Wera Hobhouse: ‘Green investment could have thwarted recession — now it can revive Britain’s ailing economy’

Despite assuring the nation that the UK’s economy was on the incline on Wednesday 14th February, millions of Brits woke up the next morning to find that the Prime Minister had driven the country into recession. How could this have been avoided? One option was not to waste the golden opportunity provided to the UK by green investment.

Our unique geographical location, characterised by the 2nd highest tides in the world, shallow waters and long coastlines, affords the UK a myriad of opportunities for becoming a leader in sustainable growth. Yet, the government is bent on reneging on our climate commitments, misguidedly branding these decisions as being good for the economy.

Let us be clear – this recession was a direct consequence of the Conservatives preference for maintaining the ill-functioning and planet-polluting status quo. They are stuck in the past, stuck for ideas, and stuck in the pockets of the fossil fuel lobby.

It has been proven time and again that the policies that unlock growth are the ones that take the green transition seriously. Sustainable investment could be worth £1 trillion to UK businesses, creating around half a million new clean jobs by 2030 – but the Conservatives are turning a blind eye to both people and the planet.

And so when they claim to be “world leaders on tackling climate change”, we shouldn’t believe a word. Reality dictates a different picture altogether, where the UK is lagging dangerously behind international competitors. For example, the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s green industrial plan will see a combined $670 billion of green investment. Canada announced a package that offers nearly £50 billion-worth of tax credits for clean technologies. Meanwhile, the UK government would rather drive this country into recession than take advantage of the growth opportunity of the 21st century.

Their Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill proposes new annual oil and gas licences in the North Sea. The narrative the government is pushing, that this will boost energy security and reduce household bills, is based on fiction. In actuality, north sea oil and gas produced from new licences will be sold on the international market.

Take Rosebank, the UK’s biggest undeveloped oil field which is 80% owned by Norwegian company Equinor. The UK taxpayer will foot £3.75bn of the development costs, compared to £350m by Equinor, while 80% of the extracted fossil fuels are likely destined to export, resulting in a potential net loss for the Exchequer.

What’s more, the Bill does nothing to benefit UK consumers suffering from the effects of the recession in the immediate term. Not only are households losing nearly £1,500, they have spent the last few years grappling with soaring energy bills. Even the Energy Secretary herself admitted that the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will do nothing to lower energy bills for hardworking taxpayers. These new licences provide the equivalent of just four days of additional gas a year between now and 2050. Under this government’s watch, economic growth has fallen off a cliff leaving the country in recession, and energy bills have soared due to dependence on overseas oil. It seems they have no plan to change the current state of play.

This Bill also sees the government row back on their international commitments to phase down fossil fuels, made at COP28. They are sending a signal to investors that the UK is no longer a viable option for growing green tech. Only a government with the fossil fuel industry in their back pocket could frame new oil and gas licences as helpful for energy security and bills. How on earth will this approach stimulate the growth needed to take us out of Rishi’s recession?

As long as the government fails to invest in clean energy, our economy will suffer and we will not become energy independent. After all, it was reliance on Russian gas in the wake of their war on Ukraine that caused the last global energy bill crisis. We need to be confident that we can ensure our own energy security and the wealth of renewable resources available to the UK provides the perfect opportunity for this.

Yet the Conservatives are taking us in the wrong direction, prioritising the power of the past, rather than the economic growth of the future. With a General Election coming this year, now is our chance to make sure successive governments create sustainable energy policy that maximises our potential for growth.

The green transition is an unparalleled economic opportunity. Yet for too long, far too much focus has been on the costs of investing in our future, rather than the unprecedented gains we are yet to tap into. We need a government willing to take the necessary leap to pull us out of recession and into the 21st century.

Politics.co.uk is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.