Starmer’s “Green Growth Superpower”

Alan Thornett wonders if the climate movement can build on Keir Starmer's promise to make Britain a "green growth superpower."


Despite the national anthem, the Union Jack all over the hall, and Starmer’s endorsement of Tony Blair at the end of his speech, something important has come out of the Labour Party conference – potentially at least – in terms of the future of the planet.

Starmer, surprisingly but importantly, rejected Truss’s wholesale junking of environmental measures. She has pledged to:

  • Squeeze the last drop of oil and gas out of the North Sea.
  • re-open fracking.
  • Junk eco-regulations including those that are supposed to prevent the dumping of raw sewage in our rivers and on our beaches.

He has pledged to reverse them.

The Labour leader proposed instead a major package of environmental measures which he says will make Britain a “green growth superpower.” It might not do that, but if Labour wins the next election and Starmer sticks to his word, it would represent an important change and one that the climate movement can build on.

His proposals include the complete decarbonisation of electricity generation (i.e. the national grid) by 2030. This is to be achieved, he says, by:

  • doubling the current onshore wind capacity.
  • tripling solar power capacity.
  • quadrupling offshore wind capacity.
  • utilising both hydro and tidal power to the full.

This he says would not only tackle the climate emergency but would cut hundreds of pounds off household energy bills, and create up to half a million UK new climate jobs. He (rightly) reminded the conference that renewable energy is now nine times cheaper than fossil fuel.

£6 billion a year will be allocated for the retrofitting of 19 million homes over the next decade with insulation to prevent waste and the decarbonisation of home heating. This, he said, would save 19 million families over £1,000 on their bills, as well as create good construction jobs and boost our energy security. He said if 1.9 million homes were insulated a year, the savings in the first three years alone would be £11.4 billion. He said Labour would also decarbonise (i.e. electrify) the transport system.

There would be no nationalisation of the energy companies, which is a big mistake. However, he announced – to prolonged applause – that he would launch a new state-owned company, called GB Energy, within a year of taking office, to facilitate the expansion of renewables. An additional £8bn will be made available for manufacturing projects, including eight new battery factories, six clean steel plants, nine renewable-ready ports, a hydrogen electrolyser plant and net zero clusters.

There would be £8bn in co-investments with private companies in green developments ranging from battery factories to wind farms. This would be financed by a “National Wealth Fund” to encourage greater private investment toward a low-carbon economy. This, he said, would not only facilitate cheaper green energy but would protect the British people from dictators such as Vladimir Putin. Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, after seeing the pre-conference announcements, said:

“The only way out of this mess is a moon-shot mission to roll out a renewables-based energy system that can lower bills, cut emissions, create jobs, and break our dependence on gas markets and fossil fuel autocrats.” “Labour seems to have understood that, whilst the Conservatives have not.”

The proposals should indeed be welcomed, but there are also serious problems. The most astonishing of these is his proposal not only to retain nuclear energy but to substantially expand it.

There is little point in Starmer pointing out that renewables are getting cheaper and then calling for more nuclear energy that is getting more expensive rapidly. Nor is there any point talking about “protecting the British” people whilst promoting nuclear power, which, as we speak, is being fought over in Ukraine like a game of (literally) Russian roulette with weapons of mass destruction.

Less dangerous but equally stupid is his proposal to put more money into carbon capture and storage. It is not just that it is never going to work, but it serves as an excuse to cling to fossil fuel in the hope that it might solve the problem. There is nothing wrong with developing hydrogen, but he overestimates its significance and seems to think that it is an energy source rather than a delivery system.

The introduction of these measures would be in two years’ time and is dependent on Labour winning the next general election. This is also problematic since we are already in the last chance saloon.

Only last week, a panel of scientists issued an urgent warning that a series of crucial climate tipping points are about to be triggered. A few days later, António Guterres, UN secretary general, on his return from the Pakistan flood disaster – caused by what he called a monsoon on steroids – told the UN general assembly that the climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. He said it must be the first priority of every government and multilateral organisation such as the UN. He rebuked the assembled delegates over the fact that climate action is being put on the back burner by member states despite overwhelming public support around the world for action to be taken.

Labour needs to start taking the climate crisis seriously – here and now – and adopting the urgency that is in the proposals if it is going to win the election and start implementing them. A good start would be to launch a membership discussion on the proposals agreed by the conference and how they could be implemented. This should include a discussion on the concept of green growth, within which the proposals are framed and which many, including myself, regard not only as unachievable but as a contradiction in terms.

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Alan is the author of Facing the Apocalypse – Arguments for Ecosocialism which can be purchased from Resistance Books.

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