Reviewing party manifestos: The Labour Party

Here’s the fourth of our analyses of party manifestos ahead of the General Election on 4 July. We’re responding to the manifestos of the top five political parties by vote share as they are published. Where political parties make nature announcements separately from their manifestos, we are responding to those elsewhere on our website – for example, Labour’s nature announcement on 6 June.

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Labour Party manifesto: our view

On Thursday 13 June, the Labour Party launched their 2024 General Election manifesto, called ‘Change’. Our policy experts have scrutinised it from a nature and climate perspective. 

The big picture

Labour’s manifesto has some important commitments around nature and the climate. It’s very positive to see the commitment to meeting the targets in the 2021 Environment Act, and to work in partnership with civil society, communities, and businesses, to protect and restore our natural world. 
But there are also some key omissions, and in general, much more detail is needed. 

On land

As a large percentage of UK land is farmed – 71% – we know farming is key to the recovery of nature. It’s therefore disappointing that this manifesto only offers a very short section on farming, which doesn’t give sufficient detail when judging their future farming policies. It’s concerning that it doesn’t commit to maintaining the current budget, which already isn’t sufficient to support farmers responding to our changing climate and bringing wildlife back to our countryside, let alone committing to bring it into line with inflation.  

However, the manifesto does commit to making Environmental Land Management (ELM) work, which is the scheme that pays land managers and farmers in England for providing environmental goods and services, alongside the production of food. This is critical in meeting national and international targets around nature and climate.  

On planning, we support the inclusion of nature-friendly house building design, as well as building climate resilience into all new housing developments. We also welcome the commitment not to weaken environmental protections when building homes affected by nutrient neutrality. These ensure that housing developments do not add more pollution to water courses, which are already under pressure.  
Wider planning reforms also need to have nature at their heart so we can ensure nature thrives alongside the new homes and infrastructure needed.  

Sadly, this manifesto doesn’t refer to strategic planning or a National Spatial Plan. A National Spatial Plan would provide a high-level framework for addressing nature’s recovery, the supply of green energy, and the distribution of growth of developments, allowing us to make strategic decisions to cope with the competing pressures on our land and ensuring that we can develop in a nature positive way. 

At sea

The manifesto has a single reference to protecting the marine environment which is welcome, but we would expect to see more specific policies referring to marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, and marine restoration to feel confident that this commitment can be met. Because our seabirds are in trouble. According to 2023’s Seabirds Count, 62% of UK seabird species are in decline, rising to 70% in Scotland, which is our seabird stronghold. Urgent action is needed to help protect and restore them. 

Combating the nature and climate emergency

The commitment to aligning with the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015, is a positive step. But it needs to go further. Ideally, it should also align with the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Global Biodiversity Framework, to address the nature and climate emergency as one.  

We support the commitment that new licences to explore new oil fields and new coal licences will not be issued. We also support the commitment to banning fracking permanently – the process of fracturing formations in bedrock to extract oil and gas. These emissions contribute to climate change which has major knock-on impacts on wildlife.  

It’s a positive that the manifesto mentions expanding nature-rich habitats. But it’s a real shame that there is no detail as to what this would look like, to what extent, and how they would do this. Nature is a critical tool in helping mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as helping us adapt to its impacts. We’d like to see the details around how they propose to encourage and fund nature-based solutions.  

Access to nature

The manifesto references improving responsible access to nature, including creating nine new National River Walks and establishing three new National Forests in England. For many people, a lifelong love and respect for nature starts with spending time amongst it. By making sure these new accessible spaces are humming with wildlife, they can contribute to nature’s recovery as well as people’s access to it. 

The economic picture

The manifesto focuses on economic growth. We must, and can, ensure this goes together with restoring nature. It’s disappointing not to see a transition to a nature-positive economy built into this approach, one where nature is accounted for in all business and financial decisions. A nature-positive economy is essential to our economic success. Without action on nature, economic shocks are an ongoing risk

The manifesto proposes a National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority. This will set strategic infrastructure priorities around transport and communications networks. However, these must include the UK’s stock of natural resources, and have nature treated on an equal footing. We must also support and protect our natural infrastructure, which includes forests, floodplains, and wetlands. 

The proposed National Wealth Fund must recognise that our natural assets, such as peatland and wetlands, are a key part of our national wealth as a country. It needs to go further than the ‘ports, hydrogen, and industrial clusters’ that they mention. This should work to repair the damage done over the long term, which puts our economic performance and resilience at risk. Doing so would give multiple benefits, such as climate change mitigation, often to a greater extent than other types of investment. 

The commitment to allowing the Bank of England to give consideration to climate change in its mandate is welcome. However, this must go further and include nature-related financial risks. We support the introduction of a British Jobs Bonus, but this should go further on wider green jobs and those associated with the investment of natural capital. The circular economy too needs much more ambition and focus to be nature-positive. 

In a nutshell

The manifesto repeatedly recognises that the nature and climate emergency is the greatest long-term challenge that we face. The commitment to act to deliver against the legally-binding targets in the Environment Act is positive.  However, there isn’t sufficient detail around commitments towards nature-friendly farming,  protecting the marine environment, nature-based solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change, or the transition to a nature-based economy. 

Our response to Labour’s nature announcement on 6 June

The Labour Party made a separate announcement of nature commitments on 6 June, which we responded to here:  

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