On 8 June, the UK will head to the polls for the third time in as many years. In an election dominated by Brexit, Carbon Brief tracks the climate change and energy content of parties’ manifestos, as they are launched. Courtesy Carbon Brief.
The 8 June election, called three years early as prime minister Theresa May seeks to bank her substantial lead in the polls, is taking place against a background dominated by debate over the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The approach to Brexit negotiations will have significant implications for the UK’s climate and energy policy, from how energy is traded across borders to the regulation of power plant emissions.
May’s current approach to the talks, taking a hard line against jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice, could even see the UK withdraw from the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). She has already indicated a withdrawal from Euratom, the European nuclear treaty.
The Conservatives have long opposed EU targets for renewables and energy efficiency. In particular, they have criticised the EU Renewable Energy Directive
The Conservative manifesto identifies “five giant challenges” facing the UK over the next five years and beyond. One is “Brexit and a changing world”, including migration and national security, but not climate change. After leaving the EU, the document says: “We will form our energy policy based not on the way energy is generated but on the ends we desire – reliable and affordable energy, seizing the industrial opportunity that new technology presents and meeting our global commitments on climate change.”
The Conservatives have long opposed EU targets for renewables and energy efficiency. In particular, they have criticised the EU Renewable Energy Directive, under which the UK is supposed to get 15% of its energy from renewables by 2020. The UK is likely to miss this target.
The Conservatives say EU environmental protections will continue to apply “at the point at which we leave the EU”. Labour and the Green Party both pledge to ensure existing environmental rules are maintained during the Brexit process. Plaid Cymru hopes to “build upon” these rules.
Labour hopes to maintain access to the EU internal energy market and retain membership of Euratom. The Liberal Democrats want to maintain: “high [EU environmental] standards”; the “closest possible cooperation on climate and energy policy”; and membership of Euratom. UKIP says “Brexit offers the perfect opportunity to review energy policy, prioritising lower prices and more secure supplies”.
Despite the hopes of some groups, climate change has barely featured as an election issue so far. In his speech launching the Labour manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn made no mention of climate change. Theresa May’s launch speech also avoided the subject.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and Plaid all reiterate support for UK climate targets in their manifestos, with the three largest parties also explicitly naming the Paris Agreement. The Conservatives say: “We will continue to take a lead in global action against climate change, as the government demonstrated by ratifying the Paris Agreement.”
Labour says it will “reclaim Britain’s leading role” on tackling climate change, while the Greens say: “With 2016 the hottest year on record, and a climate-denier in the White House, the need for bold and dynamic action on climate change has never been more urgent.”
Both Labour and the Conservatives go into this election promising to cap energy bills, potentially signalling a more interventionist approach to energy policy
Plaid Cymru [the Party of Wales, ed.] says the British government is “neglecting its international duty to reduce…emissions”. It wants a new Climate Change Act, with “ambitious but achievable” targets for 2030 and 2050. The SNP [Scottish National Party] says Scotland has a “world leading” target to cut emissions 42% below 1990 levels by 2020 and it wants the UK government to “match Scotland’s commitment and ambition”. The Lib Dems say: “With the election of Donald Trump in the US and Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the tides of isolationism and populism could halt or even reverse the progress [on climate change] that has been made. Liberal Democrats are determined that we live up to our environmental obligations.”
Language in Labour’s leaked draft saying tackling climate change is “non-negotiable” is missing in the published manifesto. However, it has added Labour’s determination to “disagree” in the face of a “Trump administration…breaking its climate change commitments”.
UKIP repeats it long-held commitment to repeal the Climate Change Act, which it says “has no basis in science”.
Both Labour and the Conservatives, therefore, go into this election promising to cap energy bills, potentially signalling a more interventionist approach to energy policy. While Labour promise a specific energy bill price cap of £1,000 per year, the Conservatives promise “a safeguard tariff cap that will extend the price protection currently in place for some vulnerable customers to more customers”. The SNP is also campaigning for a price cap on standard variable tariffs.
The Lib Dems instead say they will “reduce energy bills permanently by improving home insulation”. In this context it’s worth revisiting the fact that energy bills in 2016 were actually lower than in 2008, though they have risen somewhat this year. UKIP says it will remove VAT from domestic fuel and scrap green levies “to reduce household bills by an average of £170”.
The Green Party wants to insulate 9 million homes, as part of “a national programme of insulation and retrofitting”
Between 2008 and 2016, increases in bills due to carbon pricing and subsidies for low-carbon energy have been more than offset by savings due to energy efficiency, according to the Committee on Climate Change.
However, the number of insulation measures going into homes has fallen by nearly 90% over the past decade, putting further bill savings in doubt. This low rate of improvement was set to continue, as the government had planned to insulate one million homes over five years to 2020.
