Several green policies are both popular and make clear economic sense
Will the next election be fought over net zero? Some Tories think so. This week the government announced plans to row back on Britain’s net zero commitments in what is widely seen as an attempt to present the Conservatives as the party concerned with the cost of living crisis.
This comes after a summer where green issues were rarely far from the headlines, with the Conservative by-election victory in South Ruislip, widely seen as opposition to ULEZ, and the emergence of vigilante-style ‘blade runners’ vandalizing ULEZ cameras across the capital.
Some Tories believe there are several marginal outer-London seats where opposition to ULEZ could swing the election in their favour. It looks like one of the battlegrounds of the next election will be Britain’s green policies, with the Conservatives attempting to paint themselves as the party of sensible reform, and Labour as the criminal-supporting eco-mob.
But the narrative doesn’t seem to be cutting through. Labour retains a double digit poll lead and scores better on questions such as ‘which party is more concerned with people in real need’. This is surely in part because Labour has maintained an impressive message discipline on its green policies, delaying plans to borrow 28 billion to support a new green fund, and insisting that every new spending commitment be matched by a detailed plan showing how the policy will be paid for.
Labour is determined not to give the Tories any ammunition to claim that a Labour government will chase net zero at the expense of the economy.
But as the battle lines for the next election are drawn, has the time come for Labour to be bolder? The public continues to back net zero, and puts the environment fourth on its list of priorities for the next government. What’s more, there are a number of green policies Labour could propose that, alongside enjoying popular support, make clear economic sense.
Check out our list and please do let us know which green policies you think would be the post popular on social media -
Britain doesn’t do onshore wind farms. Ukraine has built more (19) than Britain (2) since the start of the invasion. This is partly because of nimbyism: until recently, a single objection from a local resident could halt development of a proposed wind farm. The government recently changed the law to remove this planning loophole, and now Labour should capitalise by pledging to build enough wind farms to contribute seriously to our energy production.
Research from the Energy Climate and Intelligence Unit found that, in the event of another gas crisis, a failure to increase Britain’s onshore wind capacity could add £10 billion to gas prices every year, the equivalent of £125 per household.
‘Wind, wind, wind’, says green technology expert Peter Zeihan. ‘The new turbines are over a thousand feet tall, and as you go up you tap stronger and more reliable wind currents.’ A recent study by scientists at the University of Sussex and Denmark’s Aarhus university found that new wind turbines could meet 140% of Britain’s electricity demand, if all appropriate sites were used.
What’s more, new onshore wind turbines need not blight Britain’s countryside. Scotland, where planning rules are more relaxed, makes good use of its motorways and railways to host windfarms, whilst national parks and areas of natural beauty remain untouched. As Dr Rebecca Windemer, lecturer in environmental planning at the University of the West of England, say, ‘If the planning rules on windfarms in England are changed then designated landscapes that are traditionally regarded as beautiful would remain protected by their designations.’
Over the last few months the public has been treated to a flood of stories about river pollution: sewage spills, swimmers falling ill, to the extent that the state of Britain’s rivers played a significant role in this year’s local elections. However, the focus of coverage has tended to be on sewage, rather than the major cause of river pollution in Britain: farming.
Across the length of Britain’s rivers environmental damage from farming causes devastation to the rivers’ biodiversity. In the uplands, overgrazing and draining reduces the land’s capacity to absorb water, causing river levels to fluctuate, increasing the risk of flooding. Downstream, a commonly used fertiliser called slurry escapes from broken storage tanks or runs off frozen fields in winter, reduces the river’s oxygen levels and suffocating fish, plants and invertebrates. George Monbiot gives a vivid description of a poisoned river: what should be crystal clear becomes a green slop as the algae blooms.
Oxford Economist Dieter Helm argues that this is a problem of enforcement. Slurry spills are already illegal; but, he writes, ‘as budgets have been squeezed, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency have retreated from effective policing of the rivers’. Nor is river pollution simply an ecological issue. Rivers where the water levels fluctuate are far more likely to flood, as happened during the Somerset floods in 2014.
River water filled with agro-chemicals and fertilisers requires more time and effort to purify, leading to higher water bills. Labour should commit to properly funding Britain’s river watchdogs so that pollution from farming, so damaging to our nation’s ecosystems, gets identified and eradicated.
Recent unfavourable opinions towards electric vehicles such as those expressed by Rowan Atkinson don’t seem to have dampened enthusiasm for the electric car. Electric vehicles made up 16.6 percent of new car registrations in 2022, up from 0.4% in 2016. Labour recently committed to keeping the 2030 target of banning new petrol car sales, but to match this target, Britain needs a much larger charging infrastructure.
As of August this year there were 48,000 EV charging points across the UK, compared to 100,000 in France and over 120,000 in the Netherlands. The government has set a target of 300,000 by 2030, though is currently on course to miss that target by around 100,000.
One important step would be to install more ‘rapid’ and ‘ultra-rapid’ chargers, capable of charging an EV to 80% in 30 minutes. Around 35% of UK drivers do not have street parking and so cannot charge an electric vehicle at home, and are therefore reliant on an infrastructure of electric chargers. To convert ‘likely’ purchasers of electric vehicles into ‘actual’ purchasers, a Labour government should ensure that drivers feel confident they won’t be forced to abandon their electric car on a country lane and strike out over the fields in the growing darkness.
‘The fact is that net zero will save us money’, says Dale Vince.
As the right-wing media amplifies claims that net zero will make us poorer, green energy pioneer Dale Vince stresses the importance of changing the conversation to emphasise the economic benefits of net zero.
His company Ecotricity just released a report explaining that solar panels on Britain’s rooftops could generate over 13 percent of the energy Britain currently needs, at today’s energy prices around £16 billion. From tidal lagoons, which could generate electricity for 5p a unit, to wind farms to grass-based gas, Britain does not lack economically viable alternative sources of energy.
Its clear that the British public support the net zero target. Even 73 percent of Tory voters support reaching net zero by 2050,more than voters in general. It tends to be policies such as phasing out gas boilers, seen as likely to make people worse off, that do not enjoy majority support. This demonstrates that Labour should move full steam ahead to make the economic case for net zero, unveiling a range of policies like expanding Britain’s windfarms, building up the EV charging infrastructure, and transitioning to a post fossil-fuel economy through making use of our abundant renewable resources.
The public is on board for the net zero target. Now Labour needs to show them that it makes economic sense.