2015 is the one of the most important years in the history of climate change politics. In December, countries from across the world will come together to create a global climate deal which will shape the future of carbon emissions. The success of this deal is crucial. To prevent catastrophic climate change, we must limit the global temperature rise to 2C on pre-industrial levels. This requires scientifically-informed international restrictions on emissions, which can only be achieved through strong commitment from all countries.
Yet climate change has barely featured in the run up to this year’s general election in Britain. Five years ago, the major parties were battling to prove their green credentials. Spurred on by a climate-conscious electorate, the Conservatives went so far as to promise they would be the ‘greenest government ever’. However, one deficit and several immigration lies later, climate change has fallen off the agenda.
The incumbent Tories have downgraded their 2010 rhetoric to a flimsy assurance that the 2C target will be kept ‘firmly in reach’. This is made more dubious by their plans to halt the spread of onshore wind farms; develop North Sea gas and oil; and advance shale extraction.
Labour’s climate policy is more promising but still wholly insufficient to meet the 2C global target. Their pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, though on the surface scientifically sound (the IPCC recommends a global goal of net zero by 2100), does not reflect Britain’s responsibility for reducing carbon. Britain’s historical responsibility for emissions, as well as its financial capability for reducing them, is disproportionately high. Therefore, if December’s deal is to be remotely effective and equitable, Britain must lead the way in the global transition to carbon neutrality.
The Greens are the only party capable of ensuring this. Their pledge to make the global target of 2C their ‘major foreign policy priority’ means that unlike Labour their efforts will be holistic, rather than nationalistic. The Green Party recognise that not only is climate change a global issue, it is the global issue.
But, as they are unable to win the coming election, it may seem pointless to dwell on the benefits of their policies. Surely we should instead focus on improving the efforts of the major parties. I would argue, however, that voting Green is the key to this.
It is true that in our first-past-the-post voting system, only the two major parties matter. With the majority of the electorate stuck in the two-party mind set and voting tactically to keep their least favourite neoliberal out of government, there is no possibility for radical change. Nevertheless, a vote for the Green Party is not a wasted vote. The entrenched safety of the two-party battle allows Labour and the Conservatives to continue within their narrow framework of what they have politicised as important: ‘balancing the books’, curbing immigration and regaining powers from the EU. However, it would take only a small number of us to disrupt this balance and force policy change within the major parties. It worked for UKIP. Their recent surge in popularity, though not nearly enough for them to gain office has led to a Conservative shift to the right. To win back voters, Cameron has upped his anti-immigration rhetoric and promised an in-out Referendum on Europe.
The same could be achieved through a show of support for the Greens. Admittedly, taking such a step could split the Left vote, leading to a Conservative government. This is a scary prospect for many. We live in a country where shades of austerity do matter, and the difference between a Labour and Conservative government, though small, can and will affect the stability of people’s lives. However, if Green-leaning voters in safe Labour constituencies were to take the risk, the message would be clear. Climate change is still here and it’s more important than ever.