Labour sets out priorities on energy and climate – but how achievable are they? | Climate News

The Labour government was elected with a hefty green mandate to build out clean energy and tackle climate change.

The endorsement/sanction is bolstered by the electoral success of the Green Party and Lib Dems – which both campaigned on green issues – and the failure of the Tories’ strategy to talk down climate action.

This week the new Energy Secretary Ed Miliband committed to six priorities.

Here’s why they are harder to achieve than they sound.

Priority one: Boost energy independence and cut bills through clean power by 2030

Labour says it can get the UK off foreign fossil fuels, cut energy bills and tackle the climate crisis in one fell swoop: by making electricity 100% clean by 2030. (Last year was 51%).

It’s not drastically different to the Tories’ 2035 target. But the earlier date will require an “Apollo moon mission-like effort”, said Adam Bell, director of policy at Stonehaven.

It requires billions of pounds of cleverly-targeted investment, slicing through layers upon layers of planning rules.

And it demands an eruption of UK infrastructure: from wind farms to hundreds of kilometres of cables and pylons, which even a Green Party MP is resisting.

Labour has already started on planning reforms and lifting the effective ban on onshore wind.

The challenge

But a big piece missing from the puzzle is how we are going to back up renewables on grey, windless days.

Big decisions loom on nuclear, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, all of which are expensive.

And the major obstacle to all of this is whether the UK’s creaky energy grid can keep up – and if the public can stomach the mass of building to go alongside.

A new “Mission Control” centre will coordinate a lot of this work.

“The big question is, is government organised enough to deliver?”, said Mr Bell.

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Chancellor Rachel Reeves set out immediate reforms to the planning system and plans to end the effective ban on onshore wind

Priority two: Set up Great British Energy

The planned new Great British Energy company resonated with voters, research by both Stonehaven and More In Common found. But what is it?

It’s not been that clear. The publicly-owned company will likely invest in clean tech, and fund small projects like school solar panels or community energy projects.

GB Energy can be “potentially transformative” for people by saving them money, said Andy Garraway, climate policy lead at Resilience, and former adviser to Alok Sharma during COP26.

The challenge

But its funding will be less than initially promised – £8.3bn over the next parliament rather than the original £28bn a year.

And less than the hundreds of billions pumped into these industries by the EU and US, with which the UK is competing for the private investment needed to pay for a lot of this stuff – though there is also £7.3bn in the Treasury’s new National Wealth fund.

Its remit is also vast and Labour needs “clarity, consistency and direction” of policy to give business the confidence to invest, said Mr Garraway.

The test is whether it can make a profit from energy, as France and Sweden do, and whether and when it will save people money.

The energy transition is hard and sometimes controversial – Labour needs to show people it can also make peoples’ lives better, and fast.

Priority three: Upgrading Britain’s homes and cutting fuel poverty

Labour has pledged £6.6bn over the next parliament – double the existing planned investment – to upgrade five million homes with things like insulation and solar panels that reduce energy demand and bills.

Changes are much needed because Britain’s housing stock is old, draughty and mouldy.

The challenge

But the cash in its Warm Homes Plan is less than the initial £6bn a year promised to insulate 19 million homes over a decade.

Insulation is not sexy and a tough one to crack. If Labour can, it will lower bills for those in fuel poverty by keeping homes warm in winter and cool in summer.

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Priority four: Standing up for consumers by reforming the energy system

This promise is all about tweaking the way we pay for our energy.

It could allow people to sell energy back to the grid from their EVs, batteries or solar panels, or to benefit from very cheap energy when it’s stormy, for example.

The reforms will also look at reducing standing charges on bills – a cost charged by your gas or electricity supplier per day, whether you use energy or not.

These of course all sound very appealing – who doesn’t want lower bills? And Labour has been savvy in linking solutions to the cost of living crisis with changes it needs to make to our energy system.

The challenge

The problem is the electricity market is extremely complicated, so very hard to pick apart and rebuild in a way that helps, not disrupts, consumers.

Priority five: Creating jobs

Job loss is one of the key arguments the energy industry makes against Labour’s plans to end new fossil fuel projects in the North Sea.

Up to 200,000 jobs could go – though as the basin is declining, many have a shelf life anyway.

Bringing people along with you and avoiding the mistakes of the coal mine closures will be crucial to retaining support for green transition – just look at the farmer protests in New Zealand.

The challenge

There is a “large group of the electorate who feel left behind” said Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of Energy UK, during a briefing hosted by Carbon Brief.

Potential benefits of the green transition, such as new jobs or industries in your area, must be “as local and visible as possible”, she said.

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The price of going green? Unions say it’s workers’ jobs

Priority six: Leading on international climate action

Ed Miliband wants to restore the UK’s position as a global leader on climate action – and he started work while still in opposition, courting other countries during the last year’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

“From an international standpoint, the number one thing that needs to be done by the UK on this agenda is to deliver at home,” said Camilla Born, former UK climate diplomat and deputy director of strategy for COP26.

You can’t ask other countries to step up if you aren’t doing the same – and this matters because climate change does not stay within borders.

And while the UK has slashed its emissions faster than any other rich country, and its emissions are only 1% of global emissions – it is still a top 20 emitter globally, and the fifth largest when you take historical emissions into account.

Mr Miliband knows this, saying the leadership will be “based on our domestic achievements”.

The challenge

Although Labour has acted quickly on onshore wind and pledged to end new North Sea licences, it may have to come up with fresh policies in the autumn if it wants to impress at the next UN COP summit in November.


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