“What’s in a name?”, Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. Names may help to distinguish things or people, but actually have no intrinsic meaning at all.
A whole host of snappy slogans were floated before the government’s incoherent jumble of climate-related announcements yesterday – and it didn’t live up to any of them.
It was most certainly not “Green Day”, as was touted earlier in March. The greenest thing about this plan is the recycling of previously announced policies and commitments – there was no new spending on green initiatives announced. A liveable future of abundant and affordable energy, clean air and water, and a thriving natural world for our children and grandchildren apparently isn’t worth spending money on.
It wasn’t “Energy Security Day” either. The cheapest form of energy is the energy we don’t use, and the greatest energy security is in energy efficiency. So where was the street-by-street, local-authority led mass home insulation programme? All the government could deliver was an addendum to an already existing scheme.
Instead it has thrown its weight behind the gamble of unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS). Some CCS may be needed for carbon-intensive industries such as cement, but to use it as a justification to continue with “business-as-usual” fossil fuel drilling would be unforgivable. Even more volatile fossil fuel prices won’t cut people’s energy bills, and they won’t deliver energy security.
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The government is also ploughing ahead with costly and expensive white elephants under the guise of “Great British Nuclear” – promoting small modular reactors which likely won’t be deployable in significant numbers until after 2035, by which time it will evidently be too late for them to help us reach the government’s own power sector decarbonisation target of 2035. They certainly won’t provide any kind of energy security that we need in the next twelve months, let alone the next twelve years.
A day for “Powering Up Britain”, perhaps? Grant Shapps, the Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, had the chance to announce a huge boost of abundant and affordable renewables, and he flunked it.
Onshore wind remains well and truly blocked. A consultation is barely an improvement on the current status quo of a de facto ban, and does nowhere near enough to expand onshore wind power at the speed and scale required. And Shapps refused to make solar panels mandatory on all suitable new homes. He turned down a win-win policy: lowering carbon emissions, improving energy security, creating thousands of good quality jobs, and all coming at no cost to the taxpayer.
I have an alternative name for yesterday: climate crime day. Because the government has just moved one step closer to approving the licensing of Rosebank, the biggest undeveloped oil and gas field in the North Sea. Burning Rosebank’s oil and gas would create more CO2 pollution than the combined emissions of 28 low-income countries, home to more than 700 million people.
Ninety per cent of Rosebank’s reserves are in oil, and they are likely to be exported to Europe and beyond. Any oil sold back to the UK would be at the market price, so the project will have no impact on household energy bills despite receiving a host of subsidies. By licensing this field to the Norwegian fossil fuel giant Equinor, ministers will gift a tax break straight from the public purse, worth £3.75bn, to a company that just last month announced its record 2022 global profits of £62bn. That’s because of an egregious loophole in the windfall tax, meaning that for every £100 they invest in yet more climate-wrecking oil and gas infrastructure, fossil fuel companies will be able to claim £91.40 back from the Treasury.
Jeremy Hunt argued against green subsidies when he wrote in the Times this week that “the long-term solution is not subsidy but security”. Yet the Chancellor fails to notice that his own government is currently forking out as much as £12bn a year in subsidies to fossil fuel giants. The hypocrisy is staggering.
Just a week ago the IPCC issued what some have called their “final warning” on the climate emergency. António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has called for a “quantum leap in ambition”. The stakes could not be higher, and the opportunities could not be greater. Yet while the rest of the world is racing round the track, this statement shows this government is still tying up its shoelaces in the locker room.