Preventing climate change and fixing the economy are two sides of the same coin

The recent energy price hikes show what happens when you become reliant on increasingly expensive fossil fuels bought and sold to each other by six megalithic firms.

Andy Atkins is executive director of Friends of the Earth

Today I’m speaking at the TUC’s ‘Green Growth’ conference at Congress House, where the Met Office’s Julia Slingo will set out the latest understanding of climate science.

The news won’t be good – the world’s top scientists agree with 95 per cent certainty that we humans are causing the worsening climate disruption.

David King will give the government view. I’m writing this before he has given his speech, but unless he unveils a step-change in our approach to tackling the climate threat, I’ll find it impossible to conclude that we’re doing enough.

Instead his boss, energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey, has today announced a 35 year deal to guarantee EDF double the market rate for electricity in exchange for building a nuclear power plant at Hinkley in Somerset.

Hinkley won’t generate a single unit of electricity until midway through the next decade and will cost consumers in the region of £90bn over the plant’s lifetime. As Friends of the Earth has demonstrated, this colossal debt is justified neither on climate nor energy security grounds. It is a massive white elephant.

But while Davey commits today’s 30 year olds to payments to EDF until pension age, it’s unlikely he’ll have the stomach for the far more urgent need to reduce emissions and curb fuel bills.

Reducing bills and curbing emissions are two sides of the same coin. At Friends of the Earth we’ve never believed in the choice between going green or a healthy economy. We’re as concerned about the impact of climate change on health, prosperity and jobs as we are the toll it takes on our planet.

The recent energy price hikes show what happens when you become reliant on increasingly expensive fossil fuels bought and sold to each other by six megalithic firms.

The cost of wholesale gas, the principle driver of price hikes, is only going one way – up. The cost of building renewables, however, has tumbled already this decade and is predicted to continue to fall. And of course the renewable ‘fuel’ is free – pushing wholesale prices down further.

And what about saving energy? Warmer homes are more effective in reducing fuel poverty than building nuclear power stations. For the price of Hinkley you could end fuel poverty one and a half times over.

The solutions for new sources of energy are staring us in the face. Britain has the best renewable energy resources in Europe and the know-how to make use of them – they could and should be the envy of the world, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But we are at a policy crossroads. On 28 October, the House of Lords will vote on a critically important amendment to the Energy Bill. The amendment – tabled by former Shell boss Lord Oxburgh – proposes a target to remove almost all of the carbon from our power generation by 2030.

Government’s own advisors the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) say that decarbonising power by 2030 is the most cost-effective way to meet our legally binding climate change targets. With the chancellor’s plans for 40 new gas stations, amending the Bill is critical if we are to begin weaning the UK off the dirty and expensive fossil fuels.

It’s not just us that think so. Investors controlling £1 trillion assets recently wrote to the chancellor imploring him to back a clean power target, describing it as crucial for attracting finance for the £110bn overhaul of Britain’s energy network.

Labour and Ed Miliband have pledged to decarbonising power by 2030. A welcome commitment, but more is needed – to realise the full benefits we need to go further. While nuclear is an expensive distraction, decentralised renewable energy – turning homes and communities into electricity producers in their own right – will create thousands of jobs and put an end to the big six rip off.

Further, to permanently lower bills it’s vital that Labour commits to a massive energy efficiency programme alongside its eye-catching prices plans.

At the TUC today I will be asking union leaders and members to join me in calling for a switch to renewable energy and energy saving to create jobs and stabilise energy bills. That would tackle the cost of living, the economic and the climate crisis.

Together the green movement and the Labour movement must set the challenge to our political leaders from all parties to rise to this mantel.

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