UK snap election – Climate change could be critical

While the UK Conservative party is streets ahead in the polls, it has a weak stance on climate change, while all of the other parties have a better strategy to put an end to climate change.

So much so that the “left wing” Labour Party has already pushed out a brand new strategy on climate change even though it was only late Tuesday night that an election was legally triggered, through a bill which finally sailed through Parliament after multiple previous failures.

It seems that the conservatives wish to fight this election based on Brexit, while the Labour and other parties want to bring in wider concerns. The UK parliament has struggled to get any agreement on Brexit that is conclusive, with the Conservatives pushing a narrative that Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been blocking democracy (in terms of observing the referendum), while those parties suggest a Conservative sell out to the US and a preference to leave Europe without any trade deal.

But after 3 years of Brexit stealing the show, and with the snap election now in the offing, Labour unveiled a ’30 for 2030’ report as a ‘fast track’ plan for the UK to reach net zero carbon emissions. With protest movement the Extinction Rebellion fresh in the mind and legendary wildlife producer David Attenborough freshly on TV screens up and down the country, Labour is seeking to be the party resorting to a climate change policy that may swing voters in its favor. It has stolen many ideas from the less widely accepted Green Party.

Thirty policy recommendations were suggested to allow the UK to reduce total energy emissions by 77% by 2030, rather than the 45% reduction targeted by the Conservative party in accordance with the IPCC. These fall into four categories for immediate action: Energy Efficiency, Generation, Heating and Balanced Grid, with the paper claiming that rapid decarbonization can occur alongside significant economic growth; adding £800 billion to the UK economy by 2030 as well as 850,000 jobs. Labour did not put a financial cost on its plans however, but it will likely be similar to the New Green Deal that floated as an idea from the Democrats in the US.

The most ambitious proposals include an enormous growth in renewables over the next ten years and while, natural gas is still expected to remain a contributor in the energy mix, Labour intends to ban fracking and to lift the restrictions in onshore wind. It says it will increase installed capacity from 12.1 GW of onshore wind today to 30GW by 2030. Given the huge amount of permitting resistance to onshore wind in the UK, that will require some considerable relaxation of the environmental regulations. The current government only has a target of 30 GW all from offshore, which sits at about 8 GW today with no further numbers for onshore wind whatsoever.

But Labour now plans to push offshore wind up to 52 GW. A huge upswing and taking total UK wind to 82 GW both onshore and offshore.

The plan calls for reinstating feed-in-tariffs, rather than the Small Export Guarantee set to begin next year, and also aims to facilitate the continued growth of Solar generation from 13 GW to 35 GW, with focus placed on residential solar as well as solar-plus-storage as a method of providing a consistent supply of energy, although legislative changes from Ofgem have already recently made planning easier in energy storage projects under 50 MW.

The Solar Trade Association was among those “welcoming the ambition of Labour’s targets,” and the growth it would bring to the solar market. A spokesperson for the Solar Trade Association acknowledged to Rethink that the industry will be unable to reach that extra 22 GW of growth with business-as-usual, and “policy support will be required to reach this target”, although the body hoped that further ambition will be seen to reach 40 GW in this timeframe, to meet recommendations of the capacity needed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Based on current policy and projects in the pipeline, the UK is currently on track to reach around 32 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, some 204 GW short of Labour’s stated targets. With offshore wind projects often taking at least 7 years between early planning and commission, as much as 6 GW additional capacity may be required to be added per year towards the end of the next decade. This would require an unprecedented rise in annual installations, which many will deem as overambitious. Ironically shorter permitting cycles may see Labour as the party most likely to run fast and lose with environmental policy, something it has consistently levelled as the Conservatives. But without a fast track process, these targets are impossible.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for a snap election was his fourth attempt, failing on his first two in September, and his third on Monday. But with a Brexit delay agreed to January 31st, a three-month window has opened for something decisive to happen, and MP’s who have previously opposed the idea of an election, including those from Labour, shifted to back the election. With a no-deal Brexit recently ruled out, the election may see smaller parties join forces in an attempt to stop Johnson from “ramming through his Brexit deal.”

Johnson’s reasons for calling an election are largely due to the lack of ability to push through a Brexit deal without a majority in the current government. Analytics group YouGov expect the Conservatives to win this election, bouncing back from European elections in July at the detriment of the Brexit party, as they target 40 marginal seats in parliament.

While Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn holds a fairly negative position in polls, supporters of the party will hope that his campaigning would see a 2017-like surge in support for the party. The recent focus on climate change is inevitably a move to pull voters from a Conservative Party that has faced a wealth of criticism regarding its environmental policy, which it is unlikely to publish a manifesto on.

A poll commissioned by British charity Christian Aid in July, found that 7 out of 10 British Adults believed that Climate change matter more in the long term than leaving the EU. But while it is likely that this will attract some voters feeling apathetic about Brexit, the supposedly ‘short-term’ issue of pushing through an appropriate solution to leaving the EU is likely to be at the forefront of most voters’ minds.

Meanwhile incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson has echoed the Labour sentiment, and said he would bring in a ban on fracking in the UK, “amid rising concern that controversy about the technology could dent Tory election hopes”. But this is not a blanket ban, just a ban on any new fracking requests – existing licenses would be honored.