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Ming Campbell answers GLD questions

February 13, 2006 8:12 PM

Sir Menzies Campbell's green platform

Here are Ming Campbell's replies in full to our nine questions, the same questions we have put to all the candidates.

Ming Campbell portrait

1. The Government has just launched its Energy Review. Are you personally for or against the building of additional nuclear capacity, and why?

I am against any new nuclear build, not on principle, but based on an assessment of the risks and costs.

A new generation of nuclear build would not be economically sustainable. Only last year, the Energy Act signed off £48bn, now increased to £56bn, just to clean up the radioactive waste created to date. This is the equivalent of a bill of over £930 for every person in the UK. Furthermore, both British Energy and British Nuclear Fuels would be, if not underwritten be the government, effectively bankrupt and the state has already bailed out British Energy to the tune of £3.9 billion. A new generation of nuclear would cost at least £17 billion, and would have to be funded by the taxpayer through a levy on fuel bills and, to make matters worse, would swallow up much funding which would otherwise be used for the development of renewable energies.

A new generation of nuclear power would also leave behind generations' worth of radioactive waste. Some of this waste will remain highly dangerous for thousands of years. We are yet to find a safe and viable storage solution even for the existing waste. It is also worth noting that, unlike it is sometimes claimed, new power stations would certainly not be 'carbon neutral'. The processes of materials extraction, site construction, maintenance and transport, produce a very significant life-cycle carbon footprint which is equivalent to possibly a third of that of a gas-fired power station.

Whichever way you look at nuclear it is simply not sustainable. A truly sustainable energy policy which invests in energy efficiency, cleaned-up fossil fuels and a basket of renewables will meet our energy needs, provide security of supply, reduce carbon emissions and leave far less waste for future generations.

2. Can green taxation work? And should the party support personal carbon allowances?

Yes green taxation can work, indeed I believe that greater use of fiscal incentives is the best way to promote positive environmental practices. Living in a capitalist society, as we do, we need to ensure that the incentive for personal wealth accumulation also delivers environmental sustainability. With climate change an increasingly more pressing concern, governments now have a responsibility to lay down the parameters within which capitalism must operate and do much more to encourage green ends through the use of taxation and market mechanisms.

Personal carbon allowances are a little further down the line but we nevertheless need to prepare for their possible introduction and so ensure a reduction in emissions by further incentivising positive environmental behaviour. This kind of scheme, adapted appropriately to ensure that low-income families are not disadvantaged, is particularly effective in that it financially rewards low energy users by enabling them to sell their excess entitlement rather than simply punishing high users.

3. Predicted regional airport expansion could blow a large hole in our Kyoto targets. How would you convince the public that cheap air travel is unsustainable?

Although it sounds obvious we do need to make a concerted effort to educate people about the extent to which air travel damages the environment. Many people are simply unaware of how much more environmentally damaging flying is than driving or travelling by train. There is a strong argument for putting accessible information detailing carbon emissions onto air tickets, perhaps relating to the comparable rail journey, or making it available on web pages when people book their flights online.

We do however need to acknowledge that regional airports are not intrinsically a bad thing provided that their capacity is used sensibly. For example, there could be environmental benefits if regional airports are used in such a way that they receive more direct flights from final destinations and allow us to cut down on the number of shuttle flights to and from London.

Finally we need to help get the message across by ensuring that the cost of flights bears a closer relationship to the environmental damage associated with it.

4. Despite our excellent record on national campaigns there is concern that some Liberal Democrat-controlled local authorities are not yet as green as they should be in practice. What will you do to change this?

Many Lib Dem councils do of course have a good green record already but more can always be done. As Lib Dem leader I would commission a new, updated guide for all our local authorities which would encourage and provide examples of environmental best practice. Of course, local Lib Dem authorities are independent bodies and it is therefore not possible, or indeed desirable, to force local authorities to adopt specific policies. We need to instead do what we can to cooperate with them and make positive practical suggestions of ways for them to improve environmental practice.

5. South Central Region adopted a motion in 2004 requesting all local parties and Liberal Democrat council groups adopt the use of Fairtrade products and encourage their communities to work towards Fairtrade status. Should this become party policy nationally?

It is very positive that the South Central Region adopted this motion and indeed that so many Lib Dem councils at different levels across the country have adopted fair-trade policies, in some cases even making a key contribution towards their towns achieving official fair-trade status. This sends out a strong message to the communities they serve and we should certainly support Lib Dem groups and councils who are trying to achieve the same. I am of course wholly in favour of fair trade practices being included in a re-worked best practice guide but again we need to remember that it is important to respect the independence of local council groups.

6. Wildlife biodiversity is under great threat globally and in the UK. What should this party do to ensure native wildlife is protected more effectively in the UK?

Firstly we need to support international agreements and activities designed to stop international environmental crime, such as illegal logging or illegal trade in endangered wildlife. These problems affect us nationally but must be tackled at an international level.

We also need to support the campaign to halt biodiversity loss by 2010 by making more resources available for the protection and restoration of landscapes and natural habitats. To accomplish this we need to create a well-resourced independent agency to champion the natural environment.

In built-up areas, we need to make the best use we possibly can of existing buildings, developed land and brownfield sites to reduce land take and habitat damage. To achieve this we must raise the minimum density target for new housing and protect locally important landscapes and sites. There are of course, many small measures such as careful planting, which can be taken to improve habitats for animals and plants, even in urban areas. A good quality environment and a healthy countryside are key to a good quality of life.

7. Should this country recycle more, or give up and produce energy from waste?

It is important to recognise that recycling and energy production from waste are not exclusive alternatives. We need a waste hierarchy which places a real emphasis on the minimisation, re-using and recycling. We need to make recycling easier for people by ensuring that kerbside recycling schemes are rolled out to every household in the country.

After all other options have been exhausted, towards the bottom of the waste hierarchy, there may be a role for producing energy from what waste remains via Combined Heat and Power incineration plants. Incineration is certainly the best option for certain hazardous wastes, such as clinical waste. I know that Norman Baker, our Lib Dem environment Secretary has asked his colleague, Dan Rogerson MP, to research the relative life-cycle costs and carbon emissions of recycling and incineration. I think that it is only responsible for me to wait and look at the outcome of that research before expressing a definitive view on this issue.

8. Although there is a clear demand for new homes in the UK, John Prescott stands accused of trying to concrete over the South East. Do you think the Labour Government's policy is sustainable, and what should be the Liberal Democrat stance on this issue?

The current water shortages that we are seeing are enough evidence in themselves that we are facing a real problem in the South East. Per head there is less water in the South East than in the Sudan, which demonstrates very clearly that the Government's policy is not sustainable.

Of course there is a real need for housing so in order to meet our needs we should introduce a much better regulated policy with, for example, a higher tax on second homes and properties that stand empty, a better regional policy to encourage people not to migrate from the north-west to the south-east of England and better infrastructure planning to go hand in hand with development rather than follow it. We also need to work hard to develop better, greener building regulations which include greater encouragement for microgeneration, a policy area where this country is really not yet up to the standard of some of our European neighbours.

9. Some say the Liberal Democrat 'green thread' is wearing thin. What should this party do to stay at least three steps ahead of David Cameron on green issues and what weaknesses in current Liberal Democrat environmental policy should be addressed before the next General Election?

The green thread is certainly not wearing thin and we are still at least three steps ahead of Cameron.

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