I can understand why many people around the world will be scratching their heads at Rishi Sunak’s screeching U-turn over his attendance at COP27. In one year, we have gone from Boris Johnson, as PM, putting out the welcome mat at COP26, to a country that is handing out new gas/oil licences and refusing to join the rest of Europe in urging the public to use less energy. While EU countries bring forward their medium-term targets for reducing reliance on fossil fuels, the UK government is not only off track for meeting its targets but is actively doing what it can to inject new life into the oil/gas sector.
The first thing to understand is that the Conservative Party is split over the issue of climate change and a large group of MPs added to the internal pressure on the Prime Minister to attend COP27 and to allow King Charles to go. These MPs were side-lined during the Truss government and that came to a head with a vote over a ban on fracking, which was actually a manifesto commitment in the Conservative’s landslide victory of 2019. Truss made the green light for fracking a vote of confidence in herself as Prime Minister but realised that large numbers would still abstain and openly split the party. She appeared to back pedal, resulting in chaotic and bullying scenes in Parliament. This was the final straw for many, and she resigned.
The Truss government was clearly in the pockets of the oil/gas industry. It resisted a further windfall tax on oil/gas company excess profits, while initiating an Energy Prices Bill which allows Ministers to put a 100% tax on the excess profits made by established renewables. It handed out licences for oil/gas exploration in the North Sea, while wanting a ban on solar farms on agricultural land. It is no coincidence that the Conservative Party has received £1.5m in donations from the oil/gas sector since 2019 and senior members of both the Truss and Johnson Cabinet benefited from gas/oil donations to their election campaigns and “second job” incomes.
We live in a world that is rapidly accelerating towards economies powered by renewables. 2021 saw a 20% jump in the amount of solar installed and it looks as though that jumped by another 50% last year. The EU wants to have 45% of its energy from renewables by 2030 and in the USA the Inflation Reduction Act aims to make green energy the default in many industries like electricity production, industry and transport. All this should provide some optimism. By contrast, campaigners won a court case showing that the UK government’s “pie in the sky plans” for a net zero strategy doesn’t meet their legally binding carbon budgets for reducing emissions.
The solutions are all obvious and the technology easily available, but we will have to fix the political system to ensure they happen.
The reason why an advanced economy like the UK is still building houses and new developments without solar panels, without the best energy conservation standards available, and without charging points or heat pumps, is because property tycoons account for around a fifth of donations to the Conservative Party.
The reason that people buying new homes are energy bill payers, rather than net contributors to the grid, is because developers paid a toll of £891,000 to the Conservative Party in just the first quarter of 2021 alone.
The reason we are struggling to get a common sense measure like charging points for electric vehicles as standard on new buildings is because developers don’t like it and they pay good money to ensure the Conservative Party listens to them more than it listens to climate scientists.
The UK Parliament should be spending time implementing a green new deal with investment in those industries that will reduce medium to long term energy costs and address the cost of living crisis. Instead, we are again debating draconian legislation that clamp downs on the right to protest, especially those who are warning about the climate emergency and demanding action.