© Prospect / Alamy

Ed Miliband: Britain was once a climate leader. It can be again

The UK should join a “clean power alliance”, says Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero
January 25, 2023

The politics of energy and climate change have shifted decisively in the last few years, and progressives in every country must seize the moment. Most obviously, the climate emergency is not some future prospect but is already here. As we enter 2023, the desperate urgency of diminishing time—the fearsome, ticking climate clock—becomes ever-more apparent.

Yet there is cause for hope. The old energy trilemma—the choice between affordability, security and climate—is over. Green energy is cheaper, offers more security—not being subject to the whims of petrostates and dictators like fossil fuels are—and is the right climate choice.

The importance of this can’t be overstated. Right-wing climate deniers and delayers aren’t just morally irresponsible, they are defying economic gravity. Why argue for old-fashioned, expensive, insecure fossil fuels when you can have cheap, clean renewables instead?

As decisive is the fact that the Biden administration, despite formidable constraints, has grasped the central point that climate jobs offer a better economic future for millions of working people than jobs in fossil fuels. The Inflation Reduction Act shows a willingness to invest at scale to bring this future into being, an understanding of the need for a proper industrial policy and a determination to put workers’ rights at the heart of it.

Labour will come to office with our own Green Prosperity Plan, so Britain can be among the first to reap the advantages of the green transition. With renewables the cheapest form of power, a Labour government would make the UK the first major country to commit to having a zero-carbon electricity system in place by 2030, powered by a combination of renewables and nuclear. This would cut energy bills by £93bn in the next seven years, enhance our energy security and create jobs.

But Labour is also learning the lesson that generating the power here at home is not enough. Too often in the last decade, promises about green jobs in the UK have been broken. Fundamentally, we currently have a government that doesn’t get the role of industrial policy; doesn’t see that public investment can crowd in rather than crowd out private investment; and hasn’t learned that mixed signals—such as, even now, greenlighting a new coal mine in Whitehaven—are disastrous for the long-term investment we need.

We have learnt from those European countries, particularly in Scandinavia, that led the way not just on generating renewable power but creating jobs too. Nine of the 10 leaders in clean power have state-owned generation companies that are driving procurement decisions and supply chains. Only one doesn’t: Britain. That’s why 44 per cent of our offshore wind assets are owned by foreign governments. A global race for the jobs of the future is on, and we owe it to people in Britain to lead that race.

We will establish a National Wealth Fund to invest in electric battery factories, ports and clean steel so that in every part of Britain, people see the jobs that the green economy can produce. We will also establish GB Energy, a publicly owned energy generation company, to drive the creation of jobs and wealth in Britain, in areas such as floating offshore wind, hydrogen and tidal power. Alongside these flagship commitments, we will invest £6bn a year to insulate the 19m cold, draughty homes in our country, cutting bills, gas imports and emissions, and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs at the same time.

When the last Labour government passed the Climate Change Act in 2008 it sent a message around the world through the power of example. If elected, Labour will lead again and seek to build alliances with the ambition that the climate emergency demands. As well as saying no to new fossil fuel exploration licences, we will create a clean power alliance of like-minded countries sprinting to decarbonise their power grids. Opec is a club of states seeking to manage the production of fossil fuels to keep prices high to the benefit of some. This new, alternative coalition can maximise the drive to renewables and lower prices for the benefit of all, including the developing world.

It is easy to look at the state of our climate and our economy and feel gloomy. But politics is shifting. Those of us making the case for a more urgent, swift transition are making the case for a better world now—not just disaster avoidance in the future. We are for lower energy bills, greater security, better jobs, cleaner air and ensuring we leave an inhabitable planet for future generations. At home and abroad, there is a powerful new majority to be built and sustained for this approach. That is Labour’s mission.