Fiona Harvey Green apple pie for the election

Asked whether they would like the government to invest more in clean energy and the creation of new green jobs, about two thirds of the British public say yes, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by Greenpeace.

This could be taken as a strong indication that the parties vying to form the next UK government, in the general election scheduled for May 6, should step up their efforts to woo voters on green grounds.

However, as with a lot of pre-electoral polling, it is hard to resist thinking that some people are just saying what they think they ought to say.

Asked in the abstract, most people are in favour of a cleaner environment, less pollution, lower carbon dioxide emissions, greater energy efficiency and more power from renewable sources. Saying that you are in favour of such public goods is like the proverbial motherhood and apple pie – few people could take a stand against them.

But when it comes to hard decisions about how to fund such investments (shall it be higher electricity bills or taxes?) or – especially in the case of wind farms – where to put them, people can easily change their minds.

Green issues have not played a prominent role in the election to date, though there has been a push in the last few days to place them higher on parties’ agendas. The Liberal Democrats unveiled their “green jobs” vision, and the Labour party followed up swiftly with a list of the UK’s recent successes in attracting green industrial investment.

David Cameron has nailed his green colours to the mast frequently in the past, but some observers sense a certain unease about the issue in his party’s campaigning. Recent polls have found many of the party’s candidates do not think climate change is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, and are cool on the idea of green taxes. Many are also not keen on wind turbines: a small ComRes poll last week of 101 parliamentary candidates, commissioned by the wind industry association RenewableUK, found a majority of Tory candidates opposed the expansion of onshore wind farms. (However, only about 15 per cent disagreed with the UK’s target of generating 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.)

For companies involved in providing energy, and other environmental goods and services, the question of how green the next government will be is crucial. Danny Stephens, policy director at the Environmental Industries Commission, a trade association for the sector, says: “It is vital that the next government plays an active role in embedding low carbon, sustainability and resource efficiency into the very fabric of the economy.”

But, polls suggesting people like green investment notwithstanding, the issue is not high enough up most voters’ list of concerns to wield much influence over their choice of party.

Related links:

Why we don’t do much about climate change - FT Energy Source
Politics, polls and climate change - FT Energy Source
Why is the public cooling on climate change? - FT Energy Source