New Labour, New Environment? An Analysis of the Labour Government's Policy on Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss

Dr Neil Carter and Dr David Ockwell were commissioned by Friends of the Earth to conduct an independent review of the most up-to-date science on climate change and biodiversity loss and assess the Labour Government's performance in tackling these issues since it came to power in 1997. The work serves to highlight the actions that Labour, under the new leadership of Gordon Brown, still needs to take in order to avoid the catastrophic future impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Dr Neil Carter, of the Centre of Environmental Law and Policy at the University of York, said:

The science on climate change and biodiversity loss is clear; we have limited time to act if we are to prevent catastrophic impacts. Whilst there is evidence that politicians understand the science, at least with regards to climate change, the policy response to date has been far from adequate.

The work involved interviews with high profile politicians, environmentalists and academics and identified several key obstacles to greener government, including a lack of political pressure on the Government, the absence of joined-up policy, and a failure of domestic political leadership.

The key findings are:

  1. Climate change and biodiversity loss have dire implications for the future welfare of humanity. The Labour Government has, since 1997, taken some action that begins to address climate change and biodiversity loss, but not nearly enough to address the extent of the problem as indicated by the scientific evidence.
  2. Recent attention to the environment in party politics and public debate has been critical in driving a flurry of new policies. The challenge now is for all those concerned about the environment to keep it high on the political agenda and to sustain current enthusiasm.
  3. Environmental issues cut across traditional policy sectors, such as transport, energy, housing and farming. The Government must facilitate a more joined-up approach that integrates environmental concerns across every Department and policy sector. Brown's recent reshuffle failed to do this.
  4. There is a disconnect at the heart of Labour's approach to climate change. Tony Blair played a leading role in advancing the climate change agenda on the international stage, but Labour has failed to deliver domestically. UK emissions of carbon dioxide are now higher than in 1997. Gordon Brown must expend some precious political capital in providing the domestic leadership that Blair failed to deliver.
  5. The formation of Brown's new Government is an opportunity to make a step change in environmental policy. If the Prime Minister is committed to Cabinet Government, then the environment offers the perfect opportunity to demonstrate a new style of collective leadership, in which old style Departmentalism is replaced by a progressive, genuinely joined-up strategic approach to resolving the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Dr David Ockwell of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, said:

We need tough policies that respond to the urgency of the challenges. Government must stand up to short-term vested interests and act instead for our long-term wellbeing. The "bottom line" here isn't just financial - the bottom line is that without urgent action on climate change and biodiversity we stand poised to put an end to life on Earth as we know it.

Tony Juniper, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, said:

This report is important and timely as Gordon Brown shapes a new agenda for Government and a more consensual style of leadership. Gordon Brown can be a great Prime Minister if he puts his mind to leading action on climate change and biodiversity loss for reasons of human well-being and economic stability. This will require more than the odd green speech, it will require visible, committed and sustained political leadership to drive these strategies across government.