We often talk about political will when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. Over the last few weeks, amid record-high temperatures and continued drought, politicians seem to be at odds over the role of community-owned energy in fuelling the country’s future just when we need their leadership the most.
Earlier this month, Labour announced its Local Power Plan, through which it “will back the builders and not the blockers” of clean energy with a pledge to invest £400 million in community energy and £600 million a year to local authorities to build clean power across the UK. GB Energy, a publicly-owned energy company, would work with councils, communities and devolved governments to build local energy plans so that local people see the direct benefit of clean power projects.
It really put a spring in our step – that was, until we reached the heading ‘Oil and Gas’. Here, Labour said while they would not hand out new licences for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea, they would not revoke them either. This means the plan could include Rosebank, a huge new oilfield that the government is likely to approve over the coming days. Burning Rosebank’s oil and gas would create more emissions than those of the 700 million people in the world’s poorest countries in a year, according to the campaign group #StopCambo. Allowing it to continue is, as Caroline Lucas says, a climate crime.
There was more. You may have heard of the Energy Bill that was introduced to the House of Commons last year and is currently progressing through parliament. News broke that the government is planning to drop amendments made to the bill which would have allowed small community energy projects to sell electricity directly to homes. Ministers also plan to remove a ban on new coal mines. Like the licencing of Rosebank, opening new coal mines flies against the country’s net zero pledges. As the UK’s own adviser, the Climate Change Committee, said: expansion of fossil fuel production is not in line with net zero.
Many of us will have seen the climate graphs making rounds on social media: one shows a sharp rise in sea surface temperature in the North Atlantic. Another descends in the opposite direction, giving a stark illustration of how little sea ice there is left in the Antarctic. The arrows point to one thing – the climate emergency. IT’S HERE. We need practical action with immediate impact. Community-owned energy puts power back into people’s hands. Revenues from non-profit projects go back into the community, helping mop up the effects of cuts to local services, health and education, which have left so many people floundering. From community centres and boxing therapy to England’s tallest wind turbine, there are so many examples of this kind of people power in action.
The solutions are here – right in front of us. Our politicians must focus their energy on growing this sector, not enabling more fossil-fuelled damage to our planet.