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Labour’s oil and gas ban shows it’s ready to fight the next election on climate issues

The announcement by Keir Starmer, detailed in the Guardian article below, that he will ban all new gas and oil licences is to be welcomed.

Taken together with Labour’s green investment and rapid decarbonisation proposals, this is a radical package to tackle the environmental crisis.

However, given Starmer’s long record of reneging on promises, we will have to mobilise as a movement to hold the party leadership to their pledges.

Climate change is far too important an issue to be subject to lobbying by the fossil fuel giants or to be horse-traded in a deal with the Lib-Dems in a hung parliament.

Nor should the cost be used to water down the proposals. Tackling carbon emissions has to be the number one priority for an incoming Labour government and if necessary it should be paid for by taxing polluters, big business and the wealthy and by bringing the energy sector, and other utilities, into public ownership. We need a popular, democratic plan to shift to a zero carbon economy as rapidly as possible.

Already key unions- GMB and Unite- are pushing back against Labour’s proposals, saying they are unrealistic and costly.

This is a problem climate activists in the trade unions need to address. We agree the unions need to be centrally involved- but in actually implementing the policies on the basis of a just transition, not attempting to block or delay.

Additionally, Labour needs to come out very clearly now against attempts to criminalise environmental, and other forms of protest and to pledge to repeal the Tories repressive legislation as soon as they gain office. 


Labour’s oil and gas ban shows it’s ready to fight the next election on climate issues
Bill McGuire
While the Tories’ dire record on green issues gets worse by the day, Keir Starmer’s pledges show an impressive commitment

Wed 31 May 2023

It’s been a long time coming, but at last it seems that voters who give a damn about the climate emergency will have a real choice at the next general election. While the Tories have fiddled, Labour has been putting together a pretty impressive pro-climate portfolio.

The latest pledge to ban all new domestic oil and gas developments and cut off borrowing for fossil fuel-related projects sits in diametric opposition to Tory plans to suck as much oil and gas as possible out of the North Sea. And Labour’s goody bag of climate measures contains plenty more that environmentally informed voters can cheer.

At its 2021 annual conference, the party flagged plans, should it win the next election, for an annual £28bn green investment fund. Alongside this were pledges to decarbonise the steel industry and, perhaps most critically, to test all its other policy against its potential consequences for the environment and the goal of net zero emissions.

A year on, Labour committed to the establishment of a new state-owned energy company, and a £60bn programme to insulate 19m homes. The cherry on the cake was the announced ambition to decarbonise the UK’s electricity supply as soon as 2030.

Contrast all this with Tory efforts. It says everything about the importance Rishi Sunak and co attach to green measures that Ukraine – a nation fighting a bitter war for survival – installed more onshore wind turbines in the past 15 months than the UK. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, though. The Tories have come a very long way since David Cameron’s putative greening of the party, but the direction of travel has been almost entirely backwards.

It is unlikely this will change before the next election. Serious government action on the climate is now all but impossible, given the increasing gravitational pull of a growing body of rightwing Tory MPs, who regard the whole net zero thing as just another part of the woke agenda, and would see it scrapped if they could. With no prospect of a Damascene conversion then, the stage is set for an election next year that will see the two main parties offer climate policies separated by an ocean of clear, blue water. And the Tories will be forced to defend a thoroughly dismal record on climate policy, over a period in which its salience has only increased for voters.

Back in 2019, when Greenpeace rated the climate credentials of the party manifestos, the Tories scored a measly seven out of 20, way behind the Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrats. Since the last election, while the other parties have pushed ahead on the green policy front, the Tories have done their utmost to score even lower, and succeeded.

In just the past few years, they have expressed support for airport expansion, reawakened the spectre of fracking, given the green light to the opening of the country’s first deep coalmine in 30 years, scrapped subsidies on electric vehicles, cut air passenger duty on domestic flights, and issued 100 new licences for oil and gas exploration.

Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference at the Manchester Convention Centre in 2019.
‘Boris Johnson launched a green homes scheme, but this badly botched centrepiece of his “build back greener” initiative was quickly dumped.’ Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA
It is true that Boris Johnson did launch a “flagship” green homes grant scheme to support insulation and increased take-up of heat pumps, but this badly botched centrepiece of his “build back greener” initiative lasted barely six months before being dumped.

For many people, the list of reasons for not voting Tory next time is as long as my arm, but right at the top has to be the party’s dire record on tackling the climate emergency. The choice is stark: on the one hand, a party that increasingly walks the talk on climate; on the other, one that walks away from its responsibilities.

But this isn’t to say that Labour’s offer on climate is perfect. Far from it. There is real concern that without the hands-on control that nationalising the energy sector would bring, decarbonising electricity supply within less than eight years will just not happen. There are worries, too, that the growth-is-everything approach trumpeted by Keir Starmer and the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, places GDP on a pedestal and sends the wrong message at a time when alternative metrics of progress would provide better measures of success in tackling the climate emergency.

The next Labour government will also need to take serious note that our world is facing a climate and ecological crisis, so far more needs to be done to reboot the country’s degraded landscape and biodiversity.

And because we can no longer dodge significant climate-related consequences, there is an urgent requirement to address adaptation at the same time as slashing emissions. This means everything from reforestation to reduce flood hazard, to planning for water supply during periods of severe drought, managing retreat from at-risk coastal locations as sea-level rise accelerates. and greening cities to cope better with 40C+ summer temperatures.

The truth is that the Labour offer is good, but there is still room for improvement, The bottom line is that this country will not survive another five years of Tory rule, but even more importantly, nor will the climate.

Bill McGuire is professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at UCL and author of Hothouse Earth: an Inhabitant’s Guide

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