More renewable energy, fewer private jets for Ministers: Seven green announcements from the Labour Party Conference
At the Labour Party Conference, Shadow Cabinet members made major announcements on environmental issues, from plastic pollution to the energy transition. We summarise the key pledges here.
The Conference, in Liverpool, got underway on Sunday (8 October) and ran until Wednesday (11 October). Labour is the last of the three biggest political parties in England to host its Conference for 2023 following the Conservatives’ event in Manchester earlier this month and the Liberal Democrats’ in Bournemouth in late September.
As expected, the Party placed much emphasis on presenting economic and environmental plans to rival their opposition, particularly given the Prime Minister’s recent decision to weaken key green policies.
Here, we summarise seven key environmental discussions from the Labour Party Conference 2023.
Ed Miliband’s plan to ‘rewire Britain’
Shadow Climate and Net-Zero Secretary Ed Miliband delivered a keynote on Monday 9 October to say that the Prime Minister is “desperate and dishonest” to argue that “if we dither and delay in tackling the climate crisis we can somehow solve our economic problems”.
Miliband pledged the creation of a new ‘Energy Independence Act’ to reduce the UK’s dependence on imported fossil fuels – and also to scale up clean energy supply chains in Britain.
The Act would set in motion the creation of a public energy company, GB Energy. It would include stronger targets to rapidly scale renewable energy capacity, to support a target to phase out unabated gas-fired electricity generation by 2030. This is five years sooner than the Conservatives’ current target.
Targets would include doubling onshore wind, trebling solar and quadrupling offshore wind – all by 2030, against current levels. Labour would also retain or enhance existing commitments on nuclear, hydrogen, tidal power and carbon capture, Miliband said.
Also mentioned in today’s keynote speeches was a vision to “retrofit homes in every village, every town and every city across the country”. Some green groups including Friends of the Earth have stated that Miliband would have done well to spend more time focusing on energy efficiency.
Labour has stated that it would increase the windfall tax on fossil fuel majors to help fund its energy transition plans. The Energy Profits Levy in its current form will be in place until the winter of 2027-28 if the Tories win the next general election. It requires oil and gas producers to pay a 75% rate of tax, up from 40% pre price crisis. However, it is paired with an investment allowance; companies can currently claim back up to 90% of their tax rate if they were investing in new exploration and capacity.
The Tories have argued that Labour is seeking to “turn off the tap” to the North Sea overnight and claimed that its energy plans would risk jobs and energy security. Miliband countered this rhetoric by stating that existing oil and gas fields will be used “for decades to come”. He also said that “no community would be left behind or shut out”, due to robust plans to reskill fossil fuel workers for roles in low-carbon industries.
Gigafactories confirmed as a ‘priority growth area’
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves used her keynote speech to promise more efficient and effective use of taxpayers’ money than under the current Government.
She mentioned several measures which were closely linked to Miliband’s speech, including the acceleration of the delivery of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) such as energy generation facilities and the provision of enhanced community benefits for those living near new clean energy projects. These could include discounted bills.
Reeves also stated her Party’s intention to “fast-track” the planning process for other projects which it sees as crucial to the nation’s economic growth, including battery gigafactories producing packs for electric vehicles (EVs), buildings or utility-scale projects. More than 20 potential Gigafactory sites are identified in the Party’s new automotive sector plan (more on this below).
It bears noting that the current Government is already working with the National Infrastructure Commission to reform the NSIP process. The average process time has increased by 65% since 2012 and Ministers have acknowledged this. It has also recently eased some onshore wind rules – although the general consensus is that more needs to be done to streamline development and ensure that communities receive additional benefits.
The Conservative Government has already been urged several times to set more robust plans for growing the nation’s Gigafactory stock this decade, to avoid relying on imports and therefore missing out on opportunities for green job creation and international battery trade. Jaguar Land Rover’s parent firm Tata Group did announce a 40GW factory this summer.
To help staff new green infrastructure projects, Labour is planning to transform existing further education colleges into ‘Technical Excellence Colleges’. It will be up to the teams running the colleges to determine which skills are most needed on a local basis and to tailor their training provisions accordingly.
Leveraging the National Wealth Fund
Labour pledged last year to create an £8bn ‘National Wealth Fund’. It would be set up in such a way that catalytic investment in fast-growing industries would only be made with the input of stakeholders including the general public. Funding would be allocated within a decade.
