Five Policiesthat Jacob Rees-Mogg Should Adopt Now on Climate Change
Stuart Spray runs through some of the immediate actions that could be taken by the Government to address global warming and fix our energy system
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In her first speech as Prime Minister outside 10 Downing Street, Liz Truss talked about the economy, the energy crisis and the NHS, failing to include climate change as one of her priorities.
Her announcement in Parliament a few days later to lift the moratorium on fracking and ramp-up exploration for gas in the North Sea showed a lack of vision and contradicted her promise during the leadership contest to “double down” on the Conservative manifesto pledge to reach net zero emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050.
As if to clarify her lack of understanding of the seriousness of the climate emergency, later that day, Truss appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man with a record of climate change denial, as the head of the department responsible for energy and climate change – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
In response to the appointment Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “[oh my God] she’s only gone and done it. Liz Truss has put fossil fuel loving, deregulation-obsessed Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of both energy and climate crises – he is not a serious person and this is not a serious Government”.
Greenpeace UK likewise tweeted: “This will either be a massive own goal for Truss’ efforts to tackle the cost of living crisis, or Rees-Mogg will have to do the steepest learning curve to get a grip with the issues facing our country.”
To assist Rees-Mogg with his research, here are five ideas that he could implement right now to help tackle climate change and the energy crisis.
Launch a National Home Insulation Programme
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – the independent, statutory body established to advise the Government on building a low-carbon economy – estimates that there are 29 million existing homes in the UK are “unfit for the challenges of climate change”.
Earlier this year, despite the Conservative manifesto having pledged to spend more than £9 billion on insulating and retrofitting homes and buildings to high environmental standards, the CCC reported a “shocking gap” in Government efforts to ensure homes are better insulated.
It is widely reported that up to 50% of heat escapes through the roof, walls, windows and floors. But, according to the Energy Savings Trust, if properly insulated, more than £400 could be knocked off the average household’s gas bill with carbon emissions cut in half.
Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, told Byline Times: “If the aim is to bring down bills quickly to make a difference this winter, then the Government really needs to make energy efficiency its focus. There are almost 5 million homes in England and Wales without even the most basic insulation. A free, street-by-street insulation programme targeted first at those most in need will not only help to keep homes warm and reduce bills but will cut carbon emissions at the same time.”
Refuse Planning Permission for the New Cumbrian Coal Mine
The Government will decide in just a few weeks whether or not to approve a planning application to open the UK’s largest underground coal mine for 30 years.
Planning consent, originally granted by Cumbria County Council in October 2020, was ‘called in’ by the Government following pressure from the CCC and local environmental groups – predicting that carbon emissions from burning coal produced at the new mine would derail any chances of the UK meeting its net zero carbon emissions target by 2050.
If the planning application is successful, West Cumbria Mining plans to extract 2.78 million tonnes of coal annually for the UK and European steel industries.
Rejecting the application would stop an estimated 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being pumped in the atmosphere every year for the next 30 years.
Scrap Subsidies to Drax Power Station
Drax, an ex-coal fired power station, was converted in the mid-2000s to burn wood biofuel and currently receives £789.5 million a-year in renewable energy subsidies.
The Government classifies burning wood biofuel as a ‘carbon-neutral’ source of renewable energy. However, in 2021, the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) stated that woody biomass for power “is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change”.
According to Biofuel Watch, 800,000 trees, approximately 35,000 tonnes, cut from forests in south-east America are delivered to the site near Selby in north Yorkshire every day.
The CO2 stored in the trees is immediately released back into the atmosphere when incinerated, but it takes several decades for newly-planted trees to recapture enough carbon dioxide for the process to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Drax is today producing more climate changing carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than it did when it was coal-fired.
When the existing subsidies run out in 2027, BEIS is proposing to pay Drax to capture its carbon emissions and store them under the North Sea. Although the exact figures have not been released, Ember – an independent energy think tank – has calculated that between 2027 and 2052 the Government will pay Drax up to £44.3 billion in new subsidies. This is despite not yet knowing if the technology, known as bioenergy with carbon capture, use and storage (BECCS), will even work.
Sally Clark from Biofuelwatch told Byline Times: “Drax is already receiving £2.68 million every day from our energy bills to burn trees and it is shocking that the Government is proposing to give Drax even more subsidies to keep on burning trees for years to come, all on the promise of unproven carbon capture technology.”
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Offer Heat Pumps for all Houses in the UK
When combined with insulation, heat pumps are recognised by BEIS as one of the key low-carbon technologies for decarbonising UK homes.
At a cost of about £10,000, heat pumps work by moving thermal energy from the outside to the inside of a building using a refrigeration cycle. Some are also able to cool a building by removing heat from the inside and releasing it outside.
The Government’s new Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which opened in spring 2022, offers grants of £5,000 for air source heat pumps and £6,000 for pumps where heat is sourced from the ground. Homeowners will be expected to stump the remaining costs. With a total budget of just £450 million, only 90,000 heat pumps are expected to be fitted over the scheme’s three-year life.
With the CCC estimating that 29 million existing homes require upgrading to low carbon heating systems to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the scheme clearly needs to be scaled-up to enable millions, rather than thousands, of heat pumps to be installed over the next 10 to 15 years.
Stop the Fracking Fiasco
The Government’s decision to lift the moratorium of fracking is at odds with remarks made by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, who wrote in the Mail on Sunday just seven months ago when he was in Rees-Mogg’s role: “Even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside”.
“No amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon,” he concluded.
Truss also appears to have overlooked why the Government imposed the fracking moratorium in the first place. Fracking involves drilling and directing a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals at the rock to release the shale gas inside.
In August 2019 a tremor measuring 2.9 in magnitude was triggered by an active fracking site near Blackpool, causing local houses to shake. A few months later the decision was made to ban fracking in England based on a report by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) which found that it was not possible to “accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations”.
The Prime Minister’s U-turn on fracking also doesn’t appear to have taken into consideration carbon dioxide and methane, both greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, emitted during the extraction process – and the production of electricity from shale gas.
“Shale gas is not the solution to the UK’s energy challenges,” Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said. “We need a 21st Century energy revolution based on efficiency and renewables, not more fossil fuels that will add to climate change.”