Truss and Sunak ‘competing to propose stupidest and most dangerous climate policies’

Exclusive: ‘Sunak and Truss living in fantasy world’ on climate, opposition politicians say

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Thursday 04 August 2022 19:35 BST
‘All of the gas in the North Sea’ in Truss’s sights while Sunak says he’ll restrict solar and wind developments
‘All of the gas in the North Sea’ in Truss’s sights while Sunak says he’ll restrict solar and wind developments (PA)

The Conservative Party leadership contenders “seem to be competing on who can propose the stupidest and most dangerous climate policies”, the Green Party has said, after the candidates said they would boost fossil fuel projects and limit renewables.

In a leadership hustings in Exeter this week, Liz Truss said that as prime minister she would go against the advice of scientists and the United Nations by ramping up the extraction of fossil fuels, giving fracking the go-ahead in any areas where it was supported and prioritise new fossil fuel drilling programmes.

“I will also make sure we exploit all of the gas in the North Sea and make sure we use that to bolster our domestic energy supply,” she told the audience.

She also said she would support new large nuclear power stations as well as small “modular reactors”, and said she was “immediately announcing” a “moratorium on the green energy levy”.

The levy makes up less than 12 per cent of energy bills and helps pay for renewable energy projects and home insulation. Ms Truss’s plan has been criticised by energy market consultants who have said scrapping the levy will “only scratch the surface” of soaring energy bills, while the growing role renewables play in the grid have “helped cushion” UK consumers against soaring gas price rises.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak has also said he would support fracking if local communities supported it, has said he would not support wind farms even if local communities did support it, and has also said he would restrict solar developments on agricultural land.

Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer told The Independent: “The candidates seem to be competing on who can propose the stupidest and most dangerous climate policies. With heatwaves and floods, crop failures and environmental refugees, it’s just not possible to turn our back on the climate crisis.”

Highlighting polls showing that a quarter of Conservative voters would not vote for the party if it ditched its commitment to net zero, Ms Denyer called for a “super tax” on polluters.

She said: “Rather than incentivising the fossil fuel industry with tax breaks, as Rishi Sunak did as chancellor, or promising to ‘exploit all of the gas in the North Sea’ as Truss has done, we need to follow the advice of the IEA [International Energy Agency], which says there should be no new oil and gas fields approved from this point on.

“We need to super tax the oil and gas industry so that investing in further fossil fuel exploration makes no economic sense, and use the proceeds to help fund a mass insulation programme and renewable energy revolution. This would both cut energy bills and help the UK meet its legal obligations on cutting emissions.”

The candidates’ one-upmanship on restricting renewable projects is reportedly causing consternation in the industry, with lack of clarity on new developments becoming a “big concern”, according to insiders.

Labour has said the candidates’ energy policies revealed Mr Sunak and Ms Truss were both living in a “dangerous fantasy world”.

Kerry McCarthy, Labour’s shadow minister for climate change, told The Independent: "Doubling down on fossil fuels while blocking new onshore wind and solar – the cheapest, cleanest, quickest forms of energy we have – in the middle of a cost-of-living and climate crisis shows the dangerous fantasy world that the Tory leadership contenders are living in.

“Either they don’t understand the problems this country faces or they simply don’t care enough to solve the energy, bills, and climate crises they are presiding over,” she said.

Scientists, experts, campaigners, and even government ministers have repeatedly stated that boosting domestic gas supplies will have a minimal impact on the cost of living crisis – not least because of the decades-long time for new projects to come online, but also because gas is sold by private companies on the international market, and UK supplies are too small to flood the market and bring down prices.

Instead, they have said the fastest way to help people weather the soaring price of wholesale energy prices is to insulate homes and help speed the transition away from fossil fuels.

Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, told The Independent: “At the time of a cost-of-living crisis, whoever is the next prime minister will find it hard to ignore that renewables are the cheapest form of energy and don’t suffer from the costs, delays and uncertainty compared to other options like oil, gas or nuclear power.

“Solar is one of the key renewables which will provide a reliable solution to getting gas out of our energy system, dealing with concerns around energy security, spiralling bills, and the threats posed by climate chaos. It is also extremely popular with the public.

“Let’s hope the next leader, once they’re fully briefed, will see that clean tech is the biggest business opportunity of the 21st century.”

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