Five reasons why MPs should back the 'green jobs' amendment

The amendment would provide the certainty for which the energy industry is calling and keep the UK on track to meet its legally binding carbon targets at the lowest cost.

The government’s Energy Bill receives its third reading in the Commons today. MPs will vote on whether a ‘green jobs’ amendment - proposed by Conservative select committee chair Tim Yeo and Labour backbencher Barry Gardiner - should be added to the bill. This would introduce a target to cut the carbon intensity of Britain’s power sector by 2030 to 50g CO2 / KWh to keep the UK on track to achieve its legally binding targets at the lowest cost and provide the certainty for which the energy industry is calling.

Here are five facts about the green jobs amendment.

1. The green jobs amendment will save every household £958 to £1,724 under ‘central’ assumptions made by the Committee on Climate Change. This could rise to £3,831 if gas and carbon prices were higher than expected.

The recent CCC report ‘Next steps on Electricity Market Reform’ says:

“These measures [ie the 50g target and related policies] would support investment in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies through the 2020s, which the report indicates would result in cost savings of £25-45 billion, in present value terms under central case assumptions about gas and carbon prices, rising to over £100 billion with high gas and carbon prices.” (p.9)

Since there were 26.4m households in the UK in 2011 according to the Census, this means that each household would save £958 to £1,724. With high gas and carbon prices this could rise to £3,831.

2. The green jobs amendment will provide certainty for the renewable energy sector resulting in an increase in offshore wind capacity by 2030 from 16GW in DECC’s central scenario to 26GW in the CCC’s central scenario – up 63%.

DECC’s ‘2012 emissions and energy projections’ set out a central scenario for total capacity in every year to 2030 on the basis of carbon intensity falling to 100g CO2 / KWh. A freedom of information request revealed that this included 16 GW of total offshore wind capacity by 2030. CCC’s report (Figure 1.6b) showed that a 50g CO2 / KWh target would deliver 26 GW of offshore wind in three of their four scenarios.

3. The green jobs amendment would result in between 20,000 and 48,000 domestic jobs in the offshore wind industry.

IPPR is currently undertaking a research project examining the supply chain for offshore wind. Our literature review examined 10 scenarios in four different studies by the Carbon Trust, Bain and company, Cambridge Econometrics and the CEBR of the job creating potential of the offshore wind sector. On average, these studies showed that above 20 GW of wind capacity there are around 2,000 jobs per GW as the domestic supply chain expands. The additional 10 GW of capacity would therefore generate at least 20,000 jobs.

In their ambitious renewables scenario, the CCC (Figure 1.6b) predicts that a 50g CO2 / KWh target would deliver 40 GW of offshore wind capacity. This would create 24 GW of additional capacity above DECC’s central scenario of 16 GW, and generate at least 48,000 new jobs.

4. The amendment has overwhelming support from business, charities and trade associations.

Over 50 companies, charities and trade associations including Cisco, the Church of Scotland, the National Farmers Union and the TUC have reissued their call for MPs to back the target. The list of organisations that have spoken out in favour of the target numbers well over 100. Meanwhile businessman Lord Alan Sugar wrote in yesterday’s Financial Times that the green jobs amendment “could provide greater stability to the supply chain, cheaper prices for the consumer and much needed jobs to the country.”

5. If they vote against the green jobs amendment, the Lib Dems will be breaking another of their own promises.

At the 2012 Lib Dem conference, Danny Alexander proposed a motion favouring a 2030 decarbonisation target. Alexander kicked off the conference by criticising Tory attacks on green policies in a front-page interview with the Guardian. The vote was passed ‘overwhelmingly’ and a number of Lib Dem MPs posed for photos showing they backed green jobs.

The Lib Dems have already broken promises on VAT and tuition fees this Parliament. Will they let green jobs become a third?

The turbine sails of the Scout Moor Wind Farm in the South Pennines. Photograph: Getty Images.

Will Straw is Director of Britain Stronger In Europe, the cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. 

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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry insiders imply that job creation in the UK could rival that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed only one in seven of the jobs the industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that fracking is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we are only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision as a “fantastic opportunity” for fracking.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.