According to the polls, the Labour Party will win the next election with a large majority. So, what it says matters. But right now, it’s clear to see that the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats are leading the pack. Scoring only 51 out of 100, Labour has got much ground to make if it wants to be seen as a party that’s serious on the climate and nature emergencies, as well as on rights and democracy.  

With a score of just 27 out of 100, the Conservative Party’s policies, which are the most developed of all parties as it’s in power and has laid-out plans, fall abysmally short of what’s needed and, in some cases, take us backwards. This isn’t a surprise. Over recent times, its plans have been heavily criticised by official watchdogs such as the Climate Change Committee and the Office of Environmental Protection. It’s not too late though. Rishi Sunak’s developing a habit of surprising announcements (think David Cameron as Foreign Secretary and a July election), so perhaps he’ll publish a planet-friendly manifesto? We can but hope.

When the manifestos are published, we’ll provide in-depth policy analysis and scoring against our 40 manifesto demands.

How the parties scored on green policies

Below we look at 10 policy areas.

1. Cut climate change emissions

  • Conservative Party. The government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan contains the bulk of the policies the Conservatives are pursuing while in power and gives us the best idea of what another Conservative government could look like on climate, notwithstanding backsliding on some of the content, for example energy efficiency standards, over the last year. But following a court case by Friends of the Earth, the plan was recently declared unlawful and unfit for purpose by the High Court and must be revised within a year. Not good enough. 3/10
  • Labour Party. On the biggest climate question of all for a potential new government, we're going to have to wait a little bit longer. We don’t yet have a comprehensive plan that will guarantee the legally binding Climate Change Act targets and our international commitment to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 will be met. On the plus side, we do have a commitment to a net zero test on all government spending under a Labour government. But Labour's insistence that "North Sea oil and gas will continue for decades to come" casts some doubt on whether it will be prepared to take the hard decisions to actively transition away from fossil fuels. Much work to do. 5/10
  • Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems have an ambitious overall goal to reach net zero emissions by 2045, but as yet we still need convincing they have a plan to deliver it. There’s lots of space to fill this gap before polling day, and we look forward to seeing some more policy in the manifesto. In particular, we need to see an unambiguous commitment to meeting carbon budgets and the UK’s 2030 international pledge. Work to do. 6/10
  • Green Party. The Green Party’s policy to eliminate all emissions in 10 years is incredibly ambitious, and to be honest from our current starting point we have some scepticism over its feasibility. But the party’s commitment to making the climate emergency an absolutely central priority for all of government is the sort of drive we need if we’re to meet our domestic and international obligations. We shouldn’t get complacent though, as there’s still some more detail we’d like to see in the manifesto, shining a bit more clarity on the specific targets and mechanisms that sit behind this giant objective. On the right track. 8/10

2. Fix the UK's heat-leaking homes

  • Conservative Party. Despite some investment promised for building retrofit in the next parliament, £2 billion per year is far from sufficient and, combined with a rejection of regulations to improve standards in the private-rented sector, will mean millions left in sub-standard homes by 2030. Not good enough. 2/10
  • Labour Party. Positive noises abound from Labour on warm homes, as it continues to use the same rhetoric that was once backed up by serious spending commitments as part of its £28 billion green infrastructure pledge. However, Labour still needs to put more money where its mouth is. Currently there's no credible reason to believe that anywhere near the touted impact will be able to be achieved under a potential Labour government, unless it spells out the spending and other policy mechanisms it will commit to (for example, minimum standards for the rented sector). Not good enough. 4/10
  • Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems have a broadly positive policy direction on warm homes, promising improved standards, a big insulation drive and a social energy tariff for the most vulnerable. But so far what we’ve seen isn’t close to ambitious enough and lacks the big funding pledge (and policy commitments) needed to back up a warm homes revolution. Something to improve on before the election. 6/10
  • Green Party. At last year’s conference, the Green’s co-leaders put forward their “Fairer, Greener Homes Guarantee,” promising huge investment of £145 billion over 10 years for grants to retrofit all homes that need it, and much stronger regulation and enforcement for the private-rented sector. We can’t really fault it. 10/10
Man in overalls laying loft insulation at home
Person laying loft insulation
Credit: Chris Henderson via Getty Images

