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Green Day or Groundhog Day?

Yesterday Grant Shapps, the Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, unveiled the Government’s plans for an “energy revolution”. The document itself is impressive - comprising 2,840 pages, incorporating multiple departments and an even wider range of projects. From carbon capture and nuclear energy, to offshore windfarms and green finance, the plan is to “power Britain from Britain”. But is Shapps taking the Michael with his Green policy? The supposed revolution has come under fire from opposition political parties, green business groups and academics alike. With much of the wind taken out of the turbines by Jeremy Hunt’s last minute funding intervention, and with many of the plans based on existing government commitments, the strategy has been accused of being more of a Groundhog Day than a Green Day. We take a look at the key projects and the reactions below.

The project: Powering Up Britain, Energy Security Plan.

  • Carbon Capture and Storage.

  • The Plan revealed the first Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) development projects to benefit from the £20bn of funding promised in the Spring Budget. CCS technology was presented by Shapps as a justification for the continued production of oil and gas in the North Sea, as the carbon dioxide released by the drilling would be captured and stored in large undersea caverns. The programme has been strongly criticised by scientists who argue that CCS has “yet to be proved at scale” - only last week more than 700 scientists wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to halt the licensing of new oil and gas developments in the UK.

  • Insulation.

  • The ECO+ scheme, launched in November 2022 and which offers £1bn in insulation for those in council tax bands A-D by 2026, has been repackaged and presented in the Plan as the “Great British Insulation Scheme”.

  • Floating offshore wind and other renewables.

  • The Plan announced the “launch” of a £160 million floating offshore wind fund with a 12-week competition for manufacturers, and payments made between now and 2025. However, critics suggest that this appears to be the same fund that Boris Johnson announced in October 2021 ahead of COP26.

  • Nuclear energy.

  • In an effort to expand the British nuclear programme, the government has launched Great British Nuclear (GBN), a flagship organisation which will support the UK’s nuclear industry by providing better opportunities to build and invest. The first priority for the GBN is to launch a competitive process to select the best Small Modular Reactor technologies.

The project: Green Finance Strategy

  • In the final days of Theresa May’s premiership, the government released a Green Finance Strategy, outlining how the UK will accelerate the growth of green finance. Yesterday, Sunak’s administration released an updated version which aims to mobilise private sector money for investments in green industry. The new plan includes changes to green finance taxonomies, the launch of new advisory committees on integrated sustainability reporting, increased guidance on Scope 3 emissions and a promised consultation on the Net Zero transition for later in the year. The Shapps tactic of rebrand and relaunch seems to have made its way into the Treasury brief, with a relaunch of the June 2020 Green Finance Education Charter within the Strategy.

  • The Green Finance Strategy was well received by figures in the green economy. Green Finance Institute chief Dr Rhian-Mari Thomas said: “The Strategy sets out a step change in how the UK will mobilise the finance needed to limit catastrophic warming and catalyse investment into nature. Today’s announcement broadens our mandate to work with government and the market to accelerate the mobilisation of capital to restore and protect nature as well as to decarbonise critical sectors, alongside well-designed long-term policy.”

The Net Zero Growth Plan

  • In January, Chris Skidmore published his Independent Review of the Net Zero Strategy. The Net Zero Growth Plan is the Government’s formal response to this document, which addresses each of the 129 recommendations. The recommendations that have been taken on board include the establishment of Great British Nuclear, a target for the UK to host 70GW of solar by 2035 and the creation of a new forum for industry regulators to collaborate on net-zero. However, one of Skidmore’s major recommendations - the formation of an Office for Net Zero Delivery to ensure cross department collaboration- has not been taken up, with the government arguing that the new Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero is sufficient.

What was missing?

  • Perhaps by announcing a 44 document, 2,840 page dossier on the day of Easter recess, Shapps felt that he could get away with omitting a few crucial policies, including Sunak’s promised lift of the de facto ban on onshore wind. Alok Sharma, former COP26 President, commented on the omission; “we do need a change in policy to allow onshore wind projects to re-start and the sooner the government announces this the better.”

  • Another notable omission is the Treasury’s response package to Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. In autumn last year, Biden announced a $370bn green plan which aimed to accelerate private investment in clean energy solutions, a move which many fear will lure Britain’s green industries over to the US. Hunt offered no response to Biden’s plans, instead kicking the can into the long grass of the Autumn Budget. The shadow Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband called the inaction “absolutely shameful”, remarking that other countries were getting ahead while the Tories were still deciding “whether to tie up their laces”.

How has the industry reacted?

  • Mel Evans, head of Climate at Greenpeace UK, stated that “As climate chaos hits our shores and millions struggle to pay their bills, ministers have again spectacularly failed to rise to the challenge. This piecemeal, re-heated and confusing announcement is just not enough to meaningfully tackle climate change or to provide secure, affordable energy for households. Ministers talk about leading the world, but the UK is not even making it to the starting blocks of the green tech race. A good government would go all in on renewable, efficient energy to give millions of people warm homes, clean air, lower bills and a safe climate - but Powering Up Britain is a far cry from what this country needs.”

  • Climate campaign group Friends of the Earth has called the strategy “dangerously lacklustre,” and that it may renew legal action after the High Court previously found the net zero plan too vague.

  • The Prospect Union says the “Powering Up plan is a paring down of ambition.”

And what do the opposition have to say?

  • Keir Starmer stated that the government is “pretending it’s Green Day, but it’s Groundhog Day. This is a rehash of all the things they’ve said before, which didn’t persuade anyone.”

  • Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, articulated her dissatisfaction with the announcement, stating that, “the greenest thing about this plan is the recycling of already announced ideas. We [need] a bold and visionary package to meet the scale of the climate emergency we face – yet the Government barely moves an inch”.


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