‘Promises are not enough’: Green economy reacts to Boris Johnson’s historic election win

Despite talks of a left-wing ‘youthquake’, the Tories secured 47 additional seats in this week’s general election, while Labour lost 59. The Conservative Party passed the 326 seats required to form a majority a 5:05 this morning and ultimately secured 364 seats, giving leader Johnson strong footing to deliver his Brexit deal.

Those in the sustainable business sphere waking up this morning to recap the night’s events will be receiving mixed messages.

On the one hand, stocks are up and so is the strength of the pound, as international investors and businesses begin to envision a more certain landscape. On the other, many prominent green voices have lost their seats, including the likes of Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Labour’s Mary Creagh, and criticism of the Conservative Party’s green policy to date and future plans remains rife.

What we do know for certain is that former Energy Minister Claire Perry O’Neill will be handed the keys to the COP26 presidency later today and that a cabinet reshuffle is likely to come on Monday (16 December), potentially changing the landscape at both the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).

In the longer term, the Conservative Party manifesto reaffirms the UK’s commitment to net-zero by 2050 and also touts further investment in carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS); nuclear fusion; tree planting; energy efficiency; domestic plastics recycling infrastructure and measures incentivising businesses to use recycled materials.

But it is shorter on detail around topics including community energy; preparing the electricity grid for renewables; energy storage; tidal power and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Moreover, the Conservative Party has come under fire in recent months for defying the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) advice on low-carbon aviation and road transport, as well as carbon accounting.

Hopes that these gaps may be addressed in the near future rose this morning when, during his victory speech, Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to net-zero and echoed his first major campaign speech, in which he touted a “clean energy revolution” that will “harness the power of science, innovation and technology to tackle climate change, spur economic growth and create high-skilled, high-wage jobs”.

With this in mind, key figures from the UK’s green economy have been quick to have their say on the results of the election, and what must now happen to set the nation on track for its long-term ambitions to reach net-zero and leave the environment “better than [the Conservatives] found it” nine years ago.

The Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho said: “The Government’s policy decisions in this parliamentary term will be absolutely critical. They will determine whether the UK is genuinely on track for achieving its net-zero target and reversing the decline of the natural environment within a generation. They will also determine whether UK businesses can become amongst the most competitive providers of low carbon goods and services globally. The Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have been consistent in voicing their support for climate and environmental action throughout the campaign, they must now deliver on the ground with the urgency and thoroughness that the clean growth challenge requires.

“Businesses want the Government to hit the ground running in 2020, with urgent policy decisions needed on the environmental and climate agenda. Key priorities should include putting together credible plans to deliver and fund the net-zero transition and introducing an ambitious Environment Bill to safeguard the proper enforcement of environmental law and introduce legally binding environmental improvement targets. This will need to be complemented by putting in place a climate diplomacy and trade strategy that is consistent with delivering the UK’s climate and environmental targets.”    

A spokesperson for the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said: “The climate emergency is the biggest challenge that we face and this is the pivotal moment. The new Government must now implement credible policy to decarbonise the economy in line with our net-zero targets.  We welcome the Conservatives commitment to achieve Net Zero targets, as set out in their manifesto.

“However, to achieve this, the new Government must be more ambitious and commit to wholesale systems change across energy, in particular for transport and waste, required to unleash the full potential of renewable energy and clean technology.

“The REA looks forward to working with the new Government to ensure that renewable energy and clean technology is at the heart of the UK net-zero ambitions.”

SUEZ recycling and recovery UK’s chief executive David Palmer-Jones said: “We look forward to working with the new Government to push ahead once more with the raft of once-in-a-lifetime environmental legislation.  

“The Environment Bill, one of the most significant and ambitious pieces of environmental legislation in over 20 years, was primed to be enacted into law with cross-party support before Parliament was dissolved for the general election.  Its swift enactment offers the capacity to unlock the regulations required to secure the investment needed by our sector to bring about wholesale reforms that will enable industry, local authorities and consumers to make sustainable decisions about the products they manufacture, buy, use and discard.  

“We stand willing to continue to support the development of an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme that fulfils the polluter pays principle and that will in turn allow for the vital shift to greater consistency in waste and recycling collections, clearer labelling of goods for recycling and deposit return schemes for plastic bottles and cans. 

This clear working Parliamentary majority allows us to continue on our transformational journey to convert the 60 million tonnes of waste in the system today into 60 million tonnes of resources, benefitting both our fragile environment and UK industrial performance.”

Cundall sustainability partner Alan Fogarty said: “The general sentiment seems to be that the Tories are less caring about the environment, but the net-zero 2050 law came from them, and while their environmental policy may not be as radical as some of their opponents, it is realistic.

“Ultimately, achieving net-zero carbon is an engineering problem that needs a technical solution. Solving it requires investment from both the government and private industry. With that in mind, I think the most important thing we need to consider is not the climate change policies of the new government, but the economic policies. If we don’t have the cash, we can’t invest in environmental policy. In that regard, I think in that the outcome of the election is a positive one for climate change policy. In all this debate about climate action, energy resources and environmental policy, we should remember that money is a resource too, and we need to use that wisely in order to get a more sustainable solution.

