LGE’s Election Analysis

As the nation heads into the final stages of the election campaign, read what the energy and climate policies for each party mean for the country going forward with LGE’s analysis:

Energy infrastructure and climate policies are becoming increasingly central to political discourse. Strong narratives offer interconnected ideas on tackling the climate crisis, creating energy security and improving the national economy. It is for these reasons that all the major UK political parties have paid significant attention to energy and climate policies in their manifestos.

Pragmatic Progress?

For the governing Conservatives, their rhetoric has been defined by a commitment to pragmatism. Since last September and Rishi Sunak’s announcement on policy changes for climate targets, pragmatism has been the key discourse, and their manifesto further solidifies this. It points out that to create a stronger economy the costs of the transition to net zero must be cut on consumers but argues that this is not an abandonment of a climate agenda, stating that the Conservatives are still committed to net zero 2050.

To achieve this approach, the Conservatives advocate policies to try to protect the economy and consumer costs, such as legislating annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas production to avoid 200,000 job losses, no new green levies or charges during the rollout of renewables and guaranteeing a vote in the next parliament on the next stage of the net zero pathway and renewables. These are supported by policies that attempt to further climate credentials, such as maintaining the windfall tax until 2028/2029, trebling offshore wind capacity and investing £1.1bn into the Green Industries Growth Accelerator. Yet the challenge, particularly when they trail so far in the polls, is convincing the electorate that their approach would achieve these aims. The economic reality has been felt sharply by many, with high energy costs burdening consumers. It is the lived experience which will linger in the minds of the electorate as it assesses energy and climate credentials, not abstract figures of potential savings and inflation rates. The gap between Conservative rhetoric and lived reality is a dangerous one for the party in which they could be punished.

It is true that the drivers for increasing energy costs have at times been out of Conservative control through geopolitical tensions but emphasis on pragmatism could be read as inaction toward mitigating these factors. For example, demands to continue and increase the windfall tax on gas and oil giants’ profits are strong amongst the electorate, yet the manifesto indicates the potential for the tax to be rowed back stating that it will be kept in place until 2028/2029 ‘unless prices fall back to normal sooner’. Moreover, policies will remain in place for companies to receive incentives such as the investment allowance for spending on renewables. Yet by not increasing the tax and leaving in perceived loopholes, the Conservatives risk being seen as out of touch on energy priorities, avoiding creating cleaner and securer supplies of energy and failing to challenge companies who contribute heavily toward the climate crisis.

The future of the Conservative approach rests much on the election result but if they end up out of government their future direction is likely to be the source of much debate. The approach toward energy and the climate will be challenged by those who interpret climate issues as alarmist and are sceptics of net zero 2050 plans. A group of backbench Conservative MPs already head up the Net Zero Scrutiny Group and with figures such as Kemi Badenoch, who have been touted as a future party leader, publicly stating that she would delay the 2050 net zero target, these ideas are likely to come to the fore in any debate. However, the space for adopting this approach is already being squeezed by Reform UK, who have adopted multiple net zero sceptic policies. This includes scrapping net zero targets and subsidies to save £30bn over the next 25 years, scrapping annual £10bn of renewable energy subsidies and fast-tracking North Sea oil and gas licenses. However, the challenge for Reform UK and Conservatives sympathetic to their position, is resolving the unsolved tension between a rhetoric which stands up for “British culture, identity and values” whilst advocating strong free-market policies which will allow companies to continue to achieve large profits. Despite their emphasis on patriotism and anti-elitism, Reform UK’s approach does little to help develop secure and national energy. It is these contradictions which any future Conservative leader will have to be wary of, especially given how the party has only recently felt the impact of pursuing extreme free-market policies under Liz Truss’ leadership.

Security Starmer?

For Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, it is the concept of security which is crucial to energy and climate plans. Labour had promised £28bn a year for their green prosperity plan, however, in February this was slashed to just under £15bn a year. The need for security was used to defend this decision. Starmer argued that economic security was crucial and blamed Liz Truss’ mini budget for damaging the economy, with spending what had originally been promised threatening economic security and fiscal rules. Despite this, the aim of “making Britain a clean energy superpower” remains one of Labour’s five missions.  At the heart of this is the creation of GB Energy, a publicly owned company to help achieve the party’s goals. This will be capitalised with £8.3bn raised through an increased windfall tax which Labour will close loopholes on. Labour hope to achieve zero carbon electricity, doubled onshore wind capacity, quadrupled offshore wind capacity and tripled solar capacity by 2030. To support this the party promises to not issue new North Sea licenses. Labour also hopes to create a more secure national energy economy through a green prosperity plan with the aim of generating 650,000 new jobs by 2030.

