How is the UK’s green economy reacting to Rishi Sunak becoming the next Prime Minister?

Some say he has a chance to nip Liz Truss’s plans to backtrack on climate and nature in the bud. Others say a General Election is still needed. What do the UK’s green economy figures make of Rishi Sunak for Prime Minister?

How is the UK’s green economy reacting to Rishi Sunak becoming the next Prime Minister?

Pictured: Sunak with his 'green budget box' at COP26. Image: HM Treasury, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sunak was announced as Conservative Party leader on Monday afternoon (24 October), meaning that he will shortly be sworn in as Prime Minister. He ultimately trumped Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt to replace Liz Truss.

As edie has set out, Sunak has a mixed record on green policy. He has advocated for the UK to meet its long-term goals on nature and the climate and has overseen a huge net-zero push at the Treasury, but has also made controversial moves like giving oil and gas majors super-deductions and making short-haul flights cheaper.

With this in mind, the news of his appointment has sparked mixed reactions across the UK’s green economy. In Westminster and Scotland, the Green Party itself is continuing to push for a general election. Other organisations say Sunak has a chance yet to prove himself.

Here, edie rounds up all the key reactions to the news from the UK’s best-known green economy organisations and figures.

Aldersgate Group executive director Nick Molho said: “The new Prime Minister takes office at a time when the UK economy is struggling to attract investment and dealing with significant challenges around the cost of living, energy security and regional inequalities. Accelerating the UK’s transition towards net zero emissions and restoring nature are central solutions to tackling these challenges. Greater investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transport and the decarbonisation of heavy industry can cut energy costs for households and businesses, reduce the UK’s dependence on volatile fossil fuel prices, deliver significant job creation across all parts of the country and support key export opportunities for the UK economy.

“Businesses are clear that the net zero transition presents one of the largest investment opportunities of this decade, and they see well-designed environmental regulation as a crucial driver in creating jobs and increasing the UK’s long-term resilience. We call on the new Prime Minister to throw his full weight behind the net-zero transition and rapidly enact the policies that will help accelerate the low carbon investment that the UK economy urgently needs.”

Green Alliance’s executive director Shaun Spiers said: “The new Conservative Prime Minister must put delivering on the commitments in the 2019 Manifesto, on net-zero and nature, at the heart of his plan for government. From expanding clean energy to improving the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals, climate action has become synonymous with dealing with the cost-of-living crisis and bolstering energy security.

“While the UK is set to pass the COP Presidency to Egypt next month, upholding its responsibility as a global leader in fighting climate change and restoring the natural environment has never been more vital.”

The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology’s (REA) chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska said: “We congratulate Rishi Sunak and look forward to working with him to make sure that net-zero s at the heart of the Government’s economic growth plans and tackling the energy crisis.

“As we have repeatedly warned over the last few months of political uncertainty, holding back investment for renewable energy projects will simply store up problems for the future, and save relatively little in the short-term. This includes recognising how renewables, like solar, can benefit and work in conjunction with other land uses including agriculture.

“To deliver an energy future that is independent, secure and stable, we undoubtedly need to accelerate renewable energy deployment. That is how we solve this crisis.”

RenewableUK’s chief executive Dan McGrail said: “Cutting people’s energy bills and boosting energy security will be high on the new Prime Minister’s agenda, so we’re keen to work with Mr Sunak to achieve this as fast as possible.

“This means pulling out all the stops to quadruple our offshore wind capacity by 2030, as it’s the UK’s cheapest source of new power.

“We’re also urging the new Prime Minister to maintain the Conservatives’ commitment to lifting the block on onshore wind in England, as it has the support of more than 70% of the public and more than 80% of Conservative voters.

