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Wake me up when Green Day ends

Green Day
By Imogen Shaw
04 April 2023
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)
Public Affairs

The verdict from NGOs and green business: More ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ than ‘Macy’s Day Parade’

Last year, Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project took the government to the High Court over its net zero strategy. The court ruled there weren’t enough policies in place to cut greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to adhere to legally required carbon budgets, and ordered that the government revise its proposals within nine months (from July 2022).

Today, the government has unveiled its plans to boost the green economy and deliver a green transition. ‘Green Day’ (or ‘Energy Security Day’), as it has been billed, is being pitched by the government as both an answer to the High Court ruling and a roadmap for the next steps of their green agenda.

Energy Secretary Grant Shapps has sought to underline that, “Following our unprecedented cost of living support this Winter, which continues, this plan now sets out how we fix this problem in the long term to deliver wholesale UK electricity prices that rank amongst the cheapest in Europe, as we export our green growth expertise to the world.”

Green groups, environmentalists and business leaders had hoped the plans announced today would both address this and provide a response to the US Inflation Reduction Act to kickstart the UK’s green industrial revolution. However, the response from both industry and green groups has generally ranged from muted to sceptical of the government’s revised plans.

Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband has been harshly critical of the government’s Powering Up Britain energy security plan, stating that the most notable thing about the strategy was its “glaring omissions”.

Miliband said: “No removal of the onshore wind ban which is costing families hundreds of pounds on bills, no new investment for energy efficiency which could cut bills and imports, no response to the Inflation Reduction Act which could help Britain win the global race for clean energy jobs… What was billed with huge hype as the government’s green day turns out to be a weak and feeble groundhog day of reannouncements, reheated policy and no new investment.”

The immediate reaction from the green NGO sector was also ominous. Responding to today’s announcements, Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said that “Friends of the Earth successfully took legal action against the government’s previous net zero strategy because it failed to show how legally binding climate targets would be met… With these policies looking dangerously lacklustre and lacking on climate action, we will be combing through the detail of the amended strategy and are poised to act if ministers have fallen short once again.”

For some in the heat pump manufacturing industry and the green finance sector, there were bright spots among the criticism – with the publication of the long-awaited Green Finance Strategy, there has been some positive movement on green finance regulations, in particular.

However, the overwhelming feeling amongst commentators is that ‘Green Day’ is a missed opportunity and a triumph of spin over substance. Much of the hundreds of pages of plans published today simply restates or revamps existing policies. Across the response to Chris Skidmore’s Net Zero Review, the Green Finance Strategy, the Energy Security Strategy, the Net Zero Delivery Plan and the raft of consultations published alongside these, a lack of new public finance to support the green transition is a common theme.

The sheer volume of material released today feels tactical – from a media management perspective, it is a shrewd move from the government to share only an embargoed press release before releasing multiple documents at once, leaving journalists to wade through to try and find a story.

However, the government has not escaped criticism on this front either. Climate Change Committee Chief Chris Stark tweeted that “we had hoped to offer a reaction to today’s announcements, but we don’t feel we have sufficient material to do so this morning… But we only received a press release under embargo – and part of the material to be published. The government now adopts this communications strategy regularly… it makes it hard for a statutory organisation like [the CCC], with legal duties, to comment.”