Britain is losing the global race on green growth, a failure that could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, the Trades Unnion Congress (TUC) General Secretary will warn today (21 October)
Frances O'Grady's warning comes as the government’s green credentials are being questioned by unions, businesses and even its own ministers.
The TUC is concerned that the government has failed to commit to a new carbon reduction target in the Energy Bill – now going through the House of Lords – despite widespread support across industry. Some MPs are now wrongly blaming green subsidies, which provide vital investment to a growing low carbon industry, for soaring energy bills.
Critics of green subsidies are being rather less vocal about the large forthcoming fracking subsidies or the soaring profits that the big six energy companies are making at the expense of hard-pressed consumers, she will say.
She will add that it’s worth remembering that fossil fuels also receive important subsidies and renewables receive far less in comparison.
New analysis by the TUC – published to coincide with its conference Green Growth: No Turning Back, has found that gas and electricity prices have increased by 152 per cent over the last decade, four times faster than inflation (38 per cent), even before the latest rises by SSE and British Gas are taken into account.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady will say: “The government has been guilty of dithering over two of the biggest challenges we face today – our cost of living crisis and the need to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
“In the last decade, gas and electricity bills have increased four times faster than inflation, with another spike due this autumn as SSE and British Gas have just hiked bills. With people suffering the longest real wage squeeze in over a century these price rises have come into sharp focus.
“Caught on the back foot by Ed Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy bills, some MPs are now trying to twist this cost of living issue into one that fits their anti-green agenda.
“Consumers want action from politicians to tackle the excess profits and undeserved bonuses of the big six energy companies. Instead, green investment is now being criticised, often by the same people who champion tax breaks for fracking, recently announced by the Chancellor.
“Politicians’ timidity on green investment is costing us all dear. Cutting carbon emissions should be a great opportunity for the UK to create new apprenticeships and jobs, and rejuvenate our manufacturing sector. Moving towards a low-carbon economy could generate sustainable growth outside London and the South East.
“But we are losing the global race for green growth. While competitors such as France and Germany press ahead with active support from their governments, in the UK ministers have shown little appetite for supporting low-carbon business.
“Not only are green energy subsidies under threat, but the green investment bank has been left woefully short of funds and is unable to make use of low interest rates to borrow to invest.
"This inaction will become a drag on growth and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Without further investment, our increasingly antiquated high carbon energy sector will also mean even higher energy bills and increased dependency on overseas supplies."
She concluded: “It’s time for the government to stop dithering and make a firm commitment towards reducing carbon emissions. It can start by taking a firmer grip on an energy sector that is very good at generating short-term profits, but which is so far failing to meet our longer term low-carbon energy needs.”
The TUC Genral Secretary is one of several speakers at Green Growth: No Turning Back which takes place later today at the TUC’s central London headquarters. The conference will debate the role of government in tackling rising energy prices and investing in green energy and technology. It will also ask what a future low-carbon economy would mean for jobs, workplaces and commuting, as well as energy bills.
Other guest speakers at the conference include:
Sir David King, current special representative for climate change to the Foreign Secretary
Professor Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Met Office
John Ashton, co-founder of E3G, fellow of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College and former climate envoy to the Foreign Secretary (2006-2012)
Iain Wright MP, shadow minister for competitiveness and enterprise
Andy Atkins, Executive Director at Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth Executive Director Andy Atkins said: “Decarbonising the UK’s energy system is critical to tacking climate change and key to the country’s economic prosperity.
“A target to achieve carbon-free power by 2030 will get us off the hook of increasingly expensive fossil fuels and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. The Government must grasp this opportunity when Lords vote on a target in the Energy Bill next week.
“But we need bold leadership and a decent set of policies - with a focus on helping people permanently lower their energy bills through a proper programme of home insulation.”