Nine green policy announcements from the UK Government that you may have missed this week

They say a week is a long time in politics and it’s been a busy seven days for the new UK Government. With Keir Starmer still unpacking at 10 Downing Street, policymakers have been quick to introduce new faces, programmes and policies designed to revamp approaches to climate action and nature restoration. Here, edie rounds up seven things you might’ve missed.

Nine green policy announcements from the UK Government that you may have missed this week

A lot can happen in a week. Fresh off a landslide General Election, the new Labour Government has kept to its unofficial mantra that “change begins now”. Just seven days after the election result, a lot has happened in the green policy space.

So, enjoy an end-of-week tea or coffee and spend the next few minutes catching up on all the minor and major announcements from the Government in the past week.

1) Cabinet reshuffle sees fresh faces for climate and nature secretaries

Just hours after the General Election results, Prime Minister Kier Starmer selected his Cabinet, completing a mini-reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet but sticking to key green economy picks including Ed Miliband for the Energy Security and Net-Zero brief.

Rachel Reeves was announced as the UK’s first female Chancellor. Reeves is best known in the green economy for making, then retracting, a commitment to unlock £28bn of investment each year. The commitment was watered down earlier this year with Reeves placing the blame on the Tories. Labour is now targeting £7.3bn for priority green manufacturing sectors, plus three times more private investment in these industries, as part of a forthcoming industrial strategy.

Another prominent position in the green economy is the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net-Zero. Ed Miliband is taking on that role, and has been a regular feature at UN climate COPs and other regional and international sustainability events.

Croydon North MP Steve Reed was handed the Defra brief in the Shadow Cabinet last September, following experience in equivalent roles relating to justice, communities and local government. Reed now takes on the task of spearheading Defra through a sizeable backlog of policy frameworks that need implementing.

Read more:  Cabinet reshuffle: Who are Kier Starmer’s picks for the UK’s green economy?

2) UK to work closely with EU on energy transition, Lammy says

Reeves and Foreign Secretary, David Lammy delivered their first speeches on Monday (8 July), promising to prioritise Britain’s energy transition as a key part of the nation’s industrial and foreign strategy.

Foreign Secretary David Lammy has outlined his priorities for the next Parliament, stating intentions to work closely with the EU on climate and the bloc’s clean energy transition.

He said: “Britain has enormous potential. But the world faces huge challenges…[including] a climate emergency. This Government will reconnect Britain for our security and prosperity at home. We will begin with a reset with Europe.”

Read more: Labour’s Cabinet ministers announce aim to bolster the UK’s energy transition

3) De-facto ban on onshore wind lifted

In one of the first major announcements of Starmer’s regime, restrictions implemented by the Conservatives to limit onshore wind development were lifted.

Kier Starmer’s predecessor Rishi Sunak had put in place policy tests meaning that onshore wind developers would need to gain “proven community support” if their projects were not included in local development plans.

This change was intended to unlock additional onshore wind farm development in England, weakening a de-facto ban set in place under David Cameron. But it proved unsuccessful.

Labour immediately removed these barriers, in a move that was described as “long overdue” by green groups. Labour’s manifesto for the general election notably stated that the Party supports new large-scale and small nuclear projects; quadrupling the nation’s offshore wind capacity; trebling solar capacity and doubling onshore wind capacity – all by 2030. This is equivalent to scaling the UK’s generation capacity for offshore wind to around 60GW, onshore wind to 30GW and solar to 32GW.

Read more: UK Government lifts planning blockers to onshore wind farms

4) National Wealth Fund set up to turbocharge UK investment

The Labour Government this week introduced a new National Wealth Fund (NWF) that will funnel billions of pounds into projects across the UK to boost growth and unlock investment into sectors and solutions across key areas such as food and energy security.

The NWF, immediately supported by £7.3bn in allocated funding through the UK Infrastructure Bank, aims to deliver transformative investments across every part of the country.

It will be chaired by the Green Finance Institute (GFI) and a supporting Taskforce, set up a few months ago, which includes former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, Barclays CEO C.S Venkatakrishnan, Aviva CEO Dame Amanda Blanc and large institutional investors.

The Taskforce will commence work on identifying investment priority areas, and has presented its findings to Reeves and Secretary of State for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Ed Miliband.

Read more: Labour launches National Wealth Fund to spur immediate investments across the UK

5) Former Climate Change Committee lead chosen to spearhead clean energy ‘mission’

The Labour Party has committed to delivering a decarbonised power system by 2030. This will entail bringing all coal-fired generation offline, plus reducing gas-fired generation and retrofitting remaining gas plants with carbon capture.

