General Election 2019 – A focus on energy and climate change

As the date of the General Election nears, there is little doubt that the focus is how the results will affect Brexit. However, as shown by polling carried out by YouGov, electoral concern for the environment is at an all-time high. 25% of voters place it as one of their top three issues facing the country today. This is up from 8% before the 2017 general election. A separate poll by Ipsos found 71% of people believe protecting the environment should be a priority, even if it slows economic growth.

This trend has been reflected in the released manifestos. Each party recognises the climate emergency and is dedicating space to energy and the environment.

Conservatives

The Conservative Manifesto

The Conservative party would maintain their current energy tariff cap policy. It also intends to introduce measures to lower energy bills further. In this effect, there would be a £9.2 billion investment in improving the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals. The party would also support the creation of more environmentally friendly homes.

They state that their first Budget would prioritise the environment with investment in decarbonisation schemes, electric vehicle infrastructure and clean energy. They would also consult on the earliest date they believe appropriate to begin phasing out sales of new petrol and diesel cars.

There are aims to increase the capacity of the offshore wind industry from it’s current 8.5GW to 40GW by 2030. They would also help introduce new floating wind farms. Alongside development of renewables, the Conservatives would also support gas for hydrogen production and nuclear energy.

The moratorium on fracking in England would remain in place. This is unless the Conservatives believe there is scientific evidence that the practice can be carried out safely.

Further investment would include a £1 billion fund to develop “affordable and accessible clean energy”. £800 million to build the first fully-deployed carbon capture storage cluster. There would also be £500 million to help energy-intensive industries transition towards low-carbon technologies.

You can read the full manifesto here

Labour

The Labour Manifesto

The Labour party has committed to a ‘Green New Deal’. The aim is to achieve the majority of required emissions reduction by 2030.

Labour would create a Sustainable Investment Board, involving the oversight of the Chancellor, Business Secretary and Bank of England Governor. They would co-ordinate with trade unions and businesses to deliver investment to necessary areas. The Office of Budget Responsibility would be asked to incorporate climate and environmental impacts into its forecasts so as to properly evaluate decisions made.

They would also seek to bring the energy and water systems into public ownership. They believe this would allow the acceleration and co-ordination needed to upgrade networks at the speed and scale needed to transition to a low-carbon economy.

Labour’s plans would see:

  • A new UK National Energy Agency responsible for the national grid infrastructure and the oversight of the country’s decarbonisation targets.
  • Fourteen new Regional Energy Agencies to replace the existing District Network Operators (DNOs) responsible for decarbonising electricity and heat.
  • The supply arms of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies would be brought into public ownership to continue to supply households while helping consumers reduce their energy demands.

As part of Labour’s ‘National Transformation Fund’ £250 billion would be dedicated to investment in renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, biodiversity and environmental restoration.

Labour aims to deliver nearly 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon sources by 2030. To this effect they would build 7,000 new offshore wind turbines, (this equates to around 52GW) 2,000 new onshore turbines, “enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches” (roughly 157km2) and new nuclear power. Labour would also trial and expand on tidal energy and invest in hydrogen production.

The party will aim to upgrade almost all of the UK’s 27 million homes to the highest energy efficiency standards. They state that this would reduce the average household energy bill by £417 per year by 2030. It also aims to tackle fuel poverty. All new homes would be required to meet a zero-carbon homes standard.

The Labour party would introduce a Climate and Environment Emergency Bill to set out new binding standards for decarbonisation and environmental quality. In addition, they would introduce a new Clean Air Act in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for fine particles and nitrous oxides. The party would aim to end new sales of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030.

You can read the full manifesto here

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto

If elected, the Liberal Democrats would immediately implement a ten-year emergency programme designed to cut emissions substantially. They would then phase out emissions from remaining hard-to-treat sectors by 2045 at the latest.

The party has identified that their first priorities upon entering government would be:

  • An emergency programme to insulate all Britain’s homes by 2030, cutting emissions and fuel bills and ending fuel poverty.
  • Investing in renewable power so that at least 80 per cent of UK electricity is generated from renewables by 2030 – and banning fracking for good.
  • Protecting nature and the countryside, tackling biodiversity loss and planting 60 million trees a year to absorb carbon, protect wildlife and improve health.
  • Investing in public transport, electrifying Britain’s railways and ensuring that all new cars are electric by 2030.

Specifically, they would aim to accelerate the deployment of renewable power, providing more funding and removing the current government’s restrictions on solar and wind and building more interconnectors to improve security of supply. The party aims to reach at least 80% renewable electricity in the UK by 2030.

The Liberal Democrats would also seek to cut energy bills and reduce fuel poverty by providing retrofits for low-income homes to improve energy efficiency standards. They would introduce a zero-carbon standard to all new homes and non-domestic buildings by 2021. The party would also increase minimum energy efficiency standards for rented properties.

There would be a focus on investment in carbon capture and storage facilities and support to companies on cutting emissions. The party would also pass a new Clean Air Act, based on WHO guidelines.

You can read the full manifesto here

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Climate Emergencies and Net Zero – what you need to know

Global scientific data supports action

The action follows a highly critical 33 page report publicised in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

The report focused on the impact of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Limiting warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C significantly reduces the climate change risks according to Professor Jim Skea, who co-chairs the IPCC.

