‘A pathetic attempt to turn climate policy into a culture war’: Green economy reacts to King’s Speech

During the State Opening of Parliament, King Charles revealed the UK Government’s legislative priorities for the year ahead, setting the stage for the final chapter before the impending general election.

The King’s Speech unveiled a wide-ranging legislative agenda, encompassing more than 20 proposed bills, featuring an emphasis on expanding oil and gas licensing as a pivotal aspect of the UK Government’s policy focus for the next year.

Just last week, the Wildlife Trusts delivered a strong cautionary message, urging that the King’s Speech must clearly demonstrate concrete progress for the environment; otherwise, the government’s crucial commitment to the environment could be in jeopardy.

Nevertheless, the King’s Speech has reaffirmed  Sunak’s recent push-back on net-zero policies.

As the nation grapples with the dual challenges of achieving a net-zero future by 2050 and navigating the complexities of the global energy market, the King’s declaration has ignited a fierce response around the direction of the UK’s energy and environmental policies.

Here, edie rounds up the reaction to the King’s speech.

Ed Matthew, campaigns director, E3G:

“Sunak’s Government is determined to extract every last drop of oil and gas out of the North Sea. If every other country with fossil fuel reserves followed suit, it would emit more planet-heating emissions than have occurred since the Industrial Revolution, which would cause catastrophic, runaway climate change.

“This legislation will do nothing to boost the Government’s popularity, but it will destroy the UK’s climate leadership credentials and undermine investment in the UK’s net-zero transition.”

Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive, the Association for Renewable Energy & Clean Technology:

“In a time when consumers and industry are seeking reassurance, the UK Government is not providing any guarantees and playing politics with our future.

“The Government should be using the limited parliamentary timetable we have left to strengthen energy security and net-zero in the UK. Instead, it is back-pedalling on measures to reach our own legally binding targets.

“The Prime Minister could be stimulating the economy – one of his major priorities – by accelerating the energy transition through green supply chain support, finding new routes to market to decarbonise heat, zero-rated VAT for new small-scale energy storage installations, ambitious transport decarbonisation measures and new funding for local authorities to deliver the new ‘Simpler Recycling’ measures. There was no mention in the King’s Speech today to address these barriers.”

UK100 chief executive Christopher Hammond:

“Despite a promise to ‘put local people in control of their future’, there was little in the King’s Speech acknowledging the urgent issues local government is facing, particularly when it comes to delivering on the UK’s climate ambitions.

“There was positive news on renewable energy investment and grid reform, but the delay in upgrading the energy efficiency of rental properties and new North Sea fossil fuel licences continues to show the mixed messages coming from government.

“As we head into the winter, we would have hoped to see the King’s Speech prioritise more support for local leaders to deliver the kind of insulation programmes that can cut bills for millions rather than measures designed to bolster oil and gas company billions.”

Paul Willacy, managing director, Compact Syngas Solutions:

“The King has spent decades preaching the need for action on the environment, and here is his government going in the opposite direction.

“There was a brief mention of the government leading action on tackling climate change, but there was no news on plans to embrace green technology or accelerate towards net-zero.

“Like the public, King Charles understands the need for urgency on reducing climate change emissions, but his Government has got its head stuck in the sand. The country needs action now on new emission-free alternatives for the transport industry, and it’s disappointing to see the can get kicked down the road again.”

Beverley Cornaby, director, UK Corporate Leaders Group:

“The King’s Speech was an opportunity to provide the leadership and clarity that UK businesses have consistently called for to help them deliver on their net zero ambitions and secure the investment this requires.

“Instead of doing what’s needed to set UK climate and energy policy on the right path for the long-term, the speech focused on a new system for continued fossil fuel extraction. However, the focus needs to shift from these sectors that can only play a diminishing role in our energy security, and the government should now urgently be looking to develop actions to support the green industries that will underpin the economy of the 21st century.

“The Government has a long to-do list in order to move from warm words on net-zero to delivering emissions reductions on the ground. Now is not the time to be unpicking policies or casting doubt on the overall goal, now is the time for strong and clear leadership.”

James Alexander, chief executive, UKSIF: 

“We are extremely disappointed by the announcement of new licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas, which the Government has claimed will be compatible with our net-zero ambitions  without providing evidence for how that can be the case.

