Ed Milliband narrowly defeated his older brother David Milliband for the Labour Party’s leadership on Saturday, boosting the prospects of the environment taking priority at the forefront of UK policy making. During his last 18-month tenure as Minister for Energy & Climate Change, Ed Milliband boasts an impressive track record for progressing environmental policy within the previous Labour government. Notable developments include:

  1. Passing the Climate Change Act – Considered to be Labour’s biggest environmental success, the CCA made the UK the first nation in the world to legislate for emissions reductions. Whilst David Milliband and others helped to drum up support for the legislation inside the party, Ed has been praised with strengthening the Act to deliver robust targets and ambitious goals.
  2. Ed manoeuvred around existing party policy for the introduction of Feed-in tariffs, modelled on other European schemes, which offer long-term, guaranteed payments for every kw of renewable energy generated. This has successfully incentivised homes, communities and businesses to invest in small-scale renewable energy systems, boosting the UK’s renewable energy generation.
  3. Ed also ensured that under his tenure, no further coal-fired power stations would be built without mechanisms to capture and store the CO2 they produced.
  4. The third runway at Heathrow, which deliver significant increases in the UK’s CO2 emissions, was also opposed by Ed, but he ultimately lost this battle, as Labour became one of the only parties to support the idea.

Concerns have been mounting recently over fears that the Coalition Government could hinder progress for the development of a low carbon economy, potentially through cuts to the feed-in tariff rates, in addition to the previously announced closure of valuable quangos such as the Sustainable Development Commission (and possibly even the Carbon Trust – currently under review).  This bestows a golden opportunity on Ed Milliband  – to take the throne for the ‘Greenest party’. Milliband’s election as leader of the labour Party has bolstered the hopes of many environmental stakeholders, indeed many of whom Milliband will have previously worked with.

Milliband could do far worse than increasing investment and support for renewable energy and energy efficiency measures across the UK, providing thousands of new green jobs, business opportunities and spurring prospects for economic growth and recovery, reducing reliance and imports of fossil fuels and positioning the UK as a global leader in the global race for a low carbon economy.

However, despite his extensive understanding and background in the climate change agenda, a significant opportunity to reorder the party’s priorities was already lost at the Labour Party Conference last week. Whilst the agenda emphasised issues such as the economy and immigration, energy and climate change was nowhere to be seen. It seems Ed Milliband’s first challenge will be to unite his party, and deliver the optimism, passion, revolution, and youth he so emphasised in his leadership speech.

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