Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is to set out his energy policy today, including plans intended to benefit “the 60 million, not the big six”, and to focus on increasing the share of Britain’s energy generated from renewable sources.
One flagship element of Corbyn’s environmental policy announcement is to be his aim to have the 65% of the UK’s electricity generated by renewable sources by 2030. He made this commitment in an article written for the Guardian newspaper, and is expected to reiterate it in the formal announcement of his energy and environment manifesto in Nottingham later today (Wednesday 9th).
He explained that his aim of decreasing the country’s carbon footprint has two major aims, one environmental and one economic, as pushing for the development of the UK’s renewables industry would create thousands of new jobs. In fact, Corbyn’s will claim, the push to generate 65% of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources will create some 300,000 new jobs in the industry.
He is expected to say, in Nottingham: “We want Britain to be the world’s leading producer of renewables technology. We will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy and drive the expansion of the green industries and jobs of the future using our National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy.”
On the environmental imperatives, Corbyn warned emphatically, in his piece for the Guardian that “we are on course for a climate catastrophe”. If we are to keep the global temperature increase below the 2C upper limit, “let alone meeting our Paris agreement obligations of 1.5C”, he said, “we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground.”
A major part of this is expected to be an all-out ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technology which Corbyn will say is “not compatible with climate change prevention.”
“When Labour gets in to power,” Corbyn is expected to say, “Britain will lead the world in action on climate change. We will act to protect the future of our planet, with social justice at the heart of our environment policies, and take our fair share of action to meet the Paris climate agreement – starting by getting on track with our climate change act goals.”
However, the validity of Corbyn’s claims to want to improve and decarbonise the UK’s energy supply has been called into question by Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith, who brought up a statement made by Corbyn last August when he implied support for increased mining of “high quality coal” in south Wales.
“It’s impossible for Jeremy Corbyn to speak with credibility on environmental policy,” Smith said.
He explained: “He’s called for the reintroduction of deeply damaging open-cast coal mining, only had one meeting with his shadow environment team in nine months as leader, and didn’t utter a word of protest when Theresa May scrapped the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
“By failing to campaign effectively for Britain to remain in the EU, and by calling for article 50 to be invoked immediately, he has put vital environmental protections at further risk.”
Corbyn had clarified his remarks about the Welsh coal mine soon after they were delivered, saying: “It was one question about one mine, I’m not in favour of reopening the mines.”
He is also expected to pledge to reinstate the recently abolished Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Another of Corbyn’s plans is to improve energy efficiency in homes by pushing for a new insulation programme, designed to save households money and to prevent excessive greenhouse gas emissions from excessive energy use. A similar programme was scrapped by the Conservative government last year.
Cornyn will say: “We will launch a publicly funded National Home Insulation programme that would see at least 4m homes insulated. This would create tens of thousands of jobs across every community, reducing the need for expensive new energy generation, and helping millions of people to save money on their bills.”
While some have praised Corbyn’s intentions in terms of decarbonising and creating jobs, critics, including representatives from energy union GMB, have dismissed his plans as “naive and short sighted”.
The union’s national secretary for energy, Justin Bowden, who has pledged his support for Owen Smith, explained that while Corbyn’s general aims are admirable, they are simply not realistic. He believes that attacking all forms of fossil fuel generators so soon would be premature and unrealistic if the lights are to be kept on across the country.
He said: “Everyone gets how – over time – renewable energy sources have an important role to play in a sensibly conceived mixed energy policy.
“However wishful thinking doesn’t generate the power we need to heat homes, keep the lights on and the economy functioning; this means that until there are technological breakthroughs in carbon capture or solar storage then gas and nuclear power are the only reliable, low-carbon shows in town for all those days when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
“Limiting the UK’s options on achieving energy self-sufficiency by proposing an outright ban on fracking is naive and short-sighted.
“Gas is four times cheaper than electricity, the main reason why over 80% of homes use gas for heating, and access to gas is a key part of every fuel poverty strategy.”