Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan fails to fuel real optimism

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer’s Monday night speech laid out ambitious proposals for the future of UK electricity, gas and oil power. Despite some good intentions, though, it raises as many questions as it offers answers. 

Overall, the Labour Party – currently ahead in the polls ahead of a General Election in 2024 – aims to create up to 1million new jobs in the clean energy sector with its Green Prosperity Plan. A key part of this is finally putting an end to a de facto ban on onshore wind developments, which has been widely criticised as being at odds with environmental goals. 

‘Support for onshore wind remains sky-high among local communities in every opinion poll. It’s one of our cheapest sources of new power so it can reduce our energy bills, and it can boost this country’s energy security faster than other technologies. But we won’t be able to see these benefits without removing the de-facto ban currently in place in England so that onshore wind can be treated like any other energy infrastructure in the planning process,’ said RenewableUK’s Chief Executive, Dan McGrail.

‘This will involve early engagement and close consultation with communities and local authorities – many of which are telling us that they want to put forward their own projects,’ he continued. ‘Overall, it’s clear that delivering Labour’s renewable energy ambitions will require considerable reforms to planning, grid development, regulatory frameworks and skills policy. We need to address these issues as a matter of urgency, so welcome clarity on them.’

A new state-owned GB Energy company will also be established, run through partnerships between central government, local councils and devolved regional administrations. The hope is this would create up to 8GW of renewable energy capacity within the next five years, with potential to expand in the future. 

In total, £28billion would be allocated annually to the development of green technologies, although this comes with a caveat. Last week, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves confirmed this yearly spending target would only be reached in the second half of the next parliament, by 2026. 

Some have criticised this apparent slowing of the investment timeline due to the urgent needed for investment in new transition technologies. Others have also pointed to the lack of transparency and risk of greenwashing energy, with ‘dirty’ sources such as wood pellets having been branded as ‘clean’ friendly in the past despite significantly contributing to air pollution and other environmental problems. 

‘Fossil fuel power companies that used to burn coal are trying to pose as clean and green technologies by burning trees. But this is one of the most expensive and polluting energy industries out there. And it’s totally reliant on imports,’ said Matt Williams, senior advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Councill. ‘Any sensible energy future for Britain needs to put net zero, security of supply, and lowering bills first burning trees isn’t part of that future.’

Meanwhile, anger has also been voiced after Sir Starmer’s confirmed Labour’s proposed ban on new oil and gas projects in the North Sea would only cover those that begin after the next election, meaning controversial proposals that could be online in the meantime, and recently awarded contracts, would still be honoured. In 2022, the International Energy Agency advised that governments should not approve any new exploration, drilling or extraction projects to stand a chance of reaching net zero. 

‘Labour’s rhetoric on climate change is strong and it is right to focus on the UK’s huge potential for cheap, homegrown renewables. Enabling communities to benefit from local clean power projects, lifting the ban on onshore wind and committing to develop a homegrown industry to build offshore wind turbines, will all boost green growth, create new jobs and ensure people feel ownership and reap the rewards of the shift to a clean energy system,’ said Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth.
‘The UK is veering dangerously off track for meeting its legally binding climate targets at home and global commitments to cut carbon emissions,’ he continued. ‘A world-leading and credible climate plan also needs greater clarity on the phase out date for fossil fuel use and there can be no rowing back on the pledge to stop new oil and gas extraction. A fully funded green prosperity plan is needed, with urgent investment in a street-by-street insulation programme, alongside a swift and fair transition to renewables.’

More on UK energy transition: 

Limit energy transition materials to cut human and environmental cost

Is the UK facing a renewable energy crisis?

Climate campaigners urge Scotland to phase out oil and gas

Image: Chatham House


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