Jeremy Corbyn's energy manifesto: 'wishful thinking' or a welcome change from 'incompatible' climate commitments?
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has unveiled his Party's energy and environment manifesto that aims to accelerate renewables generation, ban fracking and end fossil fuel reliance. But would a Labour Government really strengthen EU-driven policies or instead become a naive and short-sighted regime?
Corbyn officially launched his new green agenda in Nottingham on Wednesday (7 September), pledging to generate 300,000 jobs in the renewable sector as well as establishing a target of generating 65% of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Alongside those two landmark promises, the Labour Leader would also seek to turn the country into a world leader in green technology, immediately reinstate the recently-abolished Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), ban fracking and shut down all coal-fired power stations.
But while Corbyn has vowed to “protect the future of our planet, with social justice at the heart of our environment policies”, green groups and organisations have questioned the Labour leader’s ability to bring about dramatic and transformational change.
‘naïve and short-sighted’
Fresh from controversially labelling the National Grid’s demand response aspirations as “fanciful nonsense”, the union for energy workers GMB has warned that Corbyn's “wishful thinking” wouldn’t keep the lights on and keep the economy functioning.
"Everyone gets how, over time, renewable energy sources have an important role to play in a sensibly conceived mixed energy policy,” GMB’s national secretary for energy Justin Bowden said.
“However, wishful thinking doesn't generate the power we need to heat homes, keep the lights on and the economy functioning; this means that until there are technological breakthroughs in carbon capture or solar storage then gas and nuclear power are the only reliable, low-carbon shows in town for all those days when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow.
"Limiting the UK's options on achieving energy self-sufficiency by proposing an outright ban on fracking is naive and short-sighted. Gas is four times cheaper than electricity, the main reason why over 80% of homes use gas for heating, and access to gas is a key part of every fuel poverty strategy.”
GMB’s comments echo those from Corbyn’s rival for the Labour leadership, Owen Smith, who used the lack of protest from Corbyn in the aftermath to the abolishment of DECC among a list of reasons as to why the Labour leader couldn’t “speak with credibility on environmental policy”.
Accelerate the transition
At the launch of the manifesto in Nottingham, Corbyn claimed that 'when' Labour gets back to power, it would help Britain take the lead on climate action. The manifesto included plans to mobilise community energy companies and projects, introduce a nation home insulation plan reaching at least four million homes and adopting EU environmental regulations to safeguard post-Brexit policies.
“We will act to protect the future of our planet, with social justice at the heart of our environment policies, and take our fair share of action to meet the Paris climate agreement – starting by getting on track with our Climate Change Act goals,” Corbyn said.
“We want Britain to be the world’s leading producer of renewables technology…To achieve this we will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, and drive the expansion of the green industries and jobs of the future, using our National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy.”
Corbyn’s willingness to integrate EU policies - an aspect that businesses and non-profits are asking for assurances on – has been welcomed by environmental lawyers ClientEarth.
The organisation claims that EU polices have served the UK well so far, but called for Corbyn to fully commit to protecting the environment by following in the footstep of London Mayor Sadiq Khan in tackling the country’s air pollution crisis – which has already seen ClientEarth launch legal action against the Government.
“I’m pleased to hear Jeremy Corbyn declaring his commitment to implementing EU environmental protections – something that Theresa May’s cabinet has so far failed to do," said ClientEarth's chief executive James Thornton. "First and foremost, we need to keep the EU protections we have now. They have served our country well. Once they are secure, we can start strengthening protections for wildlife and the environment.
“But political leaders also need to commit to strong and effective means of enforcing those laws because if oversight is not to be provided by the EU Commission and the European Court of Justice in future, then the lead must come from government and the UK courts.
“If the Labour leader is fully signed up to protecting the environment and tackling the UK’s air pollution crisis then we also would urge him to back our calls for a new Clean Air Act, which the London Mayor Sadiq Khan already supports.”
With Friends of the Earth (FoE) and local residents group Frack Free Ryedale threatening to take legal action over decisions to approve fracking in Yorkshire, Corbyn’s stance on shale gas exploration is likely to receive the backing from the public.
FoE’s senior political strategist Liz Hutchins believes the Government’s insistence on pursuing fracking is an example of a “zealous determination” that goes against community wishes.
“Jeremy Corbyn is right to commit to ban fracking and Owen Smith should make the same clear commitment,” Hutchins said. "The Government is increasingly isolated in its zealous determination to impose fracking on communities that don't want it.
"The Liberal Democrats and The Green Party have called for a ban on fracking because of threats to health and the environment. It is now banned or halted in Scotland, Wales, France, Germany and New York State.
"Fracking is fundamentally incompatible with the UK's climate change commitments. It’s time to move away from fossil fuels and instead invest in renewable energy”.
Corbyn, who has been subjected to a Labour coup and watched on as a string of shadow ministers resigned, recently pledged to fund a US-style energy research agency to help combat climate change. edie’s sister publication Utility Week reported that the £300m Advanced Research Agency would attract the “best minds from the UK and across the world”.