Take action: UK faces crucial choice on energy policy

Boris Johnson is set to make a statement on the UK's energy policy soon. With the war on Ukraine and prices rocketing, households who were already struggling with the cost of living crisis face further energy bill hikes. Europe may have imposed sanctions, but gas and oil sales are still funding Putin's military.

We have all the solutions to end the UK's dependence on fossil fuels. This includes cutting our energy use by insulating our homes, the most leaky and poorly insulated in Europe, investing in renewable energy and encouraging energy efficiency throughout the economy to get back on track to meet our climate targets. 

We're already paying higher bills because of past failures to act on climate.  In Cameron and Osborne's assault on 'green crap', zero carbon standards for new homes were scrapped,  and energy efficiency schemes cut back, causing insulation rates to plummet. The onerous planning restrictions introduced in 2015 to fulfil the Conservative Party manifesto pledge to 'halt the spread of onshore wind' are still in place and have effectively blocked new wind turbines, even where they have local support. These short-sighted cuts have added at least £8.3 billion to today's energy bills. More recent policies could be described as half-hearted in the face of climate breakdown. The Green Homes Grant scheme for home insulation was badly mismanaged then withdrawn

But opportunists like Nigel Farage have seized the opportunity to try and halt the transition, to revive zombie ideas like fracking, and to keep us dependent on fossil fuels.

We can't drill our way out of this crisis

It takes years to develop oil and gas fields. And their production is limited. Of the six North Sea fields rumoured to be under consideration, three would produce gas. They wouldn’t start operating until about 2026. By 2028 they would reach peak output, but even then they could supply only about 2.4% of UK demand for gas, and from the early 2030s, their output would decline. So future drilling cannot immediately replace Russian gas. But what if more oil and gas fields were licensed, locking us in further to fossil fuel use?

The profits would go overwhelmingly to oil companies, not to struggling families. After nearly 50 years of production, 70% of what’s left to extract from the North Sea is oil, not gas – and not the type of oil that we use in UK refineries. So companies export 80% of it. As for the gas extracted, in recent months, as gas prices have risen, companies respond by exporting more gas to sell to the highest bidder. So increasing production would not affect our energy bills.

But the emissions from all this oil and gas burning would certainly affect the climate. As of last October, 30 offshore projects had either applied for development consent or were expected to do so by 2025. If they were all approved, the combined lifecycle emissions would be over one billion tonnes of CO2

There have even been attempts to persuade the government to revive fracking - deeply unpopular with the public and highly unsuitable for production at scale in the UK's densely populated landscape.

You can sign on to an open letter against more North Sea drilling here.

The real solutions remove our risky dependence on fossil fuels for ever

Investing in renewable energy, including removing the block on onshore wind. In total, 649 individual onshore wind and solar projects have been identified which have already been granted planning permission, but are not yet built because of a lack of Government support. If all of those projects were built, they would generate more energy than the total amount generated by all the Russian gas the UK is currently importing every year from Russia. 

Insulating homes and install heat pumps. UK homes are in general very poorly insulated. For example about a third of homes with a loft have no loft insulation. Measures like loft insulation, draught stripping and new windows are relatively simple to install, and could provide immediate help for those in fuel poverty. For those houses already at Band C or above, a heat pump can cut gas consumption by 80%.

A clear long-term strategy is desperately needed to avoid previous failures. And it needs to set the right level of ambition, as we ultimately need every home and public builidng to be well-insulated and energy efficient. To find out more about what could be achieved by long-term investment in renewable installation and energy efficiency, creating climate jobs around the country, read our trade union group's new publication Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate emergency. There is also a useful briefing by E3G setting out nine steps the government could take this year to improve energy efficiency and cut bills by £150.

Households in fuel poverty need immediate help

The cost of living crisis pre-dated Russia's invasion of Ukraine. For many in the UK, the reality of further price increases in energy and food is not skipping holidays but skipping meals. A vital part of energy policy is meeting these families' needs. This means providing benefits, for those in work and those who cannot work, at levels which do not leave people in poverty. We also need targeted support that covers the expected rise in energy bills for households on low incomes (including those not protected by the energy price cap).  

A windfall tax on the profits of energy giants who have profited from price rises could help fund this: Shell and BP combined earned £900 a second in the final quarter of 2021.

Take action

You can write to your MP via

'An atlas of human suffering': the latest IPCC report

The scientists of the IPCC (the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) have just published their latest report, on the damage that climate breakdown is causing to humans and ecosystems. They warn that the time left to act is running out.

There could hardly be a worse time for the messages in this report to catch public attention while all eys are on bombed Ukrainian cities and fleeing refugees.

Even for those of us who think we have a good understanding of the dangers of climate change, this report is important, setting out starkly the peril we are in. 

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, spoke out at the report's launch:

"I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. Today's IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed leadership."

"The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world's biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.

But according to current commitments, global emissions are set to increase almost 14 per cent over the current decade. That spells catastrophe. It will destroy any chance of keeping 1.5 alive."

So, what does the report say?

The key messages are below, taken from the 36 page Summary for Policymakers and the IPCC's Frequently Asked Questions, which is aimed at the general public. You can also read chapters of the full report, and there's a useful in depth Q&A on the report from Carbon Brief

The world's most eminent scientists and academics in these fields - cautious, fact-checking, balancing evidence - are backing up what climate justice advocates have known and have been saying for years. 

We're running out of time

There is more than a 50% chance that even in the most optimistic scenarios for cutting emissions, global average temperatures will soon rise by 1.5°C or more (compared to temperatures before humans started burning fossil fuels for energy).

If the planet heats up by more than 1.5C, impacts such as wildfires, mass mortality of trees, drying of peatlands, and thawing of permafrost are likely to release additional greenhouse gases, making it even more difficult to lower global temperatures again. Some impacts will be irreversible.

How bad things get depends on what we do now and in the immediate future to cut emissions. It also depends on adaptation - taking action to protect people and ecosystems from risks which are now unavoidable (such as higher sea levels). With every fraction of a degree of global warming the risks and related losses and damages escalate.

Climate change impacts are more severe than estimated in previous IPCC assessments. The last time the IPCC reported on impacts and adaptation was back in 2014, and since then there is more evidence on the harms that climate change is already causing.

Climate change is hurting people now - especially in the Global South

Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change 

Climate change is contributing to humanitarian crises. Climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving people to leave their homes, with small island states disproportionately affected. 

Cost of living crisis - fossil fuels are costing the earth

In a rich country like the UK, people should not have to choose between warm homes and decent food. But with a combination of rising gas prices, a failure to insulate homes or build enough renewable energy, and a deeply unequal society after a decade of austerity and benefit cuts... this is the reality for many.

On 12 February there were protests around the country about the cost of living crisis. Further days of action have been called for 5 March and 2 April.

The crisis is being used by some in the rightwing media and Conservative party to argue that we 'can't afford' climate action, or that pumping more fossil fuels from the North Sea could solve the problem - despite the obvious fact that in a global market, oil companies will export their product to wherever they get the best price.

As families struggle, oil companies' profits have shot up with rising gas prices.

Shell recorded $19.3 billion profits in 2021, while BP raked in $12.8 billion

A windfall tax on energy giants' profits would help ensure that no one has to choose between eating and heating their homes - sign the petition here

More fundamentally, the UK's heavy dependence on gas and failure to insulate our leaky, energy inefficient housing that have left us so exposed.

In the past decade this government has failed twice over on warm homes: rates of home insulation plummeted because of a lack of support, and new houses are still being built which are not energy efficient.