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Baroness Jones: Investment in renewables is the way to organise a self-reliant, post Brexit economy

4 min read

Taking advantage of historically low interest rates to enable a huge investment in renewables seems like a no brainer to many of us, says Baroness Jones. 

Boris Johnson was smart enough to clear the decks of unpopular ideas ahead of the election and fracking was top of that list. He ordered a moratorium on fracking, a review of HS2 and a splurge of spending on cash strapped services that had been starved of love during the austerity years. None of this is an indication of anything except his desire to be elected.  

Boris is not a natural One Nation Conservative, but he can act like one if he needs to. In fact, Boris can pretend to be whatever he needs to be to serve his own self-interest. It is important to understand this if you want to stop fracking in the UK. 

Boris Johnson will not be influenced by logic, or a marvellously constructed argument – unless he feels that it will serve his interests to be seen as changing his mind. When it comes to protecting the environment, our job is to twist his arm hard on the key decisions over the climate crisis. If Boris Johnson is meeting the party donors lobbying for fracking to be restarted, then we must show Boris that the political pain will not be worth any gain.   

Fracking has come to a stop because of the rules on earthquakes, but those rules can be changed to allow the industry a second life. The primary block on fracking is not the science, it is the determined campaigns by heroic, local people over the last four years, who have challenged the lies peddled by corporate executives. The fracking industry is not popular and the heavy-handed policing on behalf of the corporations has made it even less so. It is seen as an imposition on rural communities, with rewritten planning laws that by-pass the local democratic process. 

The government are trying to address this with legislation that will criminalise many protest camps, like those placed on the doorstep of the fracking operations.  

Currently, if a camp is set up to mobilise and organise protests, then it is a civil matter if placed on council land, or roadside verges. The government want it to become criminal trespass and to fast-track it as a matter for the police, not lawyers. This will impact on the protest camps against HS2, or those set up by Extinction Rebellion. 

The absence of fracking leaves another hole in the government’s energy policy. The UK is very dependent on the pipelines pumping in foreign gas and the best way of lessening this dependency would be a wholesale switch away from gas cooking/heating. This was one of the main policies promoted as part of the Green New Deal and the transformation needs to start right away.  
The widespread use of heat pumps and green electricity are solutions within easy reach of government – if the government has the political will to increase subsidies and improve planning rules on new buildings. For the moment, Boris simply doesn’t get it. 

The decommissioning of several ageing nuclear plants has left another hole in the energy policy which renewables could happily fill with government support. However, in 2019, the rate of growth in renewable energy fell to well below what is needed to fill the nuclear gap. This is purely down to the governments disastrous decisions to suddenly end the subsidies. 

Taking advantage of historically low interest rates to enable a huge investment in renewables seems like a no brainer to many of us. It is the future of technology and the way to organise a self-reliant, post Brexit economy. It would also give Boris something positive to talk about at the big climate conference (COP2020) which Britain is hosting at the end of the year.   

Personally, I don’t see the moratorium on fracking being lifted before the end of the year and with the fracking industry already buried under the weight of debts and delays, I don’t see it coming back to life. That leaves Boris with a strategic problem over his energy policy that he will deal with in his usual way – by finding a gimmick.  

Before the end of this year, Boris will declare he has a technological solution to the climate emergency. It might be small scale fusion reactors, or even a solar powered cable car linking Scotland and Northern Ireland. It will be a talking point and a distraction. The real solutions start with the government making it easy for us to use less and to transform our homes into carbon negative spaces that produce more energy than they use. The Green New Deal is the way forward and we need the public debate to focus on the practicalities of delivery it. 

Baroness Jones is a Green Party member of the House of Lords. 

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