Forget the deficit. The government has forgotten the biggest crisis of all

Far from doing its most to combat climate change, the Conservative government is part of the problem.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

For the vast majority of people in this country the reality of climate change is not in doubt. What is in doubt, however, is whether this government is genuinely committed to tackling it.

Since the general election, the Conservative government has scrapped or watered down some of the most important environmental policies needed to protect people, tackle climate change and give our renewables industry a fighting chance of success.

In less than six months they’ve scrapped the programme to help people insulate cold homes; removed support for onshore wind farms – currently the cheapest low carbon technology available; announced the sell-off of the Green Investment Bank, needed to drive low carbon investment; cancelled a decade long commitment to zero carbon homes; and watered down vehicle carbon emissions standards – meaning some of the most polluting cars are now taxed the same as the greenest.

But despite this depressing series of U-turns, it is their latest attack which has really brought home the size of the axe that David Cameron, George Osborne and co. are taking to green projects, and the people whose livelihoods those projects support.

Following the government’s recent proposals for an 87% cut to support for solar projects – we’ve 1,000 jobs axed after four solar power companies folded in this month alone. Yet there is more to come as we’re told hundreds more jobs will be lost in the coming months if the government’s proposed slashing of clean energy subsidies come into effect in the New Year.

The cuts have been criticised by, among others, Al Gore, the CBI and the TUC whilst the solar companies themselves have said the government is “actively destroying UK renewables.”

To add insult to injury the Ggovernment is, at the same time, determined to write an enormous cheque to Chinese and French state-backed businesses to provide subsidised nuclear energy at twice the cost or current wholesale energy prices. Once again home-grown, small and medium sized businesses are being sacrificed to this Government’s unyielding loyalty to vested interest. And yet throughout the recession and recent years of almost zero growth, it was the domestic green economy that remained Britain's success story.

Steadily, growing at 4.8 per cent per year, it contributed to a third of all Britain's growth in 2012. There were as many as one million people employed in the low carbon goods and services sector, worth in the region of £128 billion. At the same time the cost of renewable energy plummeted.

Billions worth of investment into the UK was up for grabs as companies like Siemens and Alstom talked about creating new manufacturing hubs in Hull, Bristol and elsewhere. But following this summer's wrecking ball of environment policies, much of this potential investment is now being redirected to our competitors as companies invest in countries whose governments have genuinely committed to growing the role of clean energy.

Now, for the first time ever, Britain has dropped from Ernst and Young's list of the 10 most attractive renewable energy markets after what the consultancy calls “death by 1000 cuts.”

That’s why Labour won’t not stand by and let the Conservatives put people's jobs and the environment at risk. The sheer callousness of their approach was recently revealed when Energy Minster Andrea Leadsom admitted she didn’t even know how many jobs there are in solar, never mind how many they are putting at risk.

There are too many projects which are just a few years away from being self-sufficient and Labour will do everything it can to ensure a life line is thrown to the solar industry. T

hat’s because we understand that the green economy is a central pillar of our future prosperity, delivering new, high-tech, well paid skilled jobs that also protect our planet and our children’s future. Our wind and wave battered island has the best renewable energy resource in Europe. If we used just a third of our offshore wind, wave and tidal energy it could create around 145,000 jobs making Britain a net exporter- not importer - of electricity. It would also ensure our nation’s energy-security and help re-invent our manufacturing industries.

Yes, climate change is a crisis – but rather than let it go to waste as this Government is, Labour will turn it to our country’s advantage.

 

Clive Lewis is the MP for Norwich South and an Opposition frontbencher. 

This article appears in the 05 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The end of Europe - test