Last week Labour promised to make Britain a clean energy superpower, but they will need to do a lot more if they are to be credible on climate.
Their much-trailed proposals have been backwards and forwards on the details for months.
At first, they promised £28bn a year as soon as they get into government. Then this would be a few years later. If the big spending can’t start until, say 2027, it’s hard to see how they can deliver on a promise of 100% clean electricity by 2030.
£28bn sounds like a lot but the UK Government spends £1tn a year and the Stern Report, commissioned by Tony Blair and published by Gordon Brown in 2006, said we should be spending 1% of GDP to head off climate change or we’d be paying 20% of GDP to deal with the consequences in the future. A couple of years later Nick Stern recalculated the required spend as 2% of GDP. For the UK that’s £44bn. The UK Government’s advisors on climate change say this should be £50bn a year by 2030.
And you have to remember Labour’s obsession with new nuclear, in the face of all logic. The final cost of the Hinkley C nuclear station is now estimated to be £33bn when it opens in 2027, a decade late and at nearly twice the original cost. Suddenly £28bn doesn’t sound like that much at all.
Another part of their pledge is to end new licences for oil and gas exploration and production. This sounded great but it spooked the unions so Labour had to row back. Now they say they would not revoke any of the 100 proposals likely to be approved by the current government. Ed Miliband went on television to say that of course they couldn’t stop existing licences because they would be sued by the oil companies. Sorry, we can’t afford to stop climate emissions.
There is already enough production planned from the UK oil and gas industry to well and truly blow the budget for keeping the world below the crucial 1.5ºC temperature rise threshold. The 100 new proposals, including the massive and massively unpopular Rosebank proposal from the Norwegian stated-owned energy company Equinor. Miliband did manage to say that the Labour party was solidly against the Rosebank development. So presumably it’s ok to be sued over just one oil field.
The oil industry know the end is coming and these 100 proposals are their last roll of the dice, there won’t be any more new fields after these. So Labour are promising to stop fictional new proposals that even the Tories would not have approved, while happily allowing enough new fossil fuel production to fry us all. All of which was confirmed when Starmer parroted the standard oil industry line that fossil fuels would be with us for decades to come, something it says twice in consecutive paragraphs in their policy paper. In which case we’re stuffed.
I’m really hoping for a rapid collapse of the current UK Government and a snap election so Labour have to either stop all those 100 new developments before they are approved or show they were never serious about climate change.
A version of this article appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 28th June 2023.