Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats | Credit: Liberal Democrats
New Liberal Democrat leader uses final conference address to promise ‘bold’ climate action and the pursuit of a 2045 net zero target
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson today promised to de-prioritise Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of national wealth, pledging to introducing a new Wellbeing Budget that will put “the wellbeing of the people and the planet” at the heart of the government’s agenda if her party wins the next election.
The new party leader quoted former US attorney general Robert Kennedy – who once described GDP as measuring everything “except that which makes life worthwhile” – to argue that GDP remains a flawed measure of economic success that fails to account for well-being, equality or environmental health.
“Why is the success of our country reduced to a GDP figure?” Swinson asked. “We have been conditioned to believe that as long as GDP keeps growing everything is fine. But this ignores the reality behind the numbers… that out planet is at breaking point.”
She pointed to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s release of a Wellbeing Budget earlier this year, which placed climate change as a key priority, and committed the Liberal Democrats to developing their own version for the UK.
“I want us to fundamentally rethink the purpose of our economy,” Swinson said. “So that it works for people and our planet. Our Wellbeing Budget will spell out our priorities for public spending on the things that matter most, both right now and for future generations.”
Swinson reserved heavy criticism for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government, who she accused of “standing by” in the face of escalating climate change, despite Parliament declaring a climate emergency earlier this year.
“The climate emergency is an existential threat, and only our party has the bold and detailed plan to tackle it,” she argued.
Her remarks on climate change formed a major segment of Swinson’s conference speech today, alongside a focus on her party’s plans to stop Brexit.
Swinson’s speech marked the end of the first major conference of the autumn, during which the Liberal Democrats set out a plan to reach net zero emissions by 2045 by scaling up renewables deployment, banning fossil fuel car sales from 2030, imposing a moratorium on airport development, and delivering a major green finance drive through the relaunch of the UK’s Green Investment Bank.
The next conference in the calendar is the Labour Party’s, which is expected to see a major focus on the Party’s plans to introduce a Green New Deal to rapidly accelerate growth in the UK’s low-carbon economy.
Campaigners are also hoping the Conservative Party conference will provide more clarity on the government’s decarbonisation plans following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s commitment to deliver on the UK’s new net zero emission targets.