What’s alarming is the scale of the challenge ahead of us to ensure we achieve these targets and do not allow the situation to escalate further.

Five steps to achieving the 1.5°C have been announced:

  1. Global emissions of CO2 need to decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030
  2. Renewables are estimated to provide up to 85% of global electricity by 2050
  3. Coal is expected to reduce to close to zero
  4. Up to seven million sq km of land will be needed for energy crops (a bit less than the size of Australia)
  5. Global net zero emissions by 2050.

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement brings together nations towards a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change. It was originally signed by 196 countries back in 2016.

In line with the IPCC report its core aim is to keep the global temperature increase this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In particular, to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.

2019 – a watershed year for climate change?

Together with the impact of Greta Thunberg – the 16 year old Swedish activist – there have been a number of key factors driving the climate change movement this year. At Glastonbury festival in June 2019, 2,000 festival goers joined protestors to stage a procession across the site.

At the United Nations Climate Action Summit in late September you may have missed the news that Russia, the world’s fourth largest polluter will finally join the agreement. This announcement was overshadowed by the stirring “You have stolen my dreams” headlines surrounding Greta Thunberg’s appearance. Hailed as “the voice of the planet” she’s already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite the raised awareness there are real fears that most of the world’s biggest firms are ‘unlikely’ to meet the targets set. Only a fifth of companies remain on track according to fresh analysis by investment data provider Arabesque S-Ray. Of 3,000 listed business only 18% have disclosed their plans.

UK reaction

In reaction to the IPCC report, UN Paris Agreement and other related research findings and movements, the UK public sector is taking positive, proactive steps to mitigate climate change risks.

Councillor Carla Danyer led the charge in Bristol by first declaring a climate emergency and this has sparked a wave of similar responses.

In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass a net zero emissions law. The new target will require the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Net zero means any emissions would be balanced by schemes to offset an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as planting trees or using technology like carbon capture and storage. Other countries setting similar targets include Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and France as well as the US state of California.

Many UK councils, NHS Trusts and universities have publically declared their long term targets. Some aiming for speedier action by declaring net zero 2030 targets. These include Ipswich Borough, Vale of Glamorgan and Telford & Wrekin councils.

Unsurprisingly, Bristol University is one of the leading educational facilities leading the way. To date they’ve cut carbon emissions by 27% and are well on their way to achieving their target to become carbon neutral by 2030. The University of Cambridge, along with others, has set a net zero target of 2038 and has announced it is adopting science-based targets. On one website – climateemergency.uk – 228 councils are listed as having signed up to the targets.

In Boris Johnson’s first speech as Prime Minister, he affirmed the UKs commitment to a net zero future. Johnson proclaimed “Our Kingdom in 2050… will no longer make any contribution whatsoever to the destruction of our precious planet brought about by carbon emissions,” he said. “Because we will have led the world in delivering that net zero target.”

Steps towards a better future

According to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CATs) Zero Carbon Britain research a modern, zero emissions society is possible using technology available today.

Below we’ve outlined some key initiatives that can help the UK achieve its net zero ambitions:

  • Businesses implementing science-based targets.
  • Improving built environment efficiencies. Upgrading old buildings and ensuring new buildings must meet higher energy efficiency standards.
  • A shift to electric vehicles and the continued battery storage revolution.
  • Decentralised energy. Home and local energy generation.
  • Shift to renewable energy sources.
  • New policy.

The Aldersgate Group issued a green policy manifesto to Boris Johnson on 1 August 2019. They are a politically impartial, multi-stakeholder alliance championing a competitive and environmentally sustainable economy. Members of the group include Friends of the Earth, BT, M&S, Tesco, National Grid and Sky. Their green manifesto focuses on 4 key areas for the government to take decisive action and provide greater policy detail:

  • Delivering a Clean Growth Strategy Plus (CGS+) that matches the ambition of the net zero target. This should consist of a targeted update to the existing Clean Growth Strategy to increase ambition where required (for example on zero emission vehicle roll-out). Plus it should incorporate concrete policies that accelerate private sector investment to decarbonise priority sectors. These include surface transport, buildings and support the competitiveness of industry during this transition.
  • Passing an ambitious Environment Bill that safeguards environmental protections currently enshrined in EU law. They believe it must set ambitious and legally binding targets for environmental improvements in line with the vision of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
  • Implementing the Resources and Waste Strategy, through the introduction of detailed regulatory measures and fiscal incentives that drive greater resource efficiency and cut waste across the economy.
  • Building on the Green Finance Strategy, to rapidly grow private capital flows into the green infrastructure required to deliver the UK’s net zero target and the objectives set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan.

Our view

At EIC we believe new government policy is one of the most important steps needed to turn sentiment into action. Legislation relating to major energy users such as ESOS and SECR are steps in the right direction but they aren’t enough. Without doubt more effective policy is needed, to not only ensure energy and carbon is measured, but also that carbon reduction strategies are developed and implemented across the UK. Too often business cases for energy and carbon reduction are created and filed, never to be signed off.