The UK under a Labour government would form an “anti-Opec” alliance of countries dedicated to renewable energy, to bring down energy prices and promote clean technology, the shadow climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, has said.
A clean power alliance would enable countries to cooperate to source components more cheaply, boost the expansion of wind, solar and other forms of low-carbon power, and potentially to share or export electricity across connected grids.
Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Costa Rica and Kenya are potential partners, and Miliband will be drumming up further support at the Cop27 UN climate summit, which he is visiting for several days. Labour is committed to 100% low-carbon electricity by 2030.
“This potential clean power alliance is like an anti-Opec,” said Miliband, referring to the group of oil-producing countries. “I say anti-Opec because Opec is a cartel, a group of countries that works together to keep prices high. This would be a way in which countries join together to be the vanguard and say, ‘We’re going to deliver on clean power and it will help to cut prices, not just for us but for others’.”
He said the plunge in the price of renewable energy over the last decade was “the biggest source of optimism we should all have” about the climate crisis. “It is now cheaper to save the planet than to destroy it,” Miliband said in an interview with the Guardian at Cop27. “That is a message we should be shouting from the rooftops, because the implications of that message are profound.”
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has vowed to lift the current ban on onshore windfarms, which offer the cheapest form of renewable energy. Changes to the planning system under David Cameron have in effect prevented any new onshore windfarms being built in the UK since 2015.
Labour would also stop granting new oil and gas licences in the North Sea. The Conservative government is planning to grant more than 100 such development and exploration licences.
Miliband stopped short of pledging to revoke any licences granted, but pointed out that companies with exploration licences need further licences to develop fields, which Labour would not grant.
He also wants three new nuclear power stations, in line with advice from the Committee on Climate Change. Generating power from biomass – burning trees – would have to be “carefully looked at”, he promised, to ensure that it was environmentally sustainable, and economically viable.
Miliband, who attended Cops as secretary of state for energy and climate change from 2008 to 2010, accused the government of behaving as “climate chameleons”. He pointed out that, since hosting th lauded Cop26 climate summit, where nations agreed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the government had returned – briefly – to fracking, mooted a new coalmine, granted new oil and gas licences, given tax breaks to fossil fuels, kept the ban on onshore wind, slashed aid to poor countries, failed on insulation and then snubbed Cop27, until Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, U-turned and came for a day.
Alok Sharma, the cabinet minister who presided over Cop26, had done “an important and creditable job”, Miliband said. “I’m an admirer of Sharma, but he’s been undermined by a government that has been saying to people, ‘do as we say not as we do’. And that’s a big problem.”
The UK had lost standing on the international stage as a result, he added. “The problem is, the government has made promises and then broken its promises, and that isn’t a good basis of trust.”
Sunak’s original decision to snub the Cop27 summit, and to prevent King Charles from attending, had been “extraordinary” and “embarrassing”, said Miliband. “You don’t need to be a climate nerd to work out that Cop26 was a big deal and we hosted Cop26, and therefore Cop27, where we were handing over the presidency, is also a big deal,” he said. “And if [more than] 90 world leaders are going, you know you should probably be there.”
He said Sunak “just doesn’t get this agenda. He doesn’t get that it’s the future, that this is the future of our economy … He’s at the margins. He sent a message internationally – regrettably – and domestically, with that original decision, which is ‘This isn’t my thing’.”
Starmer had shown that Labour would lead on the climate and green jobs, as the central plank of the party’s vision of the future, he added. As well as targeting 100% renewables by 2030, the party would set up a national publicly owned energy company, GB Energy, and a wealth fund to invest in green technology and green jobs.
“It’s at the centre of our agenda, because it’s the future of jobs, the future of the economy, lower bills, energy security and it’s the biggest issue we face as a country and a world,” Miliband said.
Voices within the Tory party have raised doubts over net zero, he noted. “That means you’re saying, we want to carry on with more, dirty, expensive fossil fuels for our energy system, not greener cheaper renewable power,” he said. “That’s not a winning position. Anti-net zero is a very defeatable position.”
For “the vast majority of people”, the climate was a “significant issue”, he said. “What they want to know is can this be done in a way that makes economic sense for us, particularly when people are facing a cost of living crisis, and the overwhelming answer is yes,” he said.
Labour’s plan for clean power by 2030 would cut bills by £93bn, according to the party’s analysis, through measures including energy efficiency and home insulation programmes, boosting renewable power include more onshore windfarms, and a windfall tax on the excess profits of oil and gas producers.
Miliband said pushing for clean energy would also improve people’s health and quality of life. “We’re a country that is racked by terrible fuel poverty, and by the killer of air pollution, and by a deep desire for big economic change,” he said. “As [US president Joe] Biden has shown, being a leader on climate is an answer to all those things.”