While the level of ambition is welcome, concerns have been expressed about the unprecedented transformation required, including how finance can be unlocked and infrastructure rolled out.

To lead this transition, the Government has appointed former Climate Change Committee (CCC) chief Chris Stark to spearhead a new ‘control centre’. Stark and his team will be responsible for setting and tracking progress towards the Government’s overarching 2030 energy transformation strategy. They will also monitor, in real time, progress on critical infrastructure projects.

Mission Control will further act as a centralised energy innovation hub. Further members of the team will be announced shortly.

Read more: Former CCC boss Chris Stark to lead UK’s 2030 clean power strategy

6) Defra launches five-point priority list

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has revealed its five main policy priorities for change under the Labour Government, including protecting Britain’s nature, food system and communities from the impacts of climate change.

The Department’s five core priorities include: cleaning up British rivers, lakes and seas, creating a roadmap to move Britain to a zero-waste economy, supporting farmers to boost Britain’s food security, ensuring nature’s recovery, and protecting communities from flooding

Under the Environment Act 2021, the UK is legally obligated to halt the decline in species abundance and protect 30% of its land and sea for nature by 2030. However, currently, only 7% of land in England is protected for nature, and just over a third of that is in good condition, with similar lack of progress made for the sea.

Read more: Defra reveals Labour Government’s five key climate and environmental policy priorities

7) Defra puts water sector on notice over bonuses

Sticking with Defra, Reed also announced he’d held “extensive calls” with water bosses to tackle rampant cases of water pollution and sewage discharge in the UK.

Water pollution has undeniably been the focus topic on waste and natural resources in the lead-up to the general election. Every major Party made a manifesto commitment to clamp down on combined sewage overflows from water companies – which have become increasingly common even in times of low rainfall. The last Government had implemented unlimited water company fines and refreshed its long-term targets to reduce overflow frequencies.

Labour intends to put polluting water companies under special measures, as would be done for failing schools and care homes. It will also enhance Ofwat’s powers to ban water boss bonuses, enhance water monitoring and levy criminal charges against ‘persistent law breakers’.

Reed claimed that “too much was spent on bonuses and not enough on fixing the broken sewage system. This will never happen again.”

The sector has signed up to Defra’s reform packages, which will focus on investments for customers and nature, rather than bonuses and dividends. Reeves also noted that new “customer panels” would be able to hold water companies to account.

It came after the water regulator Ofwat set out plans to triple the sector’s investment in the environment by hiking bill prices. The proposals would see household water bills in England and Wales increase by £19 on average over the next five years, on top of a £94 average increase due to wider investment programmes. The price hike would help the sector reach a goal of investing £88bn for cleaner rivers and seas up to 2030.

8) Work begins to end new North Sea oil and gas licences 

Labour and the Conservatives had butted heads on the future of North Sea oil and gas in the build-up to the election. Sunak sought to legally mandate annual licencing rounds for new exploration and extraction, while Starmer promised to honour licences already in train but put an end to future licencing rounds.

Miliband moved this week to make good on the promise. He said he wanted to implement an immediate moratorium on new North Sea drilling, including at projects recently licenced. The Labour Party has since clarified that this is not an official order and that the transition will be more complicated, legally, than simply saying the word.

The UK’s North Sea basin is in decline, regardless of policy. The thorny questions now surround how a just transition can be delivered for workers, and whether big international energy firms will start building legal challenges to Starmer and Miliband’s approach.

9) Ministers won’t support Cumbria coal mine in upcoming court case 

Under the previous Conservative Government, Michael Gove approved a controversial deep coal mine project in Cumbria. The mine would be the first created in the UK in more than three decades and the extracted coal would be supplied to steelmaking plants.

A legal challenge was lodged against the Mine on environmental grounds. Opponents argue that Gove and team did not consider the life-cycle impacts of the mine and the extracted coal, nor give due thought to the steel industry’s transition away from coal. Tata Steel is notably switching from coal to electric arc furnaces at Port Talbot, with financial assistance from Westminster.

The CCC has condemned Gove’s decision. Nonetheless, Conservative Ministers were set to support project developer West Cumbria Mining at the High Court.

Angela Rayner, Secretary of State for Housing and Communities, has confirmed this week that she will not stand by Gove’s approval and believes his decision was made on shaky legal ground. Miliband has told media representatives the same thing. The High Court case will still progress unless West Cumbria Mining also concedes. 

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