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Johnson's passion for wind energy is far from ludicrous—but proper investment will be key

If the Conservatives are committed to tackling climate change, sustainability needs to be at the heart of all economic policies
December 18, 2020

The emergence of green shoots in the government’s agenda has not gone unnoticed. Its new ten-point plan, including the promise of massive investment in offshore wind with the aim of quadrupling capacity by 2030, builds on the once-sceptical Prime Minister’s stated goal of making the UK the “Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Johnson’s “world beating” promises have been known to fall flat, and his party’s record on energy has often been dire. But his endeavour to power our homes using wind is far from ludicrous. Thanks to Lib Dem polices established by our leader Ed Davey during his time as energy secretary, the UK has curbed its addiction to coal and now finds itself well-placed to become a world leader in wind power.

Recent price falls mean offshore wind is now hugely competitive. In fact, it’s soon going to be even cheaper than electricity generated by gas-fired power plants, and may become the dominant source of zero-carbon power in the UK. No one can deny that this offers an enormous moment for change—for the environment and the economy. The sector already supports thousands of highly skilled jobs. With enough investment, it has the potential to generate tens of thousands more. But to harness its full potential for decarbonisation will require sufficient funding.

Moreover, changing the way that we generate energy is not the only hurdle the UK faces in its transition towards net zero. We must improve efficiency to reduce our energy consumption, starting with the UK housing stock. Not only will this reduce demand for energy, it will cut bills, end fuel poverty and create jobs.

The Tories have made an ill-thought-through start with the Green Homes Grant, which aims to help retrofit our notoriously poorly insulated homes. Although the programme was initially open for six months, it is now extended by just one more year, with a pitiful £2bn in funding. This will barely scratch the surface of the insulation crisis—currently costing families across the country hundreds of pounds a year in higher bills and leaving it impossible to make a real dent in our emissions. It is also a woefully missed opportunity when it comes to upskilling workers to facilitate long-term net-zero growth.

Further exacerbating the problem, the Tories scrapped the Zero Carbon Homes standard when the Lib Dems left government in 2015, leaving one million extra new homes that do not meet adequate standards and will also need upgrading.

For the Conservatives to prove their commitment to tackling the climate emergency is more than just hot air, they need to engage with a wholesale restructuring of our economy, putting sustainability at the heart of everything we do, not just one form of renewable energy.

If we are to truly build a sustainable future—in which the next generation grows up with clean air and an abundance of ways to enjoy nature—then we need to look at Iceland and Norway, at Kenya, at Germany and even at China to find our route forward. As things stand, while wind power is central to the journey, Johnson’s promise to emulate Saudi Arabia is going to lead us nowhere that we truly want to go.