With the general election coming up, pH7 is continuing its investigation into where the parties stand on science and the environment.
With a newfound love for sandals and socialism fuelling the #GreenSurge, it’s time to see how Green Party science policies fare.
The Green Party has promised to raise research funding to at least 1% of GDP, with safeguards against inflation. This is over double what the UK currently allocates in terms of public investment, and above the G8 average.
To be funded by a Green government, certain 'ethical' criteria have to be reached, such as animal welfare. With a long standing opposition to animal testing, biomedical research would likely lose public funding. This seems to be based on some misguided claims, such as the UK’s unregulated practice (UK animal testing regulation is some of the strictest in the world), with unnecessary duplicate testing (it’s necessary), that increases drugs adverse effects (it doesn't), with researchers not interested in finding alternatives (they are).
Animal testing is considered necessary to biomedical research. Ethics aside, medical research, especially immunology, would be set back by stopping animal testing. However, the Green Party's “independent” Safer Medicines Trust (an anti-animal testing organisation) has Caroline Lucas (the Green former leader) as a patreon.
The Greens (their name notwithstanding) have surprisingly lackluster climate change policy.
A lot of it is based on setting up targets, but that’s been done. They advocate for reduction targets to avoid two degrees warming (drop CO2 emissions by 6%/year), but these already exist in the form of the Climate Change Act and UK Carbon Budgets. Their zero carbon building policy was already enacted over the last decade. The same with retrofitting buildings. The Green Investment Bank being given further subsidised loaning and borrowing powers is good, but it will gain those powers anyway.
Further afield it's the same story. The Greens have a vague policy to reform the EU "cap and trade" (a system where countries who pollute below a limit, can sell credits to allow other countries to pollute over a limit) scheme but haven’t said what kind of reforms it would favour. Trading Scheme Reform has already been put forward by the EU Commission to force green investment.
They also have vague ideas on encouraging more International agreements, but these already exist. Agreements on deforestation and agrofuels (fuels from algae) already exist, and the Greens don't outline how they'd be internationally enforced.
The Green Party takes a more radical view on shifting to renewables, such as mandatory micro-generation schemes for new buildings, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and massively expanding renewable power by 2030 in line with recommendations from the World Energy Outlook.
Other policies include mixed zoning laws in cities (how property in zones can be used), which helps to reduce energy use, and stricter efficiency targets for homes and industry.
While those policies are good, Green policy is hit and miss in terms of achievability and ambition.
Their “10% of 1990 CO2 emissions by 2030” goal is farfetched. The EU outlined a more achievable reduction of 30% from 1990.
In other areas, their manifesto pledges have already been implemented. Government funding of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology got underway in 2010. Efficiency measures for homes and businesses have already been introduced. Disclosure of carbon emissions already exists under the Mandatory Carbon Report. The same goes with retrofitting homes and zero emissions for new homes and businesses by 2016 and 2019.
The Greens still oppose nuclear power, which the World Energy Outlook report argues is needed to reach zero emissions by 2050. Many argue nuclear power must play a key part, even if long construction times and high costs mean nuclear doesn’t make up short term plans for zero carbon energy.
Public Health and Pharmaceutical Regulation:
The Greens would want to encourage healthy diets through "fiscal food policy" (taxing and subsidising certain foods). Evidence on this is mixed, but seems to suggest it can shape eating patterns for the better.
While increasing physical exercise and phasing out junk food in schools are nice ideas, their policy on promoting organic food in schools (HE322) implies organic is healthier than conventional. There's no evidence for this.
For pharmaceutical regulation, the Greens want to have all publicly funded clinical trial results, negative or otherwise, publicly disclosed. Privately funded research would also be subject to the Freedom of Information act. Unlike UKIP, they supported an EU motion to do this.
Farming and GMs:
The Greens continue to oppose the use of GM crops. They claim they are harmful to human health (they're not), biodiversity (three meta analyses have shown the opposite) and the environment (evidence is mixed).
There's no reason why GMOs can't be used with more ecologically sustainable farming practices. Two literature reviews (of 155 peer-reviewed papers) have found the benefits GMOs can have for farmers, and can help boost yields whilst reducing herbicide use and adopting more eco-friendly farming methods. GMOs will likely form a major part of future sustainable agriculture policy.
There’s a strong commitment to science funding, and strong policies on public health and pharmaceutical regulation.
But their climate change and energy policies lack specific direction, and some of their proposals have actually already been enacted by previous governments.
Their continued ideological opposition to GMOs and animal testing show that the Green Party may be misinformed about the science underpinning their policy, or simply choosing not to listen to it.