Greenpeace changes the politics

13 October 2009

The latest manifesto from Greenpeace UK is the first ever with no explicit anti-nuclear policies. It was launched with the tagline "Change the politics. Save the climate."


Greenpeace atop the Palace of Westminster (Greenpeace)

Some 31 activists spent 28 hours on
the roof of the UK parliament in
peace's new campaign push on
climate change (Image: Greenpeace)

Timed for the return of parliament and accompanied by a roof-top protest and a full-page advertisement in The Times, Greenpeace appealed to leaders of all political parties to "Please steal our policies."


But for the first time, there was no explicit policy against nuclear power. Instead there were stipulations for any new coal-fired power plants to come with full carbon dioxide abatement and for renewables to make up 15% of all energy.


Most of the 12 goals were expressed in terms of 'low-carbon' energy, which should supply all the UK's power by 2030, according to the group. Development of low-carbon power should be supported in less developed countries, while the UK should invest in a supply chain for low-carbon technology as well as low-carbon research. Nothing was ruled in or out of the low-carbon group.


A bank should be set up that "would lend to major low-carbon projects" and taxation should be focused on pollution to drive down emissions.


Greenpeace UK's executive director John Sauven adopted the same language in an open letter to British politicians which said: "If we don't change the politics and take real action here and internationally we will lose our chance to save the climate... So far bold action has been trumped by short term interests."


The manifesto referred to yesterday's report from the Committee on Climate Change and analyses by the International Energy Agency, which both recommend increases in nuclear power as part of dramatic action to lower carbon dioxide emissions.


Greenpeace will surely continue to speak up for renewables in preference to nuclear power and maintain its tough scrutiny of all matters related to the nuclear industry, but the change in its stance was welcomed as a "positive step" by former Greenpeace UK exective director Stephen Tindale. He told World Nuclear News it was "very good for Greenpeace to be saying what they're in favour of, and I personally agree with all of it." Tindale reversed his opinions on nuclear power earlier this year to support it as a bridging technology to a time when renewables can take the major role in power generation. He has also recently co-founded a new organisation, Climate Answers.


"They call on the government to have renewables provide 15% total energy by 2020 - that's the UK's share of EU total target. But renewables are currently at 2%, and the target still leaves 85% from other things that are not renewable in this low-carbon supply."


Malcolm Grimston, an associate fellow at Chatham House, said it was difficult for an organisation like Greenpeace to change its position on a topic like nuclear power. "If this is indeed a herald that such a change may be in process then they are to be congratulated on their courage," he wrote to WNN. "It is essential that the Green movement matches its commitment to protecting the environment with a commonsense approach to the available ways of doing it - Greenpeace's previous executive director Stephen Tindale has realised this publicly, and if the current leadership is following his example it is to be welcomed."