The last Labour leader to embark on a narrative of national renewal was Harold Wilson in the 1960s with a programme of reforms which challenged whether businesses were working in line with national interest. Similar parallels can be seen today in which oil and gas giants have been interpreted to be profiteering on the energy shocks of recent years. It would subsequently seem natural for Labour to set up GB Energy to work in national interest. Nevertheless, much debate has been raised about the ambiguity that surrounds GB Energy and the role it will play. Will it act as answer to state-owned entities not seen since the 1980s or rather act as an investment vehicle which helps derisks private energy projects? Balancing the intricacies of state intervention to help alongside avoiding a reduction in market efficiency will be a great challenge for Labour if it wins power.

Labour has been unapologetic about the relationships it wants to garner between the public and private sector, but critics have argued that for the energy and climate sectors to be truly working in national interest then a more radical approach is needed.  This argument has come much from the Green Party, who have advocated for a carbon tax, as well as increasing the windfall tax, which will incentivise businesses to decarbonise through imposing an initial tax rate of £120 per tonne. Through the finances raised from these taxes, the Green Party want to push ambition for net zero to a decade before 2050, with a decarbonised energy system before 2030 and wind to provide 70% of electricity by the same date. The Green Party has also placed emphasis on community owned renewable energy sources, with a promise to end North Sea licenses and cancel projects such as Rosebank. The scale and affordability of the Green Party’s proposals will likely be challenged by many, however, if Labour’s gamble on growth does not pay off then creative taxation measures such as a carbon tax could be an inevitable leaver to generate income.

Both the Labour and Green manifestos also warn of the scarring that deindustrialisation caused in the 1980s and this is something too that Labour will need to be wary of given their historical links to trade unions. Unions of workers in the oil and gas industries have already warned of the need for a just energy transition due to fears of the gap between Labour’s manifesto ambitions and the funding to make this happen. Labour state that they will use their National Wealth Fund to directly invest in industrial clusters, particularly those where renewables will be based. They have also promised to set up a British Jobs Bonus which allocates £500m per year from 2026 to incentivise firms to offer jobs in such industries. Achieving these targets could restore pride amongst industrial communities, especially amidst continuing deindustrialisation signified by the closure of Port Talbot steelworks just days after the election. However, the dangers of pushing ahead without these considerations and not learning the lessons of the 1980s could create more damage to areas of the UK already suffering from long-term economic inequality.

Disrupting the Duopoly?

Hoping to most disrupt the dominance of the Conservatives and Labour will be the Liberal Democrats. Their manifesto argues for a “fair deal” in which the party will act as “local champions”. The Liberal Democrats state that investments in renewable power, home insulation and holding large companies to account will help create a fairer nation and tackle the climate crisis. The manifesto highlights that the UK Climate Change Committee have themselves stated that the current government is not on track to meet its legally blinding targets, therefore advocating a different course of action. The party is committing to net zero by 2045 at the latest, generating 90% of the UK’s electricity from renewable resources by 2030, driving a solar revolution and launching a 10-year emergency upgrade programme for UK homes and buildings. The manifesto also places emphasis on the moral aspects of the UK being a leading nation on climate change. Policies include restoring international development spending to 0.7% of national income, meeting the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 68% from 1990s level by 2030 and continuing support for the UN’s loss & damages fund.

However, the challenge for the Liberal Democrats will be balancing energy and climate needs with the demographic make-up of its supporters. With many being in rural areas, closely associated with farming and agricultural industries, the party has not been without accusations of NIMBYISM over recent years. Yet making strides in the UK’s renewable journey is likely to cause disruption to landscapes, it is these changes that the Liberal Democrats will have to delicately handle when convincing their key constituents. Both the terms “onshore wind” and “pylons” make no appearance in their manifesto, highlighting that these aspects of energy and renewable infrastructure are ones that the Liberal Democrats are in little mood to discuss.

An Honest Future?

Running through all the manifestos has been a central tension, the need to create cheaper energy bills and minimise costs on consumers versus the need to invest substantially in renewable technology to achieve net zero by 2050 and tackle climate change. With no party wanting a return to austerity measures, questions have been raised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on whether parties are being honest about the state of the nation’s finances and the levers necessary to achieving their spending aims. The thorny issue of taxation means parties want to commit to not increasing taxes but still be able to achieve their spending commitments. Will this mean a reality check will soon be in order for the election winner and their commitments to energy and the climate?