Opinion

The New Year resolutions Rishi Sunak has to make in 2023 to protect the planet

The head of policy, science and research at Friends of the Earth knows what needs to be done to meet our net zero targets – and it doesn't involve a coal mine

onshore wind farm

Image: Karsten Würth on Unsplash

As a tumultuous 2022 draws to a close it’s clear that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak needs to set some serious New Year’s resolutions that create green jobs, and bring down bills and harmful carbon emissions. 

The shameful decision to approve the first coal mine in more than 30 years – which will do nothing to ease the energy crisis and despite the UK steel industry saying that it isn’t wanted or needed – shows that the government’s climate and environmental priorities are way off track, along with its commitment to long-term growth and prosperity.

Our dependency on dirty coal, oil and gas is fuelling the energy crisis and the climate emergency. Scientists are clear that new fossil fuel projects are incompatible with meeting global climate goals to limit warming to 1.5°C.

But they’re also incompatible with creating secure, long-term jobs for people in areas like Cumbria where the new coal mine is planned.

The good news is that many of the solutions already exist – what’s lacking is the political will. Accelerating the transition to a zero-carbon economy and ensuring everyone benefits from green jobs and growth, must be front and centre of the Prime Minister’s policy making.

Here are Friends of the Earth’s top green New Year’s resolutions for Rishi Sunak: 

Warm homes that don’t cost the Earth

It’s estimated that nearly five million homes in England and Wales lack basic energy efficiency measures such as loft or cavity wall insulation. Recent research by Friends of the Earth identified the 1,000 coldest neighbourhoods in England and Wales where homes have the lowest energy efficiency ratings and where the majority of people are living on low incomes.   

We’re calling for these areas to be targeted first for the roll-out of a free, street-by-street insulation programme. This can’t wait until 2025, it needs to happen now, to bring down bills and harmful carbon emissions. This energy efficiency drive would create thousands of new green jobs nationwide. Our analysis shows this would include as many jobs (600) in West Cumbria as the new mine. 

Make the polluters pay

Big fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell have posted huge profits off the back of soaring energy prices. Sunak’s decision to introduce a windfall tax on these bumper profits was welcome but doesn’t go nearly far enough – and contains a significant loophole that allows them to avoid paying the bulk of the levy if they invest in more planet-heating gas and oil developments. 

The government must take a much bigger slice of these unearned profits. The extra cash raised should be channelled into schemes, such as insulation, to help the millions of people struggling to cope.

Onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation – far cheaper than gas – and turbines are quick to build. Wind power is also popular, with eight in 10 of us supporting it. But for the past seven years, planning rules in England have prevented all but a few wind developments from being built. Bizarrely, an objection by just one person can be enough to scupper a planning permission.    

Thankfully, following intense public and political pressure, including from a sizeable number of Conservative MPs, the government has been forced to review this de facto ban. Sunak must now ensure that the new rules do not create another set of impossible barriers.  Cheap, clean, homegrown and almost limitless – wind power is a no brainer.

Leave fossil fuels in the ground

The government must end its harmful and outdated addiction to fossil fuels. More than 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences are planned for the coming year – bypassing advice from scientists that they are incompatible with global climate goals. Despite promises ahead of COP26 to relegate coal to the history books, the new mine was approved. Even the government’s official climate adviser slammed it as “absolutely indefensible” and business leaders at the CBI described it as “a huge step backwards”. If we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change new fossil fuels must be left in the ground.

Sunak’s decisions will have significant implications for years to come. Will he stick with the failed energy policies of the past, or throw his weight behind the clean, modern and affordable future we so urgently need?  

Mike Childs is head of policy, science and research at Friends of the Earth  

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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