“Now that we have a new government, we need to get on with the work of combatting climate change a goal that this industry is fully behind. As an industry, we need to work with the government to deliver a net-zero carbon built environment by 2050. Cundall is focusing our research capabilities to untangle the complexity of this objective.”

Green Alliance’s executive director Shaun Spiers said: “The prominence of environmental issues in the manifestos and campaign is unprecedented and extremely welcome. But promises are not enough.

“The test for the new Government will be whether it acts fast to tackle climate change and recognises that we face a twin crisis – climate and nature – and that you can’t tackle one without also tackling the other.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of political affairs Dave Timms said: “Environmental issues have been given greater priority in this election than ever before – and with the world in the midst of an ecological and climate crisis this must be the next government’s top priority.

“Many of the policies that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Green party have put forward are commensurate with, or striving to meet, the challenges we face. It is disappointing we have not yet seen the same urgency, ambition or consistency from the Conservative party.

“We don’t have time for yet more dither and delay – the next Government needs to urgently start the work of transforming our economy and infrastructure, and restoring nature to deliver a safer, brighter future.”

The Environmental Services Association’s executive director Jacob Hayler said:  “This landslide election result hopefully signals continuity, for the resources and waste sector, along the path set out by the previous Conservative government, which promised to radically change the way we view and deal with waste in this country. Continuation of this journey, which is now at least two years down the road, will therefore undoubtedly be welcomed by many in our sector. 

“We would like to see the new Conservative government quickly rekindle the legislative programme introduced under the Environment Bill in the autumn, so that progress can be made against the Resources and Waste Strategy, and we can make up for lost time.

“We will wait to find out who will oversee this process as Secretary of State at Defra – noting that the incumbent Defra leadership team of Theresa Villiers and Rebecca Pow both retained their seats in Parliament – but we look forward to working with whoever is selected in due course.” 

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom said: “The next five years are make or break for the climate and nature emergencies, so we expect the new government to immediately roll out bold commitments to tackle the challenge. This should start with a climate emergency Budget to pledge at least 5% government spending per year to deliver a fairer and greener economy for all. The Prime Minister should also immediately make good on his manifesto promises to more than triple offshore wind by 2030 and bring forward the date for banning new petrol and diesel cars and vans significantly.

“While the Conservative Party has started to recognise the environmental challenges ahead, Greenpeace’s manifesto ranking revealed their plans are still full of holes. From the Party’s continued support for polluting infrastructure, their failure to guarantee a trade policy that protects environmental and human rights, and their weak protections against overfishing and destructive agriculture, the new government has a huge way to go in recognising the scale of action required and the transformative policy needed to deliver it.

“The weight of responsibility and growing public concern now rests on Boris Johnson’s shoulders to ensure the UK rises to the challenge, fights for climate justice, and shows real leadership. There will be no hiding place from the eyes of the world in the run-up to critical global climate talks in Glasgow next year, and there are only a few short months for his government to prove it is ready to take on the challenge.”

Scottish Renewables’ chief executive Claire Mack said: “Scottish Renewables welcomed the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments to deliver two million new jobs in clean energy over the next decade and to increase ambition for our world-leading offshore wind sector. However, our industry still lacks the clarity it needs to progress in key areas: onshore wind and large solar PVs access to the energy market, the future of renewable heat and a plan for small-scale renewables, among others.

“I look forward to working with the new government as its Cabinet and Ministers are announced to deliver the economic benefits which this industry has already shown it is so very capable of producing.”

Localis’ chief executive Jonathan Werran said: “This is the first election of the net-zero era. There is a case to be made that, in Russian doll fashion, the Greg-Clark-driven, post-2015 devolution agenda was enfolded into the interventionist industrial strategy – Theresa May’s sole note of domestic policy success. And the next doll layer will be the bigger embrace of clean growth agenda.

“Perhaps, tellingly, there was not a single mention of ‘industrial strategy’ within the 59 page manifesto. Clean growth was highlighted as a route to generating two million new jobs to meet ambitions of offshore wind carbon capture, hydrogen from gas and nuclear (including fusion) energy.

“There are some considerable green promises to deliver on, including a doubling of Research and Development funding to £18bn over the next parliament, passing an Environment Bill and establishing an Office for Environmental Protection.”

Econpro’s director Phil Sutton said: “Radical action is needed to support the circular economy from all industries e.g. construction, waste management, so it will be hugely important to replace EU environmental legislation once Brexit has been agreed.

“With a net-zero carbon emissions target set by the Conservative government for 2050, we are keen to know what policies will be put in place to support this now they have a clear majority – will they, for example, reward companies for choosing products that are light weighted and therefore produce less CO2 when transported? The Conservatives also promised £28.8bn to spend on local and strategic roads, which we hope will be created in a sustainable way, for example by using recycled plastic to create the kerbing and drainage.”

Aceleron’s co-founder and chief executive Dr Armit Chandan said: “Now there is a clear majority in parliament, we need the focus to be on delivering a green economy. The Conservatives must keep their net-zero 2050 promise and meet their positive pledges to invest in green jobs, low carbon infrastructure and a gigafactory to provide home-grown energy storage technology. We want to see the Conservatives deliver their promises and make 2020 a transformational year in the clean energy sector. Hopefully the oven ready energy policies are already in the microwave.”

Sarah George

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