“It is equally unclear how these new developments will help promote the country’s energy security – as the International Energy Agency (IEA) has recently said, there is no need for new upstream oil and gas projects to meet the world’s declining future fossil fuel demand by 2050.

“With clear and stable policy, the UK can unlock greater investment in the renewable energy transition and with it deliver good jobs, cleaner power, and lower energy bills. We want to see the Government ensure that the UK remains a leader in driving the transition.”

Lorna Slater MSP, co-leader, Scottish Greens:

“Sunak’s deadly climate climbdown is setting our future generations up for climate catastrophe. We know what action needs to be taken to limit global warming to 1.5C, the simple scientific fact is that new oil and gas licenses are a disaster for our planet’s future.

“The climate vandalism in Westminster is a sharp contrast to the bold action that we are taking here in Scotland. We need urgent action now, and all he is doing is making that harder and harder to achieve.”

Roy Bedlow, founder and chief executive, Low Carbon:

“As a business focused on deploying large-scale renewable energy, we believe it is critical the UK has stable, long-term net-zero policies that encourage investment into renewable technologies.

“This is particularly important when we consider that the investment needed to make this happen is global and the UK is competing against other countries that are introducing bold policy packages, such as the US Inflation Reduction Act, to enhance their energy security through investment in renewables.”

Dr Ashok Sinha, chief executive, Ashden:

“It’s essential that the UK maintains international climate leadership by being in the vanguard of phasing out fossil fuels. Instead, we’re announcing greater support for fossil fuels just three weeks before COP28 starts.

“This is the opposite of the leadership required to secure a global agreement at the talks to phase out fossil fuels and will do nothing to lower energy bills or increase energy security.

“Such decisions are a dereliction of duty both to UK citizens and to the world. The focus must be on investing in and upscaling the solutions that decrease emissions, create jobs and benefit communities – and there are plenty. We have the technology and know-how, we just need to show the will and vision.”

Heather Plumpton, senior policy analyst, Green Alliance:

“The average UK energy bill is twice what it was two years ago and, as the energy security secretary admits, these new oil and gas licences won’t do anything to bring that down. Instead, more North Sea drilling will only pump more money into fossil fuel companies, who aren’t investing in the transition to cleaner energy and aren’t going to be taxed to help fund it.

“To drive down bills and increase the UK’s energy security, we don’t need new legislation aimed at political point scoring, we need to fulfil existing plans to insulate homes and make the most of abundant and cheap renewable energy.”

Hugo Tagholm, executive director, Oceana UK:

“Blasting, drilling and polluting: if this is what passes for ‘protection’ I fear for our seas. Granting new oil and gas licences in our marine protected areas makes a mockery of our climate pledges, decimates our already suffering ocean life and threatens our coastal communities. By putting our marine protected areas up for sale to Big Oil, this Government is setting us on course for climate and ocean breakdown.

“These new licences will bring no public benefit, will not improve UK energy security or lower our energy bills. Short-term, eyewatering profits for oil and gas companies is an appalling reason to throw away our future.” 

Angus Walker, partner, BDB Pitmans:

“Legislation to require annual awards of oil and gas licences, which is what already happens voluntarily, appears to be giving more of a pro-fossil fuel message than actually achieving any meaningful changes to the law.

“This time, however, they will be linked to net-zero targets so it will be interesting to see how strict that linkage will be – whether a general statement that the licence will be compatible with achieving net-zero or will it be required to achieve net-zero on its own?

“The Government will have to tread a careful line because if this makes the North Sea oil and gas too expensive for its intended customers, they may seek alternatives elsewhere.”

Jamie Peters, climate coordinator, Friends of the Earth:

“The King’s speech offered few surprises and very little of substance in yet another display of clickbait politics.

“With the cost-of-living crisis deepening and the climate and nature emergencies accelerating, Sunak could have used this moment to set out strong laws to boost the economy, cut harmful emissions and bring down our energy bills for good.

“Instead, the Prime Minister chose to side with the fossil fuel industry by offering more hand-outs – even if largely symbolic – at a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet. The fact remains that more North Sea oil and gas will do nothing to reduce bills or improve energy security.

“The PM has preached pragmatism, but it’s his lack of long-term thinking and misjudgment of the public mood that could cost him dearly at next year’s election.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, Brighton Pavilion:

“The PM’s plans for annual oil & gas licensing round won’t improve our energy security or cut energy bills, as his own Energy Secretary accidentally admitted yesterday – but they will wreck our climate and lead to this Government handing over billions in tax breaks to already mega-rich fossil fuel giants.