3. Power Britain using clean, green, home-grown energy

  • Conservative Party. The Conservatives have an admirable commitment to decarbonise the electricity grid by 2035, but without more onshore renewables this target will be missed. The ideological blocking of onshore wind in England, rhetoric against solar farms, plus recent lacklustre Contract for Difference auctions for offshore wind make the meeting of this goal hard, if not impossible. 6/10  
  • Labour Party. Labour's clean power by 2030 policy platform is seriously aspirational. The only real green policy area that survived the chop in February's U-turn on its green infrastructure pledge, this remains the core of the party's climate platform for the election, alongside its plan to form GB Energy to invest in new capacity. The inclusion of some red herrings in the form of new nuclear energy and an overemphasis on hydrogen aren't particularly helpful, but overall a seriously solid bit of policy. 9/10
  • Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems have set a target for 80% of the UK’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030. This represents a very good rate of deployment, but the last 20% is likely the hardest to decarbonise and currently there’s no target for this. In their manifesto, we’ll be looking for an explicit stop to new oil and gas licences, as well as more support for renewables. 7/10  
  • Green Party. This is an area of policy for the Greens where the broad direction, a decarbonised energy system, is spot-on, but where, as far as we can tell, the details on specific timelines, commitments and policy mechanisms are all lacking. We hope the manifesto will clarify. 6/10    

4. Reduce carbon emissions from transport

  • Conservative Party. The Conservative government’s flagship policy on transport emissions was the 2021 Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Analysis by academics revealed that 72% of the potential ambition set out in the plan has since been lost in the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan. Since then, Rishi Sunak delayed the target date for the cessation of sales of new petrol and diesel cars, although targets on manufacturers to increase sales of electric vehicles remain. Abysmal. 2/10  
  • Labour Party. Labour has given us its plans for buses, which are key to reducing car miles and all the environmental and climate harms they cause, but what we haven't seen is the financial resource that will be made available. Labour’s policy for the railways is a good start but doesn’t centre on climate imperatives, and it isn’t developed enough yet to assess how well it would contribute to the 20% modal shift to sustainable transport that’s needed. Would Keir Starmer's Labour introduce a frequent flyer levy? And what's on offer for the most environmentally friendly forms of transport of all: walking and cycling? We need more. 6/10
  • Liberal Democrats. One of the weaker areas of Lib Dem policy from what we can tell, and one with lots of room for improvement. Overall, it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem and acknowledge the need to reduce car use. Without that, the party’s policies on rail electrification and new bus routes are welcome but ultimately window dressing. 5/10
  • Green Party. The Green Party has a strong package of transport policies, centred around the important truth that we need to reduce the number of trips made by the most polluting forms of transport: cars and planes. Again, we need more specific commitments, eg on bus franchising and the level of funding for public transport, so let’s see if the manifesto can deliver it. 7/10  
Cycle to work

5. Meet the UK’s commitments for a global energy transition and a safe climate future

  • Conservative Party. Although it’s good at repeating the UK’s large (relative to other countries) international climate commitments, these are meaningless if they’re not delivered. Assessments from the Climate Change Committee and Independent Commission for Aid Impact have cast doubt on the timelines and delivery of both emission reduction and international climate finance pledges. 3/10
  • Labour Party. Whether in terms of climate finance, or even just formally committing to the UK’s internationally agreed target of 68% emissions cuts by 2030, so far we're broadly none the wiser as to how a Keir Starmer government would act on the global stage. We await some clarification in the party's manifesto. Labour has refused to agree to return to the 0.7% aid spending that’s essential for climate as well as development targets. In 2023 Labour also refused to commit to the current £11.6 billion International Climate Finance figure. If this position has changed, we’d love to hear about it. 3/10
  • Liberal Democrats. So far, we haven’t found a great deal of Lib Dem policy to assess in this area, and it’s one we’d definitely like to see developed and improved upon before 4 July. A commitment to reinstate the 0.7% aid target is positive, but more is needed across the board, including on international climate finance. Work to do. 5/10
  • Green Party. The Green Party has a whole raft of relevant policies on the UK’s international role on climate change, importantly with a strong emphasis on funding for countries that have suffered catastrophic climate harms (aka Loss and Damage), as well as on increasing the UK’s own carbon reduction commitments. You love to see it. 10/10

