Government attacks on UK climate policy: get the facts

Ditching climate pledges for more oil and gas as the world burns would be political and economic folly.


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As the European heatwave continues, wildfires have forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes and cost dozens of lives. This follows a month where global temperature records were broken three times, as well as the hottest ever week on record.

It’s clear that all political parties must start ramping up efforts to tackle the climate chaos taking place right now. However, emboldened by a by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which saw the Conservative Party lose a large majority but narrowly cling on by 495 votes – referring to the ULEZ expansion as the reason for the result – the government has launched a cynical attack on the UK’s climate policy ambition.

It has doubled down on its commitment to new oil and gas, explicitly attempted to appeal to pro-motorist voters, and called into question a number of existing policies that would help get the UK on track to delivering net zero fairly. This is a deliberate attempt to polarise the climate debate in the UK and score cheap political points, ultimately at the expense of British bill-payers and tax-payers.

Reannouncing its commitment to hundreds of new oil and gas licences under the guise of ‘energy security’ is a prime example. Fossil fuels aren’t nationalised in the UK, so any newly extracted oil and gas belongs to the company doing the extracting, and will be sold to the highest bidder on international markets. It also takes, on average, 28 years to get to the point of extracting new fossil fuels.

So despite the government’s claims, this licensing round will not make the UK more energy secure or lower bills – but it will make oil and gas giants a lot more money.

If the government were actually serious about energy security they would launch an emergency home insulation programme, and accelerate the roll-out of renewables, grid upgrades and electric vehicle charging infrastructure delivery. The fact that they have done none of these things makes claims about ‘energy security’ ring hollow.

As for the government’s new investment plans in carbon capture and storage (CCS) – it’s worth noting that carbon capture is not zero carbon; is unlikely to see dramatic cost reductions or be scalable; and is often used for greenwashing by oil and gas companies so they can carry on polluting. The link between announcements for taxpayer money for CCS and further oil and gas extraction suggests that Rishi Sunak has swallowed the industry’s spin hook line and sinker.

This briefing explains why any decisions to water down critical net zero commitments would be a costly mistake for the planet, economy and Conservative Party ahead of the next general election.

Political cost of inaction

The majority of the public are concerned about the climate crisis and want politicians to take bold action. Therefore, Rishi Sunak’s attempts to water down ambition are at odds with what most people want. Indeed, Labour overturned a huge Conservative majority to take Selby and Ainsty in the recent by-election, standing on a platform of commitments to zero carbon power by 2030, a promise of significant climate investment, and a commitment to no new oil and gas.

The heads of the UK’s major environmental charities, representing over 20 million supporters, wrote to the Prime Minister last week urging him to maintain ambition on climate action and listen to globally agreed science on the future of oil and gas – which Sunak has ignored.

Recent polling on climate concerns show:

What about the popularity of specific policies?

Net Zero

ULEZ expansion:

2030 phase out of petrol and diesel cars:

Energy efficiency

Renewable energy

  • Renewable energy, which is significantly cheaper than gas, is consistently the most popular energy source in the UK, with government statistics showing how 85% of people support it.
  • And while the government continues to effectively ban renewables from being built on land in England, the same government report shows how more than three quarters of people would be either happy or wouldn’t mind wind or solar farms being built in their local area.

Cutting the ‘green crap’ – a costly mistake for bill-payers and the UK economy

David Cameron’s decision to get rid of energy-efficiency subsidies, effectively ban onshore wind in England and scrap the zero-carbon homes standard – or ‘cut the green crap’, as he put it – has added £2.5 billion to household energy bills, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine cause gas prices to rocket. It would be a sign of national idiocy to make the same mistake again, and although the context is different a decade later, polarising voters around measures to address climate change will add up to making the same kind of blunder.

Net Zero will deliver jobs, and economic growth

Losing the green tech race

Scrapping green policies and climate commitments at a time when the US, EU and China are spending hundreds of billions on transitioning to green economies in order to attract global investment would be hugely damaging to the UK economy.

Car manufacturers have warned that mixed signals over commitments like the 2030 end date for new conventional internal combustion engine vehicles  was sending the “wrong message” when the UK was trying to attract international battery investment. The group of companies building out the electric vehicle charging network has warned that £6bn of investment into the UK is at risk if the government doesn’t stick to its commitment.

There are numerous warnings about the movement of investment from the UK to the USA and the EU owing to the lack of response to the investment support on offer in those 2 regions. VW, van manufacturer Arrival, and battery producer AMTE have all said they are moving plants and investment to the US from the UK (or EU) because of the better support on offer. Whilst the subsidies in place from the US Inflation Reduction Act have been in place for a year, we will need to wait until the Autumn Statement for a UK response.

While the government has stated the 2030 phase out date is “immovable”, question marks over whether hybrids will be given further exemptions could see petrol and diesel cars being sold well beyond this date. The failure to announce a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate for manufacturers puts the target in further jeopardy. All of this makes the UK a less attractive place for international investment and increases the risk of the UK being left behind in the new automotive industry.

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