“We need a wide range of power sources to get us to net zero as fast as possible, including floating wind, tidal energy and green hydrogen – and the UK is a world leader in all of these technologies. But to seize these opportunities we’re urging Mr Sunak to reassess of some of the Conservatives’ recent measures which risk undermining confidence among investors, such as the energy price cap which could skew investment towards fossil fuels. We also need to see a reform of our system of clean power auctions to increase the volume of new capacity we secure each year. And we need a new remit for Ofgem so that it can start investing in vital new grid infrastructure ahead of time so that we can reach net-zero as fast as possible”.

The UK Green Building Council’s director of communications, policy and places, Simon McWhirter, said: “This is a chance for a fresh start at the top of government and to put in place the strategic long-range policies that can turn around the UK’s fortunes on energy security and cost of living; address the threats to climate and nature head-on, and turbocharge our economic recovery.

“In his last campaign to become PM, Rishi Sunak rightly promised to lead a national effort to cut energy waste and insulate millions of homes. That would help tick every box. Our industry is ready to support him to deliver on it.

“The new PM also has an opportunity to ditch controversial and unwise policies such as the recently mooted Investment Zones, where planning and environmental protections were set to be torn up. This was a recipe for more conflict and delay over new home and building developments. Businesses don’t want a race to the bottom. Instead, they need certainty and ambition to deliver much-needed green growth and investment. That’s why our planning system needs to be overhauled to bring it into line with the UK’s legally-binding climate and nature commitments.

“Greening homes, offices, public buildings and infrastructure is a massive growth opportunity for UK PLC and one the new Prime Minister can’t afford to miss as he seeks to steady the ship of government and charts a fresh course.”

Friends of the Earth campaigner Kierra Box said: “The dual cost of living and climate crises remain the biggest challenges for the new Prime Minister, but they’re now even more pressing thanks to the political chaos and environmental back-pedaling of recent weeks.

“Rishi Sunak has pledged to deliver on the Government’s climate targets. Yet his track record as Chancellor – which saw new North Sea oil and gas fast-tracked, levies for domestic flights cut and a weak windfall tax on profiting fossil fuel companies imposed – suggests otherwise.

“He also backed fracking with community consent during the summer leadership race, but this proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Liz Truss’ premiership. If Rishi Sunak plans to outlast his predecessor, he must learn from her mistakes, abandon runaway deregulation and the attack on nature and choose sensible solutions to the cost of living and climate crises. That means saying no to more fossil fuels – including a new coal mine in Cumbria – as well as fixing our heat-leaking homes and boosting investment in cheap, clean popular renewables, which will lower bills and harmful emissions.”

Planet Mark’s founder Steve Malkin said: “Despite the array of urgent issues facing our new Prime Minister, the biggest of them all – climate change – has not gone away. Sunak has previously called for more offshore wind, rooftop solar, and nuclear as part of a pledge to make the UK’s energy supply independent by 2045. These were encouraging words but now he must deliver.

“As a start, he could use next month’s COP27 to reaffirm the UK’s commitment to achieving a net-zero economy by 2050 and set out clear policies to show how we will get there, the benefits this will bring, and how we will pay for it. This should include encouraging further investment into green technologies under development in the UK, incentivising SMEs to invest in energy efficiency programmes and ensuring everyone in Britain is informed about how they can reduce energy consumption. A fully-funded means of achieving this, while still addressing today’s cost of living crisis and looming recession, would be implementing a one-off emergency windfall tax on the £170 bn in excess profits made by the oil and gas majors this year. Unpopular though it may be in some quarters, it would make good business sense.

“Put simply, the Prime Minister must quickly show how the low carbon transition sits at the heart of his plans to turn the economy around.”

Prospect union’s general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Rishi Sunak takes office with tens of billions of pounds of public spending cuts expected to be announced next week. There is no public mandate for this reckless, rushed plan to slash public services that results from the last PM’s mini-budget.

“The recent chaos has also reduced investor confidence and risks critical infrastructure plans, particularly in the energy sector. Mr Sunak must reassure the public and public servants that they will not pay the price for recent incompetent governance and bring stability such that the UK is seen as a place to invest.”

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