Autumn Conference 2023

Motion #05

Climate Emergency Policy Working Group (PWG) Report

Motion passed


• Significant policy development has continued during 2023, some outside our previous technical focus.

• The full Interim Policy Position (IPP) process is over complex, too slow and unfit for purpose.

• The gap between party targets and polices is as wide as ever.

• The need for effective action gets greater every year.

• The mineral resources needed to decarbonise the UK and other developed economies may not be available

• The requisite expansion of mining in the Global South in the interests of the Global North poses significant moral challenges.

Policy development

In the last eight months the PWG and its two formal subgroups have each met fortnightly by Zoom. We have developed or refined our policies on economics, energy and governance. The Economy: The Climate Economics Subgroup (CESG) has collaborated with the Tax and Fiscal PWG to revise the Economics chapter of the PSS in line with our current understanding of the climate emergency. This has been a big job and has come to this conference as a Draft Voting Paper.

Energy: we have developed new policies on hydrogen, the structure of the energy market and the relief of energy poverty. Most of these have gone through the full Interim Policy Position (IPP) process, a complex process involving at least five party organs and many redundant steps. We think this is the first time the whole process has been used, which is not surprising as it’s clearly unfit for purpose.

In addition the Energy Policy Model (EPM) Improvement Subgroup has made literally scores of changes to the model which have improved our understanding and the accuracy and completeness of the outputs. Little of this has come to conference since individual changes are usually new interpretations rather than principles, or result from new data.

I will discuss governance below.

In addition we have run sessions at two PolicyFests and collaborated with several other PWGs.

Supporting External Communications

During the first half of 2023 we have advised our leaders and the Party Comms Team on issues including:

• Retrofit, solar PV and wind energy, including payments to the Crown Estate

• The Budget, Labour, Tory and CAB plans, and on funding for the Green New Deal,

• Consumption emissions, the rebound effect, nationalisation of the energy system and Kevin Anderson.

Closing the policy gap

In 2019 conference instructed us to define the gap between our targets and our policies and instructed ALL PWGs to develop polices to close the gap. The gap was redefined by a motion passed at Autumn 2022 Conference. It is not getting smaller. Internally this is because of our limited resources and the differing priorities of members in other PWGs.

But it’s also because the problem in the real world is large and complex and attempts to solve it provoke opposition from vested interests such as oil companies and petrostates.

The wider perspective

We now see that the threat presented by the climate emergency as both more urgent and more severe than we thought.

Urgency: Over the last year we have seen the need for increased urgency:

• Extreme weather, reduced sea ice, sea temperature anomalies, etc., are scaring scientists. The changes are coming faster than expected and some are poorly understood.

• Thus we need very rapid mitigation. In particular we need to be sure that the temperature increase does not exceed 1.5 degrees.

Severity: Some evidence, eg work by James Hansen, predicts long-term impacts that are much larger than previously discussed, even from the current level of CO 2 in the air. Thus net zero is not enough, we need to absorb enough CO 2 from the air to reduce the level in the air to 350 or even to 280 ppm. In the work done over the last 8 years the CEPWG has sought and developed policies that could be applied by an ambitious, ‘green-enough’, elected government whilst respecting, as we must, values such as democracy and free speech. We have also accepted the continued existence of private companies and of a market economy. But even with the extended timescale agreed at last Autumn conference (the Zero Carbon target date was pushed back from 2030 to ten years from “now”) it’s clear that this process has run out of road. The gap between our policies and our targets is not getting smaller.

The view of the CEPWG is that this very rapid mitigation cannot be achieved by the current

UK economy operating within the current institutions. We are therefore proposing two motions to change them:

• A motion to change corporate behaviour by revising the Companies Act.

• A motion to define the emergency powers that a ‘green-enough’ government may need.

We also welcome the motion to ban the advertising of high-carbon goods. It’s unlikely that these will be sufficient.

The Resource Crunch

We’ve also recognised that our plans for large increases in renewable power and the electrification of transport and industrial processes will require large increases in our use of strategic materials such as copper and the rare earth metals. These increases will require an increase in mining and minerals processing, often in countries with low environmental standards and poor records on human rights.

The abuses caused by these processes might be reduced significantly if the UK were the only country making the green transition. This, of course, is both unlikely and undesirable. Indeed, an implicit purpose of our work is to suggest effective policies that could be adopted very widely.

The international adoption of ambitious decarbonisation policies would require a large global increase in mining and minerals processing. This would present acute moral dilemmas (and conflict with other GPEW policies and the Philosophical Basis).

The PWG has debated these issues at length but has not agreed a position.

Two conclusions

This is my last report as CEPWG convener. Looking back I take satisfaction in the work we have done over eight years. We have developed the most effective and most honest climate policies of any UK party. We have learnt to calculate the effects of these policies, at least approximately. We have earnt respect across the party and have provided advice to leaders and other party organs. These are worthwhile achievements. I again thank all those who have contributed to this work.

And yet we have not succeeded. We have not developed a set of policies that would reduce UK emissions to zero within ten years. We have not found policies that would cause the necessary changes in public behaviour or the arguments that would reconcile people to the new kind of society that we must create. We have not reconciled the investment needed for the green transition with the needs to reduce economic growth and environmental damage. This shortfall is due in large measure to matters outside the control of the UK, to our commitment to a Just Transition and to achieving it in way that is seen as politically acceptable.

There is still plenty for the CEPWG to do!

Last updated on 2023-10-21 at 11:41