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28 November 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 5:05pm

Ministers are failing us on climate – but it isn’t too late to change

By Bill Esterson

The news that the government is preparing to fudge the numbers on emissions by using past over performance on targets to compensate for poorer years is sadly predictable. Ministers claim to take climate change seriously, yet too often, the evidence suggests otherwise.

Take UK Export Finance. 99.4 per cent of UKEF support for the energy sector over the last five years has been awarded to fossil fuel projects. The government is using taxpayer money to back an oil refinery project in Bahrain and another one in Oman. Meanwhile, Nova Innovation, an award-winning tidal energy company, have found revenue support from the UK government non-existent. The same is true of other renewable energy providers. If we are to truly tackle the climate emergency, we need to ensure it is reflected in our priorities. That can only be done by embracing a strategy which promotes UK exporters who can lead the world in clean technologies and offers support for projects that are climate friendly.

Because we have many success stories in wind, in solar, in carbon capture and storage – as well as our nuclear expertise and the quick development of hydrogen powered vehicles – we should be embracing the export opportunities offered by these sectors. All of which means encouraging the growth of export markets and demonstrating our clear commitment to this technology at home and in our overseas approach. We need to achieve consensus on the response to the climate emergency through international treaties and through our support for projects on the ground. 

There is a decarbonisation dividend which according to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, stands at a staggering $26 trillion of global economic benefits. It is essential that we seize Britain’s share of this and put into place support for clean exporters now, not later. We were world leaders in offshore wind power, an advantage which we squandered and where Denmark now dominates the global stage. We could still be world leaders in tidal energy, thanks to the pioneering work of the likes of Nova Innovation but without government support, we will be overtaken in another renewable energy sector, this time by Japan or Canada. My colleague Alan Whitehead, the Shadow Energy Minister, has spoken about the need to prevent the tidal energy industry being ‘strangled at birth’ by the hostility of the government. We should be powering ahead and reaping the rewards of our successful green energy entrepreneurs in export markets.

It is not too late for a change of heart. We have world leading expertise, but our performance in reducing our carbon footprint is falling under this government. 3 years ago, according to the government’s own data, carbon emissions fell by 6 per cent. The year after it was 3 per cent. In the last year it was just 2 per cent. We have fallen down Ernst and Young’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index and last October, just days after the release of the IPCC report on climate change, the government made the announcement that it was considering financing an oil refinery in Bahrain. Shockingly inept timing. Shockingly bad priorities. 

Decarbonising the economy should be at the heart of our international trade policy and industrial strategy. These policies must be aligned if we are going to move from the 3% fall per year in emissions to the 8% needed to meet the aim of the Paris talks of keeping global warming to under 1.5 degrees and to reach net zero by 2050. This is possible, if ambitious and Labour is leading the way with bold, radical proposals, for example to install solar power in 1.75m socially rented homes, as our Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said last month.

Without our trading partners we cannot deliver on the promise that future generations should be better off than the current one, a promise which has been broken again and again in recent times. Rather, it is an argument for investing in the decarbonisation of travel as a matter of urgency. Electric and hydrogen powered vehicles include the tantalising prospect of new hydrogen trains being built in the Liverpool City Region, near my constituency. 

I have said that we have broken our promise to future generations. A planet made unliveable when we know what we can do to stop it would amount to the ultimate broken promise on that score. Greed and complacency are big obstacles.

The US have made clear we can’t keep our high environmental standards if we agree a deal with them — another hint that the real plan of the extreme Brexiteers is to compete with the EU as a low wage neighbour. It isn’t exactly the sign of a country which really wants to play its part in meeting its international obligations and helping to decarbonise the economy as fast as the science says is necessary. We need to incentivise the development of new energy and clean technologies, especially from locally supplied services — and move away from an international trade system that binds the hands of governments based on the corporate interests of the past. 

The choice for the future in our trade policy is clear — we continue on our current path and support the ongoing failing system, dooming our children to a poorer future where they are unable to enjoy their lives, or we can opt to lead the world in embracing support for world leading renewable technologies and driving a climate revolution, benefiting our exporters and manufacturing workers at the same time. We can radically decarbonise our own economy and the global economy by boosting trade in renewables. It time to invest in the future, not in the past.

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