The Labour manifesto promises to insulate four million homes “as an infrastructure priority”. The Lib Dems want to insulate 4m homes by 2022 and bring all homes in England to band C efficiency by 2035. The Conservatives want to bring all fuel-poor homes to band C by 2030. The Green Party wants to insulate 9m homes, as part of “a national programme of insulation and retrofitting”.
The UK Green Building Council says 25m homes will need to be insulated by 2050, at the rate of more than one every minute, if the UK is to meet its climate targets.
The Greens pledge to reintroduce zero-carbon standards for new homes, which would be binding from 2020, while Labour will consult on what such standards should be. The Lib Dems would also reintroduce the zero-carbon standard, extending it to non-domestic buildings by 2022.
Sources of energy
The Conservative manifesto includes a lengthy section on fracking for shale gas. It says fracking in the US has helped cut energy costs while reducing imports and emissions “because shale is cleaner than coal”. It says: “We believe that shale energy has the potential to do the same thing in Britain”.
Note that the government has already pledged to phase out coal power by 2025, meaning UK shale would not have a chance to reduce UK coal emissions. It’s worth adding that the Conservative manifesto does not mention its previous coal phaseout commitment. See below for analysis of the Conservative manifesto.
Both Labour and the Greens would ban fracking for shale gas. Labour says fracking “would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change [CCC] says gas in the UK must sharply decline”. For more on the CCC’s views on fracking, check out this previous Carbon Brief article.
The Liberal Democrats would “oppose” fracking “because of its adverse impact on climate change”, among other issues. SNP notes that Scotland already has a moratorium on fracking. In contrast, UKIP says it “will invest in shale gas exploration…[if it is] viable in Britain”, but not “in our national parks or other areas of outstanding natural beauty”.
Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and Plaid Cymru all back an expansion of renewables, with Labour including an ambitious pledge to source 60% of the UK’s heat and power from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030. See the Labour section, below, for more details.
The Labour manifesto pledges to “take energy back into public ownership” as part of wider plans to renationalise essential infrastructure
The Lib Dems want 60% of the UK’s power to be renewable by 2030. See below for analysis of the Lib Dem pledges. The Conservatives say: “While we do not believe that more large-scale onshore wind power is right for England, we will maintain our position as a global leader in offshore wind and support the development of wind projects in the remote islands of Scotland.”
The SNP says it will tackle climate change and keep bills down by supporting “low cost renewable energy”, with onshore wind being the “lowest cost renewable”. The Greens ask for an end to the “effective ban on onshore wind – the cheapest form of new electricity generation”. Plaid says Wales should aim to generate 100% of its power from renewables by 2035 and backs a series of tidal lagoons around the Welsh coast.
Labour says it “will support further [new] nuclear projects” while the Greens want to “end the reckless gamble with nuclear”. The Lib Dems will support new nuclear “[provided] there is no public subsidy for new build”. See below for more on this. The Conservatives do not mention nuclear energy.
The Greens want to bring forward plans to phase out unabated coal-fired electricity to 2023 “at the latest” and “keep fossil fuels…in the ground”. Plaid says we are “far too reliant on fossil fuels”. The Conservatives pledge to: “Continue to support the [North Sea oil and gas] industry and build on the unprecedented support already provided to the oil and gas sector”.
Labour clean energy target
The Labour manifesto pledges to “take energy back into public ownership” as part of wider plans to renationalise essential infrastructure. It says national and regional grid infrastructure would be “brought into public ownership over time” and that “the alteration of operator license conditions” would return “control” of energy networks to public hands.
One of the most eye-catching elements of Labour’s manifesto is a pledge to source 60% of the UK’s heat and power from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030. This pledge was previously set out in November 2016 by then-shadow BEIS secretary Clive Lewis. It does not include all energy use, even though the manifesto says “60% of the UK’s energy”. In fact, transport is excluded.
On what counts as zero-carbon, the manifesto backs new nuclear and “state-of-the-art low-carbon gas”. Last year, Labour launched a Green Gas Book, exploring ways to decarbonise heat through renewable biogas, combined heat and power, district heating or hydrogen combined with carbon capture and storage.
A chapter by prospective parliamentary candidate Alan Whitehead, until recently shadow energy and climate minister, says heat is the “Cinderella of decarbonisation measures”. He notes that gas provides the vast majority of home heat and must be addressed to meet carbon targets.
Yet none of the options available can solve the problem, Whitehead notes. He suggests a basket of “10% wedges”, listed above, will be needed.
