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The Conservatives have chosen culture wars over climate consensus

The government has doubled down on fossil fuels, but Labour is committed to clean, renewable energy.

By Kerry McCarthy

The coming general election, whenever it is called, will be the most crucial yet when it comes to climate change. The time to act is running out. The choice is between Conservative climate delayers and deniers and a Labour government which can deliver the biggest investment in home-grown clean energy in British history. Labour’s aim is to cut energy bills for good and make our country energy-secure, all while supporting good jobs, restoring nature and making sure Britain becomes a climate leader at home and abroad.

Fourteen years of failed energy policy from the Tories, set against a backdrop of low growth, high taxes and crumbling public services, has left us beholden to dictators like Vladimir Putin for our energy needs, and exposed us to sky-high bills. It is shocking but unsurprising that at the start of this year 3.1 million households found themselves in fuel poverty.

Labour has been clear that tackling the climate crisis is the best route to tackling the energy bills crisis, because it is our reliance on fossil fuels that is driving both. This means, as one of Keir Starmer’s five missions, we are committed to clean power by 2030, which would make the UK the first major economy in the world to decarbonise its energy grid.

Our green prosperity plan promises green growth, energy independence, enhanced biodiversity, average savings of up to £300 on annual household energy bills, and over 650,000 new jobs in our industrial heartlands and coastal communities. It will include a warm home plan to upgrade cold, draughty homes and cut energy bills; a National Wealth Fund to invest in British industries such as electric vehicle production, ports, clean steel, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage; and a plan to rewire Britain, unlocking billions of private investment by reforming the planning system and the grid, accelerating stalled energy projects and expediting grid connections for industry.

We already have publicly-owned energy in the UK – it’s just not owned by the UK. According to the Common Wealth think tank, 44 per cent of our offshore wind assets are owned by state-led companies, from countries such as Denmark and Norway. Labour plans to switch on Great British Energy, a publicly-owned energy company that will invest in clean homegrown power, capitalised with £8.3bn. With our local power plan we will support community-owned and community-led energy projects: a place-based approach that puts real power back in the hands of local people.

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These plans will be part-funded by a proper windfall tax on oil and gas giants, many of whom are currently earning record profits. With Labour, economic prosperity will also mean prosperity for the environment as we improve the well-being of people and the planet. Our green prosperity plan embodies this idea, integrating economic growth with environmental sustainability, an industrial strategy with social equity.

I’ve been incredibly disappointed by the Conservatives’ decision to opt for culture wars over climate consensus. Cross-party collaboration is crucial, as the Conservatives’ net zero tsar Chris Skidmore noted when he resigned as an MP in January: “We should be taking the long-term decisions for the future of our country that protect our citizens, our economy and our planet, not playing short-term politics with legislation that achieves so little but does so much to destroy the reputation of the UK as a climate leader,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

Yet as we see a global commitment at Cop28 to “transition away from fossil fuels”, the UK government has doubled down, committing instead to drilling every last drop of oil in the North Sea, watering down climate targets and blocking the roll-out of home-grown solar and onshore wind projects: the cheapest, cleanest forms of new energy. What message does this send to countries looking to the UK for leadership? This government has consistently talked down Britain in an effort to minimise or absolve our responsibility on the world stage. It’s time to change that. We want to make London the green finance capital of the world and Britain a clean energy superpower, and to work with the most vulnerable and the most ambitious nations to pressure the most polluting countries to act.

This is the message Labour has been sending to communities, to businesses and to other nations around the world – Labour is ready to work with you to support you on your journey to net zero. This is the thinking behind our ambition to establish a Clean Power Alliance: a global alliance of countries at the forefront of climate ambition.

Any discussion on net zero is incomplete without mentioning the natural environment. My colleagues in the shadow environment, food and rural affairs team have been setting out Labour’s plans to protect and enhance nature for future generations: whether that involves clearing up after the government’s sewage scandal, or targeting a zero-waste economy by 2050 that will end the scourge of plastic pollution and the depletion of our precious natural resources. Together we are looking at nature-based solutions to climate change. Our peatlands, wetlands and woodlands are crucial carbon sinks, but also part of helping us combat domestic climate consequences such as flooding and food insecurity, and providing essential habitats for flora and fauna.

I’ve been an MP for 19 years now but have never been so excited by an opportunity such as the one we have before us to put climate and nature at the heart of government. Never have I been so enthused by the potential social, economic and climate benefits that this scale of green investment in clean energy could deliver. The world is at a critical juncture and the time for complacency has long passed. Labour is ready to deliver change, and it’s time we got the chance to do it.

This article first appeared in a Spotlight print report on Sustainability, published on 10 May 2024. Read it in full here.

[Read more: Chris Skidmore – The Conservatives no longer conserve]

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