“The King must have found the PM’s words sticking in his throat as he had to read out a catalogue of nature-wrecking measures in this speech – which we know this issue is so close to his heart, but clearly couldn’t be further from his Government’s.”

Jojo Mehta, executive director, Stop Ecocide International:

“Today’s announcement of an extension to North Sea oil and gas permits serves as a stark reminder of why measures to protect the natural world, upon which we all depend, must be elevated in status and taken out of the realm of political game-playing.”

Dr Friederike Otto, leading global expert on weather attribution, Imperial College London:

“The new system to grant oil and gas licences is a pathetic attempt to turn climate policy into a culture war. More oil and gas won’t lower energy bills. It will lead to more emissions, more global warming and more extreme weather that will destroy people’s lives and livelihoods.

“Unless we rapidly phase out fossil fuels, storms like Storm Ciarán will bring even heavier rainfall, and the UK will experience more heatwaves with temperatures exceeding 40°C.

“Instead of trying to politicise climate policy, the Government should do things that will increase energy security and improve lives for everyone: scale up renewable energy, insulate homes and move away from fossil fuels.”

Rachel Solomon Williams, executive director, Aldersgate Group:

“It is crucial that the UK Government focuses on delivering on its climate and environmental ambitions in the upcoming parliamentary session. The proposed new mandatory oil and gas licensing rounds announced in the King’s Speech have been justified on the basis that they would support a more secure and diverse energy system.

“Maintaining a priority focus on low-carbon generation will be essential for the UK to retain credibility as an international climate leader as we approach COP28. Other nations – along with investors – are looking to the UK to deliver a consistent commitment to delivering net-zero.

“In an increasingly challenging economic environment, the UK Government must use the upcoming Autumn Statement to ensure the UK remains an attractive destination for low-carbon investment.”

Dan McGrail, chief executive, RenewableUK:

“We welcome the Government’s commitment in the King’s Speech to attract record levels of investment in renewable energy and to speed up grid connections to reach net-zero. But to achieve this, we’re asking the Chancellor to set out specific policies in his Autumn Statement later this month.

“We’re calling for a commitment by the Chancellor to work with the Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero to set an overall budget, and maximum strike prices, at appropriate and sustainable levels which allow for a return on investment for vital new projects.”

Paul McNamee, director, Labour Climate and Environment Forum:

“We know Sunak doesn’t believe in his policies, but the fact that he believes the political calculation pushed in the King’s Speech will have corks popping in Labour HQ.

“Doubling down on anti-green policies is a sign of his own weakness: pandering to his own backbenchers despite the polls conclusively showing that the public and businesses back a Green Prosperity Plan. The fact is that British people understand that reliance on fossil fuels undermines our energy security – seemingly more than the Prime Minister does.”

Catherine Howarth, chief executive of responsible investment, ShareAction:

“The King’s Speech was an opportunity for the Government to set out a comprehensive blueprint for a financial services industry that protects people, planet and wealth.

“Recklessly, the Government has instead chosen to double down on fossil fuels with a new era of licenses for North Sea oil and gas. This is not the solution to the climate crisis threatening communities in the UK and around the world.

“ShareAction urges the UK’s pension schemes, asset managers, banks and insurers to stay well away from this false solution and instead support the clean and green energy solutions that will protect our future.”

Dr George Dibb, head of Centre for Economic Justice, IPPR:

“The best way to ensure energy security, attract business investment, and reduce reliance on importing fossil fuels is by investing in renewables, not through new oil and gas licenses.

“The lack of legislation to match the efforts of the EU and USA on green industrial strategy is a huge backwards step which undermines the international consensus on climate change and won’t attract investment in the industries of the future here in the UK.”

Louise Hutchins, policy and public affairs head, UK Green Building Council (UKGBC):

“The Government claimed to set out an agenda to tackle the long-term challenges facing the UK, yet introduced no legislation or proposals to address the catastrophic levels of energy waste from homes and buildings that are fuelling the cost of living and climate crises.

“Formally pulling the plug on minimum energy efficiency standards for private rented homes will condemn millions of people living in fuel poverty to continue enduring cold, mouldy homes.”

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