In prioritising oil and gas over renewables, ministers are doing the bidding of the polluters. And we’ll all pay the price
Money for the criminals, prison for the heroes: this, in brief, is the government’s climate policy. If something is damaging to the public interest, it’s likely to be rewarde
Money for the criminals, prison for the heroes: this, in brief, is the government’s climate policy. If something is damaging to the public interest, it’s likely to be rewarded and subsidised. If it’s beneficial, it will find itself in a hostile environment.
This government represents the denouement of the Pollution Paradox: as dirty money has the greatest incentive to invest in politics, it comes to run the whole system. Across these 13 years of misrule, we have seen the perversities of Conservative government multiply and intensify.
Thursday was supposed to be “green day”, when the government, forced to act by a court ruling, would unveil a new, more detailed plan for achieving net zero emissions. Instead, the occasion has been rebranded “energy security day”.
[The situation on fracking has changed since this article was published 3 days ago. The new UK government under Rishi Sunak has made clear that fracking is not permitted in UK.] Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).
“Delay has cost lives. Chaos costs lives. And it will cost more lives this winter and every winter,” campaigners say. “No one benefits except the oil and gas profiteers.”
KENNY STANCILOctober 24, 2022
Hours after lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party voted to make Rishi Sunak the United Kingdom’s third prime minister this year, more than 30 climate and energy justice activists occupied the lobby of Parliament to demand that the government fund home insulation and renewable power generation through a more robust tax on oil and gas corporations’ windfall profits.
Almost seven million people in the U.K.—nearly a quarter of the country’s population—are facing fuel poverty as winter quickly approaches. Meanwhile, heavily subsidized fossil fuel giants are raking in record profits, which they use to block policies that would facilitate a green transition and rein in their destructive industry.
Greenpeace campaigners, armed with sky-high utility bills from across the country, read the testimonies of people struggling to make ends meet amid a historic cost-of-living crisis that Sunak’s right-wing predecessors—Boris Johnson and Liz Truss—and Tory colleagues have, according to progressive critics, exacerbated through adherence to neoliberal orthodoxy.
Stressing that “chaos costs lives,” activists made the case for simultaneously addressing soaring energy prices and the worsening climate emergency by taxing fossil fuel profits and using the revenue to invest in better residential insulation and expanded clean energy production.
“Thanks to spiraling gas prices and the oldest, coldest housing in Europe, millions of people are being pushed into fuel poverty,” Greenpeace U.K. noted in a blog post. “People across the country have waited for government after government to provide enough help to lower their energy bills—but mostly what we’ve had is political chaos.”
The group continued:
Rising energy bills and cold homes will cost lives. The U.K. already has the sixth highest rate of excess winter deaths in Europe. Higher bills also disproportionately impact disabled and older people, people of color, and those from impoverished communities. For instance, many medical and mobility devices require electricity. Meaning, on average, disabled people have much higher energy bills just for using equipment they need in their day-to-day lives. Political leaders have failed to put people first and provide sufficient support for the energy crisis.
It’s political choices that have caused the levels of inequality and fuel poverty we’re facing. If this government properly taxed record fossil fuel profits, it could help fund extra support for those in need, and help pay for a nationwide program to insulate homes. Instead, the last six weeks have seen u-turns on the Conservative manifesto pledge on fracking and new commitments to North Sea oil and gas, which will wreck our climate and won’t lower our bills.
Two months ago, the U.K. Treasury estimated that the nation’s energy firms are poised to enjoy up to £170 billion ($191.9 billion) in excess profits—defined as the gap between money made now and what would have been expected based on price forecasts prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—over the next two years.
A 25% windfall tax on oil and gas producers approved in July is expected to raise £5 billion ($5.6 billion) in its first year. However, the existing surtax on excess fossil fuel profits contains loopholes allowing companies to drastically reduce their tax bill by investing more in oil and gas extraction, which the industry claims will boost supply. The recently enacted windfall tax, which lasts through 2025, also exempts eletricity generators, even though Treasury officials attribute roughly two-fifths of the £170 billion in excess profits to such actors.
With winter energy bills projected to triple compared with last year, calls are growing in the U.K. to increase the windfall tax rate on excess fossil fuel profits and extend it to electricity generators benefiting from rising oil and gas prices.
While Truss vehemently opposed windfall taxes—asserting that they “send the wrong message to investors”—Sunak introduced the current windfall tax in May when he was Johnson’s chancellor of the exchequer.
According to Greenpeace, Monday’s action was meant to show Sunak that “he can’t ignore the almost seven million households facing fuel poverty.”
The life-threatening crises of surging utility bills and unmitigated greenhouse gas pollution are both caused by fossil fuel dependence, the group noted. Consequently, these problems have lifesaving solutions that are straightforward and aligned.
“To lower our bills long-term and reduce our emissions,” Greenpeace urged Sunak to do the following:
- Commit to investing £6 billion [$6.8 billion] immediately to kickstart a street-by-street insulation program to keep bills low for good;
- Shift to renewable energy, like wind and solar, which are cheaper and quicker to build than oil and gas; and
- Properly tax oil and gas companies’ excess profits so they pay their fair share, given how much money they’ve made off these crises.
“It’s time we have a government that brings down bills for good and plays its part in tackling the climate crisis,” the group added.
On social media, Greenpeace encouraged people to sign a petition imploring U.K. lawmakers to “keep people warm this winer.”
“Delay has cost lives. Chaos costs lives. And it will cost more lives this winter and every winter,” the group emphasized. “No one benefits except the oil and gas profiteers. If the government were on the people’s side, the U.K. really could get on track to quitting oil, gas, and sky-high energy bills, forever.”
Greenpeace UK policy director Dr Doug Parr said: “Was it just a dream or did we all hear the Prime Minister say, just weeks ago, she was against a windfall tax?
“Now she’s going to impose a de facto one after all but only on electricity generators, not a proper one on oil and gas firms.
“This glaring double standard makes no sense. It’s almost as if Liz Truss’s belief in the free market only applied to big polluters.
“Of course, it’s right that industries profiting from the energy crisis should give up lots of their extra cash to help people struggling with their bills, but then why is the government refusing to properly tax fossil fuel giants?”