Could this be the UK’s first general election where climate change plays a defining role?

Usually it’s issues such as the economy or crime or health that dominate the campaigns. And this time Brexit is bound to be the most acute question facing politicians and voters.

But recent polling has revealed a potentially significant shift elevating the environment to one of the top priorities. According to YouGov, voter views on the environment have traditionally ranked low on the priority list, but this year has seen a dramatic shift in the opinion polls.

The Environment is now one of the top 3 voting issues

In the most recent poll, voters cited the environment as one of three top issues – behind Brexit and health. That puts it on a par with crime and the economy. And this is particularly striking among younger voters, with 45% of 18- to 24-year-olds putting it as their second-biggest concern after Brexit.

In addition, environmental law firm ClientEarth recently commissioned a poll that demonstrates people across the UK are demanding greater action to address the climate crisis.

In this poll, the environment was also ranked as the third most pressing issue facing the nation, after Brexit and health but ahead of the economy, crime and immigration.

Some of the other key statistics included:


  • Almost 70% of people agreed that the climate emergency was the biggest issue facing humankind.
  • 54% of those polled said climate change would affect how they would vote, with the proportion rising to 74% for under-25s.
  • 81% of people support planting more trees, 63% want a Green New Deal – a large-scale, long-term investment in green infrastructure and jobs – and more than 50% said it was important to ban fracking.
  • 60% of people think banks and financial institutions should ditch coal, oil and gas investments

This unprecedented rise to the top of the UK’s election agenda has led to an inevitable political focus on the climate emergency and green issues and these appear strongly in all party manifestos. Leading Environmentalists have said that such political focus on green issues would have been ‘unthinkable’ just five years ago, predicting that this could be the beginning of a major shift and permanent change in British politics.


What are the major political parties saying?

For example, Labour has taken the unprecedented move of putting green issues as the top section of its manifesto, the first time one of the UK’s two major parties has done so.

Jeremy Corbyn led the appeal to voters with policies including an £11 billion windfall tax on oil and gas companies, a million new jobs in a “green industrial revolution” and commitments on moving to a net-zero carbon economy.

The Conservatives are clearly heavily focused on ‘getting Brexit done’ but are also concentrating on delivering Net Zero carbon emissions with a cabinet-level committee that will oversee the commitment to reach the target by 2050. They are also focusing on helping voters to lower their energy bills by investing £9.2 billion in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals. The party says it will build more offshore wind farms, increasing the UK’s target capacity from 30GW to 40GW by 2030, and has also announced plans to plant 30 million trees a year by 2025.

The Liberal Democrats, whilst also focusing on Brexit, but from a very different perspective, have  made the climate emergency a key priority, promising to generate 80% of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030, to bring forward to 2045 the deadline for net-zero carbon, and to expand electric vehicles and ban fracking.

The Green party are committed to the Green New Deal and will deliver Net Zero emissions by 2030. They want to spend £100 billion a year for the next decade on the climate crisis. They also plan to plant 700 million trees and will create a network of electric vehicle charging points across the country.

See what’s in the manifestos for yourself

For a full and impartial breakdown of all the party policies and announcements relating to the environment and climate change, Carbon Brief has put together a useful table covering a wide range of environmental topics to help you understand each party’s position and make your own decisions –


Are we seeing a major shift in political battlegrounds?

Key industry figures have already expressed their surprise, but welcomed the rapid rise in prominence for environmental issues in this general election, and the way in which all the major parties have made ambitious pledges on environmental topics. In the wake of extinction rebellion protests, school ‘strikes’ inspired by Greta Thunberg, landmark reports from the IPCC and, perhaps most telling for the general public, stark warnings on the impact of climate change from Sir David Attenborough, this really is becoming an election where climate change will be a key battle ground.

Public concern over the climate is “unequivocal”, and people “back decarbonisation by a massive margin”, said Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

“The UK has never had an election like this one in terms of the profile of climate change. To have all the major parties supporting a transition to net zero within a few decades, and competing with each other on policies to deliver, is unprecedented.”

According to Chris Stark, the Chief Executive at The Committee on Climate Change,

“This election really is the climate election. There probably isn’t a bigger challenge – when we think about the things that need to be done to get to that goal of net zero emissions, it’s absolutely enormous. It involves things in every sector of the economy and of course we need government policies in every sector of the economy to deliver that.”

So, for whoever ends up in charge next month, there’s a huge challenge in store to deliver the country’s environmental goals – let’s hope that climate change remains at the top of everyone’s political agenda for a long time to come, not just to win an election.

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