6. Ensure a healthy environment for all

  • Conservative Party. Targets within the government’s Environment Act were criticised as too weak by NGOs, but even these aren’t on track according to the Office of Environmental Protection, including for air and river pollution. Not just silent on calls to strengthen people’s right to a healthy environment through an Environmental Rights Act, the Conservative Party is playing with the possibility of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been increasingly recognising aspects of a right to a healthy environment. 3/10
  • Labour Party. Labour has a few policy highlights when it comes to the environment, like bigger fines for water companies that harm the environment and pollute our rivers. Labour’s Clean Air Act should be celebrated too, but new targets aligned with World Health Organization standards will be needed, as well as bold policy for more clean air zones like London’s ULEZ. Overall though, the interconnectedness of our environment requires more than a piecemeal approach. We need to see Labour commit to a whole framework of rights to a healthy environment. 6/10
  • Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems have a very strong package of policy on the environment, not only tackling many of the key areas including air quality and sewage discharge, but also bringing forward new legislation to guarantee everyone a right to a healthy environment. Top marks. 10/10  
  • Green Party. Once again the broad principles and direction of policy are good, but we’re hoping for some ambitious specifics in the coming weeks on air quality, our polluted waterways, funding for nature enforcement and more. While the Green Party has policy to bring in new rights for nature, we’d like to see a clear commitment to a human right to a healthy environment too. 8/10
Beachgoers walk among sewage and rubbish at Blackpool seaside
Polluted UK beach
Credit: Stockbyte via Getty Images

7. Look after nature at home and abroad

  • Conservative Party. The Office for Environmental Protection produces an annual progress report and in January concluded that only 3 out of 10 indicators for thriving plants and wildlife have seen progress. The Conservative government has committed to introduce Forest Risk Commodities regulations to address overseas deforestation, but they’re much weaker than needed as they exclude some key commodities and only address illegal deforestation, whereas much is legal deforestation but equally harmful to nature and communities. The rhetoric is strong, the delivery is poor. 3/10
  • Labour Party. Nature is another area where Labour is pretty short on solid policy so far. Not only do we have little positive to point at, but there are also some worrying signs, with strong rhetoric on removing barriers to infrastructure developments. More infrastructure is needed, for example renewables, grid lines and housing, but not at the expense of nature. Some glimmers of hope exist in Labour’s National Policy Forum document, which in theory feeds into the party manifesto, including commitments to assess and prevent environmental and human rights abuses in supply chains and ensure effective due diligence rules. If this can be carried through to the manifesto with a clear commitment, then that will be a strong position on global nature protection. 4/10
  • Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems have a strong showing on nature, with pledges to guarantee high environmental standards in future trade deals, set binding targets to stop the decline in nature, and double the size of the Protected Area Network by 2050. Good stuff. 8/10  
  • Green Party. With some big policies that are both ambitious and specific (embedding nature regeneration in the planning system, stronger legal protections for nature, and a goal of making all land abundant in wildlife), this is a very solid policy area for the Greens. 10/10

8. Defend democracy

  • Conservative Party. Although the Conservative government currently seems to have dropped its plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, it’s overseen a plethora of restrictions on liberties, for example the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and the Public Order Act, including the Serious Disruption Regulation. It’s also brought in the damaging requirement for voter ID. The evidence so far suggests these sorts of policies will form the basis of the party’s election platform and agenda if re-elected. 0/10
  • Labour Party. Very little solid Labour policy for us to assess so far. Labour spokespeople have made various commitments to repeal a number of damaging pieces of legislation, eg the “Strikes Act,” the 2016 Trade Union Act and the Public Order Act, but without being formal policy or a promise made by the leader, we have to treat these with caution. We need to see clear manifesto pledges on these before polling day, alongside pledges to scrap voter ID. 3/10
  • Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems are committed to defending the Human Rights Act and repealing the pernicious restrictions on the freedom to protest, brought forwards in this parliament. This is good news for civil society, very good news. 8/10  
  • Green Party. The party’s policy on resisting the curtailment of democracy and civil society power hits all the right notes: opposing voter ID, supporting the Human Rights Act and continued access to the European Court of Human Rights. Great to see. 8/10  

9. Enhance democracy

  • Conservative Party. The Conservative government has committed to further devolution in England, but complex devolution deals with no clear duty or responsibility to deliver on climate change and no extra funding don’t make up for more than a decade of cuts. Promised reform of local government funding hasn’t happened, and there’s been very little action to support local government to deliver on climate, with some policy changes and rhetoric from government hindering ambitious councils. 4/10
  • Labour Party. Labour has promised a “full-fat approach to devolution,” which is certainly what will be needed to ensure the climate transition is sensitive to regional opportunities and differences. We’d like some more detail on the specifics of the “Take Back Control Act” in the manifesto. In particular, there needs to be more join-up between Labour’s promises on devolution and local growth and environmental objectives, but from what we can tell so far this is likely to be a strong area of policy for Labour. 7/10  
  • Liberal Democrats. A strong emphasis on access to the vote and devolution leads the Lib Dems democracy policy platform. Assuming this carries over into the manifesto and there’s funding to back up devolved powers, then this is a solid policy area for the Lib Dems too. 7/10
  • Green Party. Solid policy in this area with a focus on improving access to democracy for young people, and a strong devolutionary agenda. We look forward to seeing commitments in the party’s manifesto to reflect this. 8/10

