Last week marked a first from the UK’s new monarch as it saw Charles III deliver his first King’s Speech. Formally called the Speech from the Throne, the event is a key part of the State Opening of Parliament ceremony, marking the start of the parliamentary year. The speech is typically a chance for the Government (who writes it) to lay out its plan for the following year, including by announcing the new legislation they hope to bring to parliament.
With a general election on the horizon for next year, this year’s speech was billed as a chance to do three things: to reset Rishi Sunak’s Government, to establish the terms on which the incumbent government will fight the election, and to frame the legacy of Sunak’s time in office. By most accounts, the speech failed on all of these counts. ‘The longest in words but containing the least bills since 2005,’ the speech was ‘marked by waffle and filler’ wrote the Guardian. For many in the climate movement, the speech was also troubling, not just for the bills included, which focused on ramping up the Government’s authoritarian tendency, but also for what was notably absent: namely, any ambitious and serious policy aimed at addressing the epochal climate and nature crises.
This wasn’t surprising. Recent months have seen Sunak’s government attempt to water down its own commitments to a green transition over fears that climate policies are a vote loser. The truth of course is that concern for climate change and support for a just transition have never been more popular amongst the general public.
The speech announced a new system for awarding oil and gas licences – part of Sunak’s pledge to ‘max out’ UK fossil fuel reserves. This comes despite warnings from the the International Energy Agency that there can be no new oil, gas or coal development if the world is to reach its net zero by 2050, demonstrating that the government needs to take urgent action to meet its own legally binding climate commitments.
Responding to the announcement, campaigning group Uplift had this to say:
“This government’s obsession with oil and gas is making people in this country poorer and colder, all just to please a handful of multinational fossil fuel firms. Big oilfields like Rosebank, which will see most of its oil head abroad, won’t even bring in tax revenue, thanks to the vast subsidies this government is giving the industry to develop fields.”
The central problem facing the UK is not one of energy supply, but energy affordability. Energy bills are still double what they were two years ago, and an estimated 6 million households are in fuel poverty as we head into winter. Instead what was needed in the King’s Speech was a clear signal that the UK is going to prioritise clean energy. The UK’s climate watchdog has been clear that we can’t reach net zero if we keep heating our homes with gas, but last year the UK installed the lowest number of heat pumps per capita among comparator countries. One solution would be to introduce a clean heat market mechanism to reduce the upfront cost, kickstart the market and expand manufacturing.
Faced with this disconnect between, on one hand, the popular consensus on climate change and the clear route to better policy, and, on the other, a government entrenching climate delayism, what is needed is a sustained campaign to bring our concerns about the climate to our elected representatives and to demand that they take radical action.
(For tips on how to develop your own SMART asks, like the one above, in order to hold the government to account, check out our resource here.)