The Liberal Democrats are so far the only party to include an explicit deadline for reaching zero emissions in their election manifesto
The 60% zero-carbon and renewable energy target extends a pledge, made by Jeremy Corbyn last year, to source 65% of UK electricity from renewables by 2030. This drew on 2011 modelling from consultants Pöyry, which envisaged up to 65% of power coming from renewables, with another 18% from nuclear and 5% from CCS, for a total of 88% low-carbon or renewable electricity.
For comparison, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) central scenario for meeting the UK’s fifth carbon budget has low-carbon and renewable power supply 76% of total demand in 2030, with the remainder from gas. The CCC’s “high low-carbon” scenario includes 88% low-carbon by 2030.
The 60% Labour target also includes 40% of heat energy coming from low-carbon sources by 2030. This would represent a substantial increase compared to today’s level of around 5%, and a nominal 2020 target of 12%, which a leaked 2015 government letter suggests will be missed.
The 40% low-carbon heat target is highly ambitious. In 2011, the CCC wrote that an increase to 35% renewable heat “is likely to be both feasible and desirable,” and that up to 50% “might be technically feasible”. Since then, the CCC has dramatically pared back its optimism for heat.
This shift reflects slow progress on low-carbon heat to date, as well as less optimistic assumptions on the availability of sustainable biomass. Cost estimates for electric heat pumps have also risen, causing the CCC revise downwards its expectations for 2030 deployment. From 7m in 2011, its projections have fallen to 4m in 2013 and then 2.5m in the latest 2015 outlook.
Liberal Democrat zero carbon goal
The Liberal Democrats want to set a legally-binding zero-carbon target for 2050, with a new act of parliament that would be one of five green laws along with transport, waste, nature and buildings. This pledge was already set out in the party’s 2015 manifesto. Instead of a new Zero Carbon Britain Act, the goal could be set through a revised Climate Change Act.
Either way, a net zero emissions target is in line with the science of carbon budgets and the goals of the Paris Agreement. The main question is when the UK should reach net zero. Earlier this year, Carbon Brief covered research suggesting it should get there by 2070 at the latest, and as early as 2045.
Conservative Andrea Leadsom, then-energy minister, confirmed last March that the then-government saw it as a question of “not whether but how we do it”. And former Labour leader Ed Miliband has campaigned for a net zero goal in light of Paris.
While the Conservative manifesto affirms a commitment to the UK’s 2050 climate goals, the focus of its energy sections is on cost
Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats are so far the only party to include an explicit deadline for reaching zero emissions in their election manifesto.
On energy, the Lib Dems would set a 60% target for renewable power by 2030. CCC scenarios for meeting the fifth carbon budget include between 45 and 55% of power coming from renewables in 2030.
On new nuclear, which the manifesto conditionally supports, note that Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat and then-energy and climate change secretary, gave initial agreement to the Hinkley C new nuclear plant in 2013. This was also conditional on a similar “no public subsidy” policy. When the scheme was finally approved in 2015, the government said it was dropping the “no subsidy” policy.
Conservative energy cost review
While the Conservative manifesto affirms a commitment to the UK’s 2050 climate goals, the focus of its energy sections is on cost. It says: “Our ambition is that the UK should have the lowest energy costs in Europe, both for households and businesses. We will therefore commission an independent review into the Cost of Energy, which will be asked to make recommendations as to how we can ensure UK energy costs are as low as possible, while ensuring a reliable supply and allowing us to meet our 2050 carbon reduction objective.”
In its Industrial Strategy green paper, published in January, the Conservative government announced a review of “opportunities to reduce the cost of achieving our decarbonisation goals in the power and industrial sectors”. The review mentioned in its manifesto appears to be an extension of this.
When the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) investigated energy costs earlier this year, it found that industrial power prices were higher than in elsewhere in the EU, but not because of climate policy. Matthew Bell, CCC chief executive told journalists at the time: “The best that we can understand, the electricity costs for the steel sector are higher in the UK than elsewhere, but not because of climate policies. Other countries have more or less the same climate policies and have more or less the same costs and compensation levels accordingly. But, network costs and wholesale costs are higher here. We’ve also tried to understand why that’s the case…but that’s less clear. That’s why we’ve said that that should be clarified, because until there’s an explanation, the understandable default is to focus on climate policy.”
As the most likely candidates to lead the next government, it is also worth noting several matters not mentioned by the Conservative manifesto. These include the commitment to phase out unabated coal power by 2025, nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage, and the long-awaited Clean Growth Plan on how to meet the fourth and fifth UK carbon budgets for 2023-2032.
The manifesto also fails to repeat a pledge, made in the 2015 Conservative manifesto, to “end any new public subsidy for [onshore wind]”. This could leave the door open to future onshore wind contracts, without having to get in to arguments about what counts as a public subsidy.
Republished from Carbon Brief under a Creative Commons licence. The Carbon Brief website has an interactive table showing all the parties’ climate and energy plans.