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Will the UK be a climate leader on 5 July?

Green Policy
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)
Public Affairs

Climate change and the environment rank as the fifth most important issue to voters in this General Election, following cost of living, health, the economy and immigration, according to a YouGov poll. So, while headlines are dominated by tax, public services and immigration, for many voters, green policies will still be a key consideration.

Before the election campaign kicked off there was concern that momentum behind the UK’s net zero ambition was easing up - both Conservatives and Labour previously rowed back on green investment pledges. So how is the commitment to net zero holding up now? After this election, will the UK regain its place as a climate leader on the world stage?

The commitment to net zero by 2050 is still alive in the Labour and Conservative manifestos, with Labour presenting some ‘ambitious’ policies. The Liberal Democrats want to go further and cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045, the Greens by 2040, and at the other end of the spectrum Reform want to ditch the net zero ambition all together.

It is of course Labour’s manifesto that is most likely to become a reality. They want to make Britain a ‘clean energy superpower’, seeking to achieve a zero-carbon energy system by 2030, an ambitious target to say the least.  Central to this will be boosting home-grown energy production, through the creation of a new publicly owned company, Great British Energy.

Great British Energy is their flagship energy transition initiative and will be capitalised with £8.3 billion, over the next parliament. Head quartered in Scotland; it will make the country ‘the powerhouse of our clean energy mission.’

To supply enough clean energy, Labour wants to double onshore wind, triple solar power, and quadruple offshore wind by 2030. They will invest in carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and marine energy. Labour is also committed to nuclear, planning to extend the lifetime of existing plants, and getting Hinkley Point C over the line. The Conservatives’ more ‘pragmatic’ pathway to net zero, includes boosting offshore wind capacity and nuclear.

To support investment in their plan, Labour plan to close the loopholes in the windfall tax on oil and gas companies and boost the rate from 35% to 38%. Labour also said they would not issue any new oil and gas licences to extract from the North Sea, but unlike the Lib Dems or Greens, Labour would not revoke any existing offshore oil and gas licences. Meanwhile, the Conservatives ‘will legislate to ensure annual licensing rounds for oil and gas production from our own North Sea’. They criticise Labour’s plan to shut down the North Sea, saying it would put ‘200,000 jobs and billions of pounds of tax receipts at risk, as well as leave ‘the UK more dependent on foreign powers and mean higher emissions from imported liquefied gas.’

Beyond boosting green energy, Labour would invest an extra £6.6bn in home energy efficiency improvements and  move the ban on new petrol and diesel car and van sales back to 2030 (a Conservative net zero row-back that was met with widespread criticism). Labour is also committed to reducing waste by moving to a circular economy, but details of how this will be achieved are unclear.

Labour also plans to create nine new National River Walks, one in each region of England, and establish three new National Forests in England. Labour will also expand nature-rich habitats such as wetlands, peat bogs and forests.

Overall, Labour anticipates their investment in the green economy will generate 650,000 new high-quality jobs.

It is Labour’s ambitious energy transition plan that might really move the dial. If delivered, it does have the potential to elevate the UK to a leading green economy, but it has been described as aspirational, rather than realistic. Assuming they are in power on 5th July, many in the renewable energy industry in particular, will have high expectations and anticipate a step-change in progress to a renewable energy future.