10. Improve planning policy

  • Conservative Party. The Conservative government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Act (2023) signalled the beginning of the end for important Environmental Impact Assessments, which inhibit environmentally damaging developments. On top of this, the Conservative government has maintained the imbalance between onshore wind developments in England and oil and gas developments, with the latter much less restricted in the National Planning Policy Framework. 1/10
  • Labour Party. Labour is certainly clear on one thing: if elected it will reform the planning system. Less clear so far, however, is to reform it how, and to what end. The UK’s planning system is certainly in need of change, for example to swiftly build the low-carbon infrastructure needed, but not at the cost of nature. Labour needs to spell out its reform agenda, including how it will help carbon reduction and nature restoration targets. It has however promised to fund more planners in local government, the shortage of whom is a major reason for planning delays. 4/10
  • Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems are clear in their commitment to the Habitats Regulations, which have protected our most important wildlife sites and species for the last 30 years, pledging to double the area of land they protect. At this point, there’s not much we can find to go on beyond this, besides some general good noises about making planning for new developments more integrated to better achieve holistic climate and environment goals. We’ll keep a watching eye on this area, and hopefully we’ll see more positive commitments soon. 6/10  
  • Green Party. Green Party policy pledges to put climate and environment at the centre of planning decision making is what’s needed to ensure a built environment that’s fit for a sustainable future. Further detail is needed on what this commitment means in practice. 7/10 
Wind turbine  - Essex

How the parties did overall

When we score the party manifestos in coming weeks, we’ll hopefully have the further policy detail needed to enable us and everyone else to properly compare the environmental offerings promised by the parties. Whether any of them match up to the scale of change required to address the climate and nature emergency is yet to be seen.

Labour hasn’t scored brilliantly in this exercise. With 51 out of a 100, it’s well ahead of the Conservatives but well behind the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.  More importantly, it falls well short of what’s needed to deliver on the climate and nature emergencies. It must do better as there’s much greater awareness now, including within the Labour Party, that it’s the poorest who are hardest hit by environmental harms and who will benefit the most from a positive green agenda.  

It could be that our scoring is on the harsh side because we’re yet to be convinced that the top team in Labour, Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, really get the importance of these issues. We’re probably still carrying the scars of the scrapping of the £28 billion green investment pledge. We’ll be awaiting Labour’s manifesto with interest and hope to see lots more policy commitments over the coming weeks.      

From what we’ve seen so far, the Conservative Party falls a long way short. Our scoring gives the Conservatives 27 out of 100, and one could argue we’ve been overly generous. They score a 6 for their decarbonisation of the electricity grid because some good work is finally underway, but failure to invest in the grid over the last decade makes both the Conservative and Labour pledges hard to meet. They score the only 0 we’ve given because of their draconian policies against protest (while championing protestors in Iran and Russia), which is part of a dangerous shift towards authoritarian governance across the globe.  

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party score highly (68 and 82 respectively). They’ve both probably benefited from us giving them the benefit of the doubt where they’ve had strong statements but not yet published the policies to match, because they’re both traditionally strong on environmental protection. It’s unlikely either will form the next government, but strong advocates for environmental protection in parliament are needed on the opposition benches, so we do hope both parties will flesh out their policies in detail between now and election day.

How we scored the parties

Note that the assessment and scoring we publish today is based on our best efforts to identify the existing policies of the parties. We’ve searched their websites (and the government website for the Conservatives) and used policy documents and speeches by party and Treasury leaders. We may have missed some policies, for which we apologise and would gratefully be pointed towards evidence that might improve any scores.  

This assessment has been an art as much as a science, and we’ve had to use our best judgement at many points. It’s also a snapshot of the current moment and will naturally go out of date as commitments are made on the election campaign trail. It should be seen as such: our best assessment based on readily available evidence of how the parties are shaping up on the 10 biggest challenges for the next government when it comes to climate and environment.