Voices: Can Liz Truss show the leadership and strong moral compass needed to tackle the energy crisis?

·5-min read
The new PM will need an unerring ability to tackle complex problems and a strong moral compass (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The new PM will need an unerring ability to tackle complex problems and a strong moral compass (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Liz Truss and her newly-appointed energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg have an unprecedented number of acute and interconnected crises awaiting them, as they stroll into 10 Downing Street this week. These problems are complex and are not going to go away.

Whilst immediate action is essential, it is important we ask what kind of leader is required in this time. The new PM will need an unerring ability to tackle complex problems and a strong moral compass.

But oddly, whilst numerous policies have been proposed that play to vested interests, the qualities of leadership needed to navigate the interconnected crises we’re facing have been rather absent from the contest to lead our country.

Now, faced with a spiralling energy crisis that has left millions of people unable to afford to heat their homes this winter, will Truss lead and stop ignoring the solutions that will make a difference in the coming months and protect our futures?

The signs are worrying. Throughout the leadership contest, both candidates revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation, pledging to lift the fracking moratorium and fast track new oil and gas projects.

If this set of policies were implemented, they would contribute next to nothing to ease the cost-of-living crisis. New oil and gas projects large enough to make a difference to supply will take decades to come online and will then be traded on the global market at global prices. They would also ensure that the country remains in the grips of the fossil fuel industry and on a path to climate breakdown.

These companies have made historic profits whilst we bear the costs of both the current energy crisis and the impacts of climate change. Considering recent profit figures, the case for a stronger windfall tax to provide emergency support now is irrefutable.

The source of the pain is clear. Recent analysis from Carbon Brief has revealed 96 per cent of the increase in household energy bills is from gas price rises. The solution is to wean ourselves off gas – by reducing supply and removing its use in home heating, industry and businesses. It will leave us far more resilient for the future.

Fossil fuels are finite, controlled by few and wanted by many, and the geopolitical consequences of that are clear. Putin wants high energy prices to destabilise countries regardless of the consequences for the people. A fossil fuel-based economy means being at the mercy of a few global fossil fuel players and a volatile market.

All this does not even begin to touch on the greatest injustice – especially for future generations – missing legally binding climate targets by burning more fossil fuels. We are not even at 1.5 degrees of warming and already the devastation is clear: the number of people already displaced and suffering from droughts, floods and extreme heat should shock us deeply, but it barely seems to pierce the Westminster political bubble.

A third of Pakistan is currently underwater, and China is experiencing its worst drought on record – the UN secretary general has warned that any country could be next. But it is those least responsible for the climate crisis that are being hit hardest by its impacts.

The sensible response to these crises isn’t rocket science – it’s to invest in energy efficiency and renewables, whilst providing emergency assistance to the hardest hit to get people through this winter.

A rapid rollout of a free, council-led, street-by-street insulation programme, starting with the neighbourhoods in the most severe situations, would immediately bring down energy bills, cut demand for gas, and create green jobs across the country.

In England and Wales there are almost 5 million homes without basic insulation, such as loft or cavity wall insulation. Friends of the Earth recently revealed 9,000 energy crisis hotspots where a retrofit programme to insulate homes should start, and we co-authored a report with the New Economics Foundation on how to structure this retrofit programme.

Renewables are now nine times cheaper than gas, with solar panels able to be installed in a day and onshore wind turbines in as little as six months. The government could unlock our renewable energy potential by removing unfair planning barriers and incentivising installation.

Whilst Truss has been keen to tout her opposition to onshore wind and solar this is not a vote winner – a recent poll showed that 71 per cent of Conservative members back new onshore and offshore wind, and 73 per cent back new solar parks and panels.

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This set of solutions will reap benefits within months, unlike new oil and gas, and for decades to come as well as shifting the country permanently away from the drivers of the energy and climate crises. It would leave us far less exposed to the vagaries of fossil fuel based geopolitics.

There can be no doubting how challenging this winter will be: the government must provide much more financial support for those struggling most, particularly people in rented accommodation and on pre-payment meters.

The fixes for both the energy and climate crises are common sense. We only need the political will and real leadership for our new prime minister and government to look beyond the spin, lobbyists and their imagined target voter, to focus on the evidence-based policy making and solutions that will improve the lives, health and wellbeing of their new 67 million constituents.

Hugh Knowles and Miriam Turner are co-executive directors of Friends of the Earth