Since the turn of the year surges in global oil and gas prices have plunged the UK into an energy and cost of living crisis, with energy bills rocketing. The war in Ukraine has piled on even more pressure, exposing Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels. This is the biggest moment for the UK’s energy policy in many years.
With their new energy strategy, Boris Johnson and his government had a chance to start breaking our dependency on climate wrecking fossil fuels, tackle rising energy bills and reduce the power of fossil fuel rich dictators. Sadly, they didn’t take it. Here’s what you need to know.
What did the government announce?
- A commitment to new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.
- A push towards new nuclear energy with a pledge to deliver the equivalent to one nuclear reactor a year.
- More ambitious targets and support for offshore wind and solar but still blocking onshore wind.
- The gaping hole in this strategy was a lack of funding to tackle energy efficiency and roll out heat pumps.
- A review into fracking.
More fossil fuels means more war and climate destruction
Fossil fuels are driving the climate crisis, funding war across the world as well as hitting UK households with rocketing bills. This week the IPCC said that it is “moral and economic madness” to fund new fossil fuel projects.
But the Prime Minister has doubled-down on fossil fuels anyway. Supporting more North Sea oil and gas is locking us into more of the same: climate destruction, fossil fuelled wars, and soaring energy bills.
Even worse, history shows that oil and gas from the new North Sea exploration won’t be available for an average of 28 years. And even then, most of the fossil fuels we dig up are sold abroad because we’re not set up to store or process them here.
Nuclear energy is too slow to save us
The government bet heavily on expensive and slow-to-build nuclear, saying that they will deliver the equivalent to one nuclear reactor a year instead of one a decade. But just like with North Sea oil and gas, there’s no way these new plants can be ready in time to solve our problems. Recent nuclear projects like this one in Finland have seen ever-rising costs and huge construction delays.
In the UK, the Hinkley Point C reactor has been delayed since 2016 and won’t start generating till 2027 at the earliest. The only other nuclear project, Sizewell C, will only be ready to generate by 2034, if there are no future delays.
On top of the rising costs and delays, there’s still no solution to how we dispose of toxic nuclear waste.
Nuclear Energy is not the solution to our climate crisis, and will make our bills soar.
There’s no plan to stop the UK’s massive energy waste
The first thing the government needed to do was deal with fossil fuel demand but the strategy did little to deal with our energy-wasting homes and there was nothing on reducing energy demand. The UK has the least energy efficient housing in Western Europe which leads to higher gas use as well as higher bills for households. But the UK has almost ground to a halt on insulating homes and commercial buildings, and has the worst heat pump sales record in Europe.
This was the moment to transform household energy efficiency but there was no mention of rolling out a nationwide programme to insulate homes and switch to low carbon heating with heat pumps.
Energy efficiency measures for homes could cut Russian gas imports by 80% this year. Combined with a renewables drive, the UK could eliminate Russia from its gas supply completely in 2022.
Workers need a fair deal
The new strategy was the perfect opportunity to boost the UK economy and launch a green new deal, securing a just transition for workers from oil and gas to renewable energy. The UK’s green economy has not grown since 2014. But there was still little on training for workers looking to transition into renewable energy.
In its North Sea Transition Deal the government promised an integrated skills and people plan to provide training for workers to transition out of fossil fuel jobs by March this year, it hasn’t been delivered.
The government risks stranding thousands of fossil fuel workers in a declining industry with no options, as we saw with coal mining, and plunging whole communities into deprivation.
Renewable energy is cheap, quick to build… and still neglected by the government
One of the biggest misses was the government’s slow progress into quick, clean and cheap renewable energy that doesn’t match the crisis at hand. Investing in renewable energy is an open-goal for the climate and household bills that was waiting to be scored.
There are 649 UK onshore wind and solar projects, which are ready to go and have planning permission. If they all went ahead, they’d save more gas than we currently import from Russia.
But instead they have pledged to review the possibility of restarting fracking, which has 17% of public support compared to 80% for onshore wind and “causes earthquakes, is hated by local communities, would take 5-10 years to kick-start, and won’t even lower the price.”
Ramping up onshore wind and solar so they are well over doubled by 2030 and making sure all the barriers in place are removed, would bring us in line with limiting global warming to 1.5C.
A missed opportunity
The latest IPCC report was clear on how we can get ourselves out of the climate crisis: we need to dramatically cut fossil fuel use, ramp up renewable energy and cut energy waste. But Boris Johnson’s new energy strategy doesn’t do enough on any of these things.
Few of the plans will reduce UK fossil fuel usage in the short term, and the emphasis has shifted to nuclear and to new oil and gas licenses. These won’t deliver for well over a decade, and won’t reduce bills at all.
The urgency of the climate crisis needed an urgent response, sadly the government’s energy security plan didn’t deliver.