Opinion: Ambitious, coherent, and effective climate policies are hard to find among political parties and governments around the world.
We exemplify the laggards, given our Labour government’s ‘bonfire of policies’ and National’s piecemeal pandering to vested interests. Both see the climate crisis as a burden to be tackled one way or another, sooner or more likely later. Neither sees climate solutions as great drivers of economic and social progress.
The Greens do, but their leverage is limited by their minor party status and refusal to negotiate with National.
In contrast, the US and UK offer two examples of climate leadership in policy and politics.
Confronted by Congress’s toxic, divisive politics that are largely detached from reality, President Joe Biden’s administration devised the Inflation Reduction Act to accelerate the clean energy transition in other ways, particularly investment incentives.
As US economist Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column last month:
“The Inflation Reduction Act, unlike earlier proposed industrial policies, isn’t an attempt to accelerate economic growth by picking winners. It is instead about reshaping the economy to limit climate change. The main reason for doing this via subsidies and industrial policy, rather than through Econ 101-recommended policies like carbon taxes, is political. Emissions taxes were never going to pass an evenly divided Senate in which Joe Manchin had effective veto power, but legislation that would lead to a surge in manufacturing — which is already happening, by the way — was, if only barely, within the realm of the politically possible.”
Even Texas is enjoying a surge in clean tech and industrial investment. Attempts by its fossil fuel lobbyists and toxic politicians to Canute-like turn the tide recently failed in court.
“Over the past few weeks, a once unthinkable parable about the green transition has played out in Texas, the very picture of a recalcitrant red state soaked with fossil fuel. Legislators friendly to the oil and gas business staged a desperate fight with the market — and lost,” wrote David Wallace-Wells in his recent New York Times column.
Meanwhile in the UK, the Labour party is offering voters far bolder and more integrated climate policies than the Conservative government, which is dogged by its climate obstructionists.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader, laid out this week a comprehensive suite of policies aimed at getting the UK to a fully clean electricity grid by 2030. The massive transformation of R&D and manufacturing required will make the UK a “clean energy superpower,” he said.
“We’re going to throw everything at this: planning reform, procurement, long-term finance, R&D, a strategic plan for skills and supply chains.” He also committed to driving the creation of clean tech jobs in the UK and reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to halt new rounds of oil and gas licensing.
Given Scotland is the main support base for UK oil and gas activities in the North Sea, he chose Leith, Edinburgh’s port, as his speaking venue. To reassure the fossil fuel workers, he particularly emphasised support for them in transitioning to clean tech jobs.
The UK already has substantial momentum behind its shift to clean electricity. Over the past decade, coal-power has been virtually phased out and clean sources of generation now account for more than half of UK electricity. It also has a massive pipeline of offshore wind projects, new nuclear plants, and energy storage projects.
“A clean energy transition powered by modern renewables can turbocharge the UK economy, and net zero transition,” Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment concluded in a recent report.
“The faster we go, the more we would save,” said Professor Cameron Hepburn, director of the Smith School. “The UK is particularly well-placed to benefit from the clean energy transition, but we must act quickly. Investing in green energy now and ensuring that UK businesses can not only be part of the solution to climate change but benefit from the global transition to net zero, is the fiscally prudent way forward.”
UK Labour consistently emphasises that tackling the climate crisis will deliver substantial economic and other benefits to UK society. For example, it has linked energy efficiency upgrades of some 19 million homes to its clean electricity by 2030 pledge.
The suite of clean electricity policies Labour announced this week fills out the details of one more of the “Five Missions for a Better Britain” the party released in outline form in February, as it prepares for the next general election which has to be held within the next 18 months.
In addition to the clean electricity mission, the others are: Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7; Build a National Health Service fit for the future; Make Britain’s streets safe; and Break down the barriers to opportunity at every stage (of live for children and young people).
“The scale and cross-cutting nature of our missions require a sharp break from business-as-usual government. The current model of governing, geared towards delivering short-term results, reacting to the day-to-day political context, simply isn’t going to meet the scale of the challenge. If we are to credibly achieve our long-term goals, we need government to be more agile, empowering, catalytic – supporting a whole range of public, private and civil society players to make an impact,” Labour says.
Labour’s thinking is strongly influenced by the research of Mariana Mazzucato, a professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College, London.
In her book The Mission Economy, published last year, Mazzucato made a compelling case for public and private sectors collaborating closely on nations’ long term challenges in their economies and societies.
Our next election is less than four months away. On Labour and National’s long term performance to-date, the odds on them being equally as strategic and ambitious about our country are negligible.