Reeves announced that Labour would target £3 of private investment for every £1 provided through the Fund. In this way, Britain could unlock funding for sectors such as EVs, hydrogen, renewable energy, carbon capture and low-carbon heating by reducing risk.
Clamping down on private jets
Separately to her speech, Reeves told The Mirror that Labour would clamp down on the use of private jets and helicopters by Ministers.
She called the practice of using these modes of transport, when alternatives are feasible, a poor use of taxpayer money. Rishi Sunak has notably taken an average of one flight every eight days since becoming Prime Minister.
There would also be a climate benefit to this change. Depending on the route, private jet travel can generate some 45 times more emissions per passenger than a commercial flight or 1,100 times more emissions per passenger than a train.
Reinstating the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel sales
Sunak moved the UK’s ban on new petrol and diesel car and van sales back from 2030 to 2035 recently, in a move welcomed by some automotive giants but criticised by others. The 2030 date had been set under Boris Johnson.
Shadow Business and Trade Secretary Jonathan Reynolds presented Labour’s new automotive strategy at the Conference. It is headlined by a commitment to reinstate the earlier ban date, given that this could accelerate private investment in the sector and could help the UK’s second-hand EV market to grow sooner.
The strategy document states: “We believe that the 2030 deadline is the right policy which industry was confident of hitting. Pushing back the date of the phase-out will raise costs for British families by billions of pounds because EVs have cheaper lifetime costs than petrol cars, and by 2030 are expected to have lower upfront costs.”
Also included in the strategy is a commitment for the UK to host 200GWh of battery manufacturing capacity within a decade, in line with a recommendation from the Faraday Institution.
To prevent a skills gap, the strategy details plans to create a new body that would collaborate with central government, devolved governments, councils, businesses, training providers and unions to develop and implement a new sector-specific skills plan. Additionally outlined are reforms to the apprenticeship levy.lau
New regulatory powers to stem water pollution
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed used his platform at the Conference to outline proposals to prevent the water industry from polluting.
Labour, Reed said, would place the entire water industry into ‘special measures’ and give regulator Ofwat additional powers to hold companies to account for sewage spilling.
The UK’s environment watchdog concluded last month that Ofwat, plus factions of the Government, may have flouted laws by not properly regulating combined sewer overflows, which should only occur during period of high rainfall. The Government has disputed this.
Labour’s plan would involve mandating all water companies to monitor all of their outlets. In contrast, the current Government has scaled back monitoring plans in a bid to make savings.
Labour would also introduce automatic fines for all instances of illegal sewage discharges. The Conservatives have introduced unlimited fines but they are not automatic and do not occur after every instance. Another key facet of the Labour plan is that Ofwat would have the power to block water companies from paying bonuses to executives if they break pollution requirements.
Reed said: “It is shocking that during a cost-of-living crisis, consumers are now being expected to pay the price, whilst CEOs are pocketing millions in bonuses.
“With Labour, the polluter – not the public – will pay. Labour will give Ofwat the powers to ban the payment of bonuses to water bosses until they have cleared up their filth.”
Plans to tackle plastic waste
Party members hosted a fringe event to debate the future of legislation to crack down on plastic pollution. Barry Gardiner MP has proposed a series of 14 bans, to be implemented over a ten-year period. They have been jointly designed by Gardiner, fellow MPs and A Plastic Planet.
Single-use vapes would be the first to go; a ban is being floated for March 2024 under Gardiner’s proposals. Then, later in the year, all shrinkwraps on fresh fruit and vegetables would be banned.
In 2025, all single-use plastic sachets and all plastic carrier bags would be banned – as would thermoformed ‘clam packs’ used to house products like toys and razors.
The plan through to 2033 also covers plastics in agriculture, construction, paint and clothing as well as extending to other forms of packaging.
The incumbent UK Government recently instated bans on items including plastic cutlery, polystyrene cups and balloon sticks. This is in addition to the charge on plastic carrier bags and bans on items such as plastic-stemmed cotton buds and plastic straws introduced under the Conservatives.
Scotland recently confirmed that it will consult on banning single-use vapes next year. The UK is being urged to follow the devolved administration’s lead.
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