It's time for ACTION: 14 green policy priorities for the new UK Government - Part two
A decentralised energy system, more ambitious renewable energy targets and a stronger low-carbon heat and transport policy are all listed in the second part of edie's feature exploring the most critical areas of green policy that Theresa May's new Government must prioritise.
A week is a long time in politics. In the seven days since the first part of this green policy priority list was published, the Tories have finally secured the support from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to form a majority Government.
Sustainability professionals and green groups have also heard the new Climate Change Minister Claire Perry assert that the publication of the Clean Growth Plan – one of the seven key policies listed in the first priority list – will arrive when Parliament returns after the summer recess in early September.
But with empty promises hitherto issued by the Tories on a series of key green policy issues, this reassurance will remain merely hollow rhetoric until matched by solid policy action. The green business community needs to see action taken now, on issues ranging from shale gas plans and clean energy targets through to energy storage proposals and post-Brexit environmental policy.
In this two-part feature, edie has pulled together the expert views of various sustainability professionals and green organisations, and analysed the responses to our pre-election green policy survey, to bring you a list of 14 key green policy areas that the next UK Government must now prioritise.
8) Transpose EU green policy into UK law after Brexit
Brexit stands out as a key point of concern among the green business community, with an estimated 80% of UK environmental regulations deriving from the EU.
In our pre-election green policy survey, the majority of edie readers (54%) said that the transposition of all relevant EU energy and environmental legislation into UK law following our departure from the bloc is 'extremely important'. Meanwhile, a recent YouGov poll showed that 83% of the public want new UK laws on issues such as air quality and water that provide the same or a higher level of protection than current EU regulation.
Ministers have repeatedly insisted that the Government would preserve the whole body of EU environmental law immediately after the UK’s departure through the Great Repeal Bill. But environmental groups and opposition politicians have provided a stark warning that post-Brexit environmental laws could suffer from a Tory “deregulation agenda”. The Great Repeal Bill text does not, for instance, rule out the future possibility to amend, repeal or reverse European green regulations.
9) Rethink policy on fracking (and listen to the public!)
The UK’s pledge to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2025 was welcomed by green groups but many remain concerned that the commitment could be undermined by subsidies for unconventional sources of fossil fuel sources like shale gas.
According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the growth of a large-scale shale gas industry in this country is likely to seriously undermine Britain’s climate targets. Public backing for fracking, meanwhile, has fallen in recent times (the more people know about it, the less they support it), while support for clean energy continues to surge.
During the election campaign, the Conservatives stood out as the only party in support of fracking. in The proposed Shale Wealth Fund, which will be changed so that larger revenues from fracking go directly to communities that host the extraction sites, has been criticised by environmental groups, claiming that it would act as a bribe to diminish community hostility to the technology.
At a very minimum, it will be crucial that Government keeps its promise to ensure “rigorous” environmental protections are upheld if shale gas development goes ahead.
10) Set more ambitious renewable energy targets
The vast majority of respondents to edie's green policy survey said the setting of more ambitious renewable energy targets is either 'extremely important' or 'very important' for the next UK Government. With costs for many of these falling rapidly, the potential economic and employment benefits are very large – and Government opinion polling shows these technologies are especially popular.
The Tories have not outlined a specific mid-term goal for renewables, unlike Labour, which pledged a 60% renewables target for 2030 in its pre-election manifesto. The Tory manifesto dismissed the commercial viability of large-scale onshore wind, but did, however, offer support for offshore turbines, along with the development of projects in the remote islands of Scotland.
Commenting on the Conservative manifesto at the time of its release, RenewableUK’s chief executive Hugh McNeal said: “Renewables can offer much to the next Government: these modern, game-changing technologies have resolved the decades-old problem of delivering an affordable, secure supply of low-carbon electricity.
"It’s good to see the Conservative manifesto focussing on energy policy outcomes like these. Our industries can help a future Conservative government to deliver these and more."
