Despite Brexit providing the catalyst for the UK’s upcoming general election – the third in just five years – the European attitudes of Britain’s different political parties and voters might not end up being the decisive factor come polling day (12 December 2019).
Though Brexit remains an incredibly important matter, climate change is considered by most as the most pressing national and global issue of our time. As a result, the BBC has branded the upcoming vote as ‘The Climate Election’, industry publication Business Green has labelled it a ‘net-zero arms race’, and Channel 4 has even broadcast an unprecedented leaders debate devoted to the subject.
Needless to say, the climate and energy policies of the main parties are being closely scrutinised by the media and voters alike, with many likely to be swayed by who they determine to have the strongest stance on mitigating climate change. This concerns issues like how we plan to continue producing and consuming energy, including renewable energy investment plans, and how to fund and manage electricity infrastructure going forward.
At SMS Plc, we’ve looked at all the manifestos of the UK’s major political parties and summarised their different climate and energy commitments, as well as taking a brief look at what some of this might mean for UK businesses.
The ruling Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson, earlier this year pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2050. Although widely welcomed as a positive step, the pledge has also been criticised as not being stringent enough in terms of its timeframe and lacking a sufficient policy framework to support it. The party has attempted to address these doubts with the announcement of various promises in its election manifesto, however, the Prime Minister declined the opportunity to appear on the televised debate on climate change with all the other party leaders. Policies include:
• A promise to deliver two million new jobs in clean growth, invest £800 million to build the first fully deployed carbon capture and storage (CCS) cluster by the mid-2020s and invest £500 million to help energy intensive industries move to low-carbon techniques.
• Increase offshore wind capacity to 40GW by 2030, support new floating wind farms, gas from hydrogen production and nuclear energy, including fusion, alongside a commitment to other renewable energies.
• A £3.8 billion Social Housing Decarbonisation Scheme, which will focus on improving the insulation provided in two million social homes, expected to reduce their energy bills by an average of £160 a year.
• A £2.5 billion Homes Upgrade Grants scheme, which will replace boilers, provide insulation and in some cases, replace energy systems. Around 200,000 homes will be upgraded, claimed to provide annual savings of £750 a year on average.
• A £1 billion Ayrton Fund will be used to develop affordable and accessible clean energy.
• A pledge not to support fracking “unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”.
• A committed to invest £1 billion in completing a fast charging network for electric vehicles (EVs) to ensure everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid charging station.
Read the full Conservative manifesto here.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has put climate and energy at front and centre of its election manifesto, pledging to better the Tories’ commitments by achieving net-zero carbon emissions “within the 2030s”, and in doing so promising to kickstart a “Green Industrial Revolution”. Though Labour has been commended for its robust stance and detailed polices, its promise to renationalise the energy networks and the supply arms of the big six energy suppliers has been questioned, as has the expense and viability of some of the party’s plans. Policies include:
• A commitment to achieving a net-zero-carbon energy system within the 2030s – including delivery of nearly 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon sources by 2030.
• The creation of one million green jobs.
• A National Transformation Fund of £400 billion and pledge to rewrite the Treasury’s investment rules to guarantee public spending is compatible with the UK’s climate and environmental targets.
• A new UK National Energy Agency that will own and maintain the national grid infrastructure and oversee the delivery of decarbonisation targets.
• 14 new Regional Energy Agencies which will replace the existing district network operators and hold statutory responsibility for decarbonising electricity and heat and reducing fuel poverty.
• Public ownership of the UK’s “big six” energy suppliers.
• 7,000 new offshore wind turbines, 2,000 new onshore wind turbines and "enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches".
• A commitment to building new nuclear power needed for energy security.
• A pledge to upgrade almost all of the UK’s 27 million homes to the highest energy-efficiency standards and a new zero-carbon homes standard for all new homes.
• Roll out technologies like heat pumps, solar hot water and hydrogen, and investment in district heat networks using waste heat.
• A promise to immediately and permanently ban fracking.
• A windfall tax on oil companies that will pay to support oil and gas workers through the green transition, and provide a strategy to safeguard jobs and skills (including a guarantee for retraining and a new, unionised job on equivalent terms and conditions).
