Sunak’s ‘Green Day’Confirms His Broken Climate Promises
Rishi Sunak’s new list of green announcements merely shows how far the UK has fallen behind other nations on reaching Net Zero, reports Thomas Perrett
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The Government has issued a series of climate and energy announcements in what has been dubbed ‘Green Day’ by Whitehall officials. However, these new pledges fall well short of what is being done by other developed nations.
The announcement follow increased levels of scrutiny of the Government’s Net Zero commitments. Last year, the High Court ordered the Government to explain how its Net Zero Strategy would meet the obligations of the 2008 Climate Change Act following a legal challenge mounted by several environmental NGOs and campaign groups including ClientEarth. MP Chris Skidmore recently published a review of the Government’s decarbonisation policies, arguing that “the UK risks becoming a follower rather than a leader” regarding climate change, and “damaging its national reputation”.
The Government’s announcements were also met with criticism owing to a dearth of new plans to expand renewable technologies and energy efficiency, and the prioritisation of speculative projects including promises to create a ‘Great British Nuclear’ agency. Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband told The Independent that “the idea that the priority is to throw yet more money at oil and gas as the future – £11.5 billion in this windfall tax deduction – doesn’t seem to be the right priority”.
Despite legal challenges which have been brought against the Government for its continued financing of fossil fuels, it has refused to block the development of the Rosebank oil field, owned by the Norwegian gas giant Equinor, which is likely to export 80% of the oil it produces. Indeed, even with the implementation of the Government’s proposals, the country is still on track to miss its sixth carbon budget target.
Britain Sidelined in Race to Net Zero
Meanwhile, the US and EU have announced substantial initiatives to unleash investment into clean energy infrastructure. Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act commits the US to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030, pledging $369 billion on investment for green technology including increased domestic electric vehicle battery production. The EU has announced its own Net Zero Industry Act, pledging 250 billion Euros worth of funding for clean power initiatives in a stimulus package intended to drive a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030.
Britain has, by contrast, failed to develop those areas of the economy where it has a comparative advantage, such as in tidal energy and onshore wind, which according to the Resolution Foundation is “an area where the UK has technological specialisation, and where we have seen that investments in innovation generate relatively high returns in the UK”.
Onshore wind remains effectively prohibited by strict planning laws enforced in 2015; despite Department for Net Zero and Energy Security (DESNZ) secretary Grant Shapps having stated that new projects should be permitted “where communities are in favour of it,” its expansion has been sluggish. Nick Bruce-White, interim director of RSPB England, told The Guardian that “it is unfathomable as to why the Government seems not to be supporting this tried and tested renewable technology to grow our clean energy supply as we look to reach a net zero power grid by 2035”.
According to the Resolution Foundation, the Inflation Reduction Act “should act as a wake-up call that a rebooted economic strategy for the UK needs to include, but also look beyond net zero. Accelerated decarbonisation is the central challenge our economy faces in the decades ahead and will grow industries we must be part of”.
The Government has instead prioritised the development of speculative projects such as Hinkley Point C and the subsidisation of controversial carbon capture and storage technology over a broader, structural shift towards providing a clean power system and escalating the deployment of clean energy infrastructure. Its failure to facilitate a surge in public renewable investment stems in part from coercive fiscal targets which have restricted Government spending; current fiscal rules prohibit public sector borrowing from exceeding 3% of GDP, as the Government aims to stabilise public debt.
Indeed, Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget was criticised by prominent voices within the green economy for its lack of investment initiatives, including Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas, who stated that “just when we needed a solar rooftop revolution, an unblocking and upscaling of renewables, a major street-by-street mass insulation programme, and a commitment to invest in our totally neglected, sewage-filled rivers and seas, we get too slow, too expensive and too dangerous nuclear white elephants”.
The Government’s ‘Green Day’ announcements, which have followed a similar path to the Spring Budget in failing to adequately invest in clean energy, represent an over-reliance on unreliable technological innovations, rather than the strenuous, wide-ranging economic transformation really required.
Don’t miss a story
Facing legal action over poorly substantiated climate policies, and on course to miss its legally binding sixth carbon budget, this new litany of announcement reflect the Government’s desperation.
Now as international pressure to divest from fossil fuels intensifies, led by President Biden, and a stimulus package of similar magnitude announced by the EU, Britain risks being left far behind.