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Labour And Climate Celebrate Big Wins In UK

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Britain’s Labour Party won the UK general election by a landslide, ending 14 years of Conservative Party rule. The time has come in which Labour and climate activists will be working together toward common goals. With a 326-seat majority in the UK parliament, the next prime minister, Keir Starmer, and the Labour party should have enough support to pass climate legislation to make their environmental campaign promises a reality.

What could that look like? Labour intends to:

  • raise the 75% current tax on oil and gas companies to 78%;
  • restore the ban on new petroleum and diesel-powered cars to 2030;
  • implement a £13.2 billion plan for energy efficiency upgrades in houses;
  • provide grants and low-interest loans for solar panels, batteries, and home insulation;
  • reinvent Britain as a “clean energy superpower;”
  • open a publicly owned clean energy company, called Great British Energy, by 2030;
  • create jobs through energy reorganization and reduce consumers’ energy bills;
  • switch the country’s electricity to zero carbon by the end of the decade;
  • stay on track for net zero by 2050 targets;
  • lift the ban on onshore wind and quadruple offshore wind;
  • boost solar power to triple its current capacity;
  • reverse oil and gas licenses in the North Sea;
  • ban fracking permanently; and,
  • make water companies pay to clean up the UK sewage crisis.

There’s a certain incongruity thinking about Britain as a clean energy hub — after all, it is the original site of the Industrial Revolution, and, by 1981, the country was producing 128 million tons of coal a year. Historically one of the world’s major climate polluters, Britain has an enormous task to transition to clean energy.

But it’s already made progress. In 2008, Britain was at the forefront of major industrialized countries when it passed an emissions law, which ushered in reductions ever since. In 2021, its government set a legally binding target to bring down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 78% by 2035, relative to 1990 levels, in one of the most ambitious climate laws in the world. The country’s final coal-burning power plant is scheduled to go offline in September. Oil extraction in the North Sea has steadily declined over the past 20 years and is anticipated to continue to do so by 2050.

Britain has decarbonized faster than any other G7 country.

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Challenges Ahead for Labour and Climate

As Starmer plans to attend a NATO Summit in the US next week, he has already shown his political savvy, noting he will “deal with whoever is the president” and that the relationship between Britain and the US is “above the individuals.” While a return to the the EU single market or customs union is not expected for Labour, Starmer would be open, he says, to removing some trade barriers with the bloc, which would help smaller UK companies that have struggled with higher costs and paperwork.

Labour will attempt to address the intermittency problem with renewables by infusing more investment in hydrogen and marine energy systems, the latter of which rely on the predictability of tides. Also, the new government would also support a “strategic reserve” of gas power stations as a backup, which is causing turmoil among environmentalists and others.

The new government will need to sign the 500 million pound ($635 million) support package the previous government agreed with Tata Steel — Britain’s largest steel producer — to help build a lower-carbon electric arc furnace. Tata started closing one of its carbon-intensive blast furnaces last week, while the shutdown of its other one is slated for September. Those moves will delete up to 2,800 jobs at Port Talbot in South Wales. If Labour can forge (pun intended) a better deal with Tata, fewer jobs may be lost.

Ahead is the goal to reduce gas usage to zero by 2023; just last year gas supplied a little over 30% of the country’s electricity.

Major sustainability infrastructure projects such as Labour has announced typically are often drivers of nature loss. In Britain, such projects are not subject to the legal requirements on Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), which is a way of creating and improving natural habitats. BNG makes sure development has a measurably positive impact on biodiversity, compared to what was there before development. Calls have been made for the Labour Party to combine the goal of Britain building again while also tackling the nature crisis. To do so, they will need to commit to mandatory BNG across all developments on land and sea.

Moreover, the Labour Party can provide greater detail on how it plans to double onshore wind, triple solar power, and quadruple offshore wind by 2030 without sacrificing some of the country’s most fragile ecosystems.

What are Environmentalists Saying about the Confluence of Labor and Climate?

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, says Labour’s historic landslide victory may signal an end to “14 years of dither, delay, and retreat that defined the Conservative brand of environmentalism.” Childs states that Labour and climate plans make nature “far stronger than its predecessor’s, including a commitment to meet the international goal to cut emissions by two-thirds by 2030.” He adds that such a large mandate, due to their majority in Parliament, should mean Starmer is emboldened to bring in “truly progressive policies”and for the new UK government to make climate policies a “top priority.”

Although outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted that the UK was still committed to its net-zero targets, rolling back numerous climate policies during his administration lost him credibility. Sunak had said Britain should “max out” North Sea oil and gas and implemented a system to issue new licenses. He cast the green transition as too costly, citing a 2030 ban on new petroleum and diesel-powered cars as too-much, too-soon, pushing it back to 2035. “Dependence on oil and gas has driven the cost of living crisis,” Ed Matthew, campaigns director at thinktank E3G, told Euronews. “By delaying and damaging the clean energy policies that could cut energy bills, Rishi Sunak pitched the Conservatives against every UK household,” “It was a catastrophic political blunder.”

Greenpeace UK’s co-executive director, Areeba Hamid, says Labour’s massive victory “buried” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s “divisive anti-green agenda.”

“The results look clear — voters have rejected anti net zero rhetoric and chosen cheaper, cleaner, more secure energy,” said Greg Jackson, founder and CEO of the utility company Octopus Energy. “This looks like a landslide for a green economy.”

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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