• A pledge to position the UK at the forefront of the development of ultra-low emission vehicles and invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as well as the delivery of rail electrification across the whole country.
You can read the full Labour manifesto here.
The Liberal Democrats claim to be the only party with a “radical, credible and detailed plan” to tackle the climate emergency as soon as possible, criticising the Conservatives climate record and describing Labour's plans to nationalise the sector as a “distraction”. Jo Swinson’s party say they will spend £20 billion a year for five years to tackle climate change, setting itself a target of achieving net-zero carbon status by 2045. However, critics argue this will not be fast enough, and that policies do not strongly compel banks and corporations to reform their environmental standards. Policies include:
• An emergency 10-year programme to reduce energy consumption from all the UK’s buildings, cutting emissions and fuel bills and ending fuel poverty.
• Pledge to deliver 80 per cent of UK electricity from renewables by 2030 and to plant 60 million trees a year.
• Funding of £12 billion has also been promised to support renewable energy
• £5 billion of initial capital for a new Green Investment Bank, using public money to attract private investment for zero-carbon priorities.
• A pledge to reduce emissions from buildings, including by providing free retrofits for low-income homes, piloting a new subsidised Energy-Saving Homes scheme.
• Empower councils to develop community energy-saving projects, including delivering housing energy efficiency improvements street by street to cuts costs.
• Reduce emissions from industrial processes by supporting carbon capture and storage and new low-carbon processes for cement and steel production.
• Provide more advice to companies on cutting emissions, support the development of regional industrial clusters for zero carbon innovation and increase the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.
• Ban on fracking outright.
• A pledge to invest in public transport, buses, trams and railways and to ensure that by 2030, every new car and small van sold is electric.
• A new Clean Air Act, enforced by a new Air Quality Agency, would enshrine the legal right to unpolluted air for all citizens.
You can read the full Lib Dem manifesto here.
Greens and the Brexit Party
Unsurprisingly, the Green Party’s manifesto is by the far the most radical plan on climate change compared to the other parties, with its main policy focused on spending £100 billion a year to cut emissions to net-zero by 2030. On the other end of the political spectrum, climate change doesn’t feature much in the Brexit Party’s manifesto, though it has pledged to ensure all waste in the UK is recycled and a mass tree planting campaign.
What are the implications for businesses?
With all major parties having committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions within the next three decades, there are some potentially drastic changes afoot which will affect businesses, whatever the result of the election. While there is a consensus that the faster we can debarbonise as a society, the more effective we will be in mitigating climate change, there is also the realisation that the swifter the move to net-zero, the more disruptive policies and new legislation will need to be.
As each party, to varying degrees, looks to stretch the boundaries of what they believe is possible whilst retaining plausibility, whoever wins on 12 December, businesses will certainly be facing the prospect of new legislation that attempts to fulfil these ambitious targets.
Some forward-thinking businesses are already making great progress towards carbon-reduction goals and the introduction of new, more stringent obligations on UK organisations will likely support the good practice we are already seeing in some parts when it comes to cutting industrial emissions. On the other hand, the many businesses that are yet to fully engage with energy efficiency or make low-carbon investments may now be worried what effect new policies might have on them.
For almost all businesses there is likely to be – at best – some new planning in place to ensure that the organisation can continue to fairly contribute to decarbonisation, and – at worst – a drastic overhaul of sustainability and energy strategy to ensure all current and upcoming environmental obligations are met.
Those businesses that are already well tuned in with these changes in our energy system, and their own relationship with energy, are in prime position to take advantage as new low-carbon technologies and markets are opened up, offering not only a greater capacity to save but also the potential to profit from access to new flexibility mechanisms.
While many companies have done – and are doing – a great deal already to address sustainability, there is a significant and ever-widening gap between those that are engaged and those that are not. The latter are those who are in danger of being left behind in the race to net-zero.
With the upcoming election being fought out so vociferously on environmental issues, this likely means that new targets and obligations on businesses will come hard and fast. The quicker companies can adapt, the more chance they have of navigating our low-carbon transition successfully.
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