11) Deliver low-carbon heat and transport policy
The UK has faced numerous warnings that it will miss crucial 2020 renewable heat and transport targets and significantly damage its global reputation as a climate leader unless "major policy improvements" are rapidly enforced. An Energy and Climate Change Select Committee report from September revealed that the UK is less than half way to meeting its heat targets, while the share of renewables in transport fuel has flatlined at 4.75%.
Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector have increased by 1% since 1990, while the majority of other sectors of the economy have fallen. Earlier this week, think tank Policy Exchange called upon Ministers to accelerate the decarbonisation process by developing a technology-neutral strategy that involves new technologies such as hydrogen and natural gas vehicles. Policy Exchange did welcome the Government’s reiterated support for electric vehicles (EVs) confirmed in last week’s Queen’s Speech.
Meanwhile, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has been seen as a barrier in the uptake of renewables. The Government launched a consultation into the RHI in March last year. Under the proposed amendments, the industry could be subjected to a 98% reduction in the deployment of non-domestic biomass boilers and an end to support for solar water heating systems. The growing evidence of heat and transport as problem areas has led sustainability professionals to label it an issue of great importance.
12) Work proactively with other parliamentary parties
Prime Minister May finally reached an agreement with Northern Ireland's DUP this week to form a working parliamentary majority of just 13 seats. Initial concerns raised about the DUP’s climate-scepticsm have quietened down as the details of the deal have come to the fore. It seems extremely unlikely now that the DUP will wield any influence on Westminster green policy.
For good or for bad, this weak Tory Government will be unable to push through a full programme of legislation as set out in the manifesto. Early soundings from the May administration does suggest that the Conservatives are willing work with other parties on a variety of issues. Commenting on the proposed Clean Growth Plan, Climate Minister Perry said she looked "forward to cross-party discussion and, hopefully, consensus on a document that is hugely important both for Britain’s domestic future and for our international leadership."
Cross-party compromise and diplomacy could pave the way for all parties to unite around a common cause on climate change and the environment. A conciliatory approach would undoubtedly be welcomed by edie readers, 84% of which claimed that either Labour, the Lib Dems or the Green Party had the best green policy proposals in a pre-election snap poll. The Conservatives would be wise to consider listening to green politicians from the Lib Dem and Labour Party, with both manifestos broadly praised by green groups for including a raft of bold pledges to ramp up renewable energy generation.
13) Maintain global leadership on climate action following Trump’s Paris pullout
The UK should look to capitalise on a renewed international commitment to tackle climate change
in the wake of the ill-informed decision of President Trump to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. The Government was praised for its reaffirmed commitment during the Queen’s Speech, which confirmed the UK will “continue to support international action against climate change, including the implementation of the Paris Agreement”.
Many commentators have suggested that the UK’s 'special relationship' with the White House could be leveraged to influence Trump’s policy on climate change.
In an letter to party leaders sent earlier this month, the Scientists for Global Responsibility wrote: “We urge you to use any political influence you have in the USA to try to convince President Trump that climate change is a serious threat to his country as well as the world, and that his government needs to change course.
"Indeed, his failure to support cleaner industries in his own country is very likely to have a negative impact on the economy there.”
14) Put energy storage at the heart of a decentralised system
Last but by no means least on this list of green policy priorities for the new Government, energy storage – which has fast-become a valuable asset in the UK’s transition towards a low-carbon, decentalised energy system; and a crucial solution to the potential problem of fluctuating national renewable energy generation.
Substantial reductions in the cost of energy storage technologies have brought forward the anticipated timeframe for their deployment, which could reportedly contribute £2.4bn to UK electricity system savings by 2030.
But as the storage sector marches forward, the technology still faces significant regulatory issues, including short contract lengths for balancing services and ‘discriminatory’ charges' for grid connection.
There are a range of regulatory changes that need to be confirmed in the upcoming months. According to Renewable Energy Association (REA), amending the double-charging of storage, clarification of its legal definition, and changing the Capacity Market rules to incentivise new storage projects would all be “hugely helpful” to storage, solar, and wind developers alike.