Vaccine-style success or just 'a logo'? Labour's $10bn net-zero plan for Britain

Keir Starmer wants to 'win the race' to go green while Rishi Sunak warns against 'environmental dogma'

Labour says Great British Energy would invest in offshore wind and other sources of clean energy, if the party wins the July 4 general election. PA
Powered by automated translation

A $10 billion green energy war chest being proposed by Britain’s opposition leader Keir Starmer could spark a vaccine-style sprint to net zero but will only work if a future Labour government throws its full weight behind the plan, analysts have said.

Mr Starmer used an election rally in Scotland on Friday to say his plan for a state-owned Great British Energy company would help the UK “win the race” to go green.

Launching GB Energy's logo and website, the Labour Party said it would invest in solar panels, offshore wind, tidal power, hydrogen, community projects and a new generation of nuclear energy with an initial £8.3 billion ($10.56 billion) of capital.

It says it would get the company started within months if it wins a July 4 election – with a 2025 deadline approaching for the UK to make a new go-green plan based on what was agreed at Cop28 in the UAE.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party says the policy amounts to no more than “a logo”, as they pledge new oil and gas drilling licences instead of “environmental dogma”.

Mr Starmer conceded on Friday that oil and gas would still be in the mix “for decades to come” but accused Mr Sunak of still being “in the changing room” in the green energy race.

Ed Matthew from climate think tank E3G, who has analysed opinion polling on green policy, told The National a push for clean energy is “definitely a vote winner” as Labour promises lower bills and a more reliable power supply.

Britain’s cost of living crisis, caused partly by high gas prices and the UK’s exposure to Russian gas chaos, are a prime grievance for voters, as polls show Mr Sunak heading for defeat.

“What they understand is that their bills have gone through the roof in the last couple of years, and that gas is to blame. The polling totally backs up the fact they understand that,” Mr Matthew said.

Gas made up the biggest share of the British mainland’s power supply last year, although wind hit a record and can meet more than half of electricity demand on blustery days.

From the left, the Green Party says Labour’s pledge “looks tiny” compared to an earlier pledge to spend £28 billion ($35.60 billion) a year on green investment. Mr Starmer abandoned that plan on cost grounds in February.

Mr Starmer also defended taking a private jet between campaign stops in Wales and Scotland, saying it was the “most efficient form of transport”. Labour has previously ridiculed Mr Sunak for doing the same.

While Labour compares Great British Energy to other state-owned giants like France’s EDF or Sweden’s Vattenfall, experts think Mr Starmer could usher in a smaller, UK-focused investment fund.

Consultants at Flint Global management consultancy said that despite Labour’s campaigning on the issue there is “a great deal more that we do not know” about Great British Energy.

“Will it have a role in just electricity markets, or will it go beyond, including into the green supply chain?,” asked consultants, James Low and Josh Buckland.

“And how does it interact with Labour’s separate proposal for a new National Wealth Fund? In summary, what will GB Energy actually do?”

Vaccine-style push

Labour claimed an endorsement on Friday as former government chief scientist Patrick Vallance, a familiar face during the Covid-19 pandemic, backed Mr Starmer’s pledge to clean up the power grid by 2030.

“I am often asked which of Britain’s many pressing public policy challenges need a vaccine-style approach,” Mr Vallance wrote in The Times.

“I believe that one such priority is the urgent need to end the era of excessive carbon emissions, high energy bills and energy insecurity by accelerating the net zero transition to clean, home-grown energy.”

Mr Matthew said this would have to be a “whole-of-government mission” going beyond Great British Energy. Labour is already facing calls to go further by speeding up planning approvals and improving home insulation.

“I completely agree [with Mr Vallance] that that’s the scale of all-government effort and leadership required in order to get there. This transition is not going to be delivered just by Great British Energy,” Mr Matthew said.

“This isn’t just about the climate mission, as vital as that is. This is an economic mission as well, to reduce our dependence on high-cost gas, to reduce energy bills and to help spark a clean industrial revolution in the UK.”

Mr Sunak meanwhile promised on Friday to reach net zero in a “proportionate way” that does not “load up ordinary families with thousands of pounds worth of costs”.

“Yes, we’ll get to net zero, but I will do it in a way that prioritises our country’s energy security and household bills,” he said. “All we’ve seen from the Labour Party today is a logo.”

Updated: June 01, 2024, 6:00 AM