In Government, the Labour Party led the way on an international level as the first nation to put climate change at the heart of the G8 and to call a United Nations Security Council meeting on climate change.
On 16 October 2008, Ed Miliband, then the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, announced that the world’s first Climate Change Act would mandate an 80% cut overall in six greenhouse gases by 2050. The Act makes it the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for all six Kyoto greenhouse gases for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline, toward avoiding dangerous climate change.
The Act aimed at ensuring the United Kingdom became a low-carbon economy and gave ministers powers to introduce the measures necessary to achieve a range of greenhouse gas reduction targets. An independent Committee on Climate Change was created under the Act to provide advice to the UK Government on these targets and related policies.
The next Labour Government will prioritise efforts to tackle climate change, both at home and abroad – just as the last Labour Government did.
It is worth remembering this historical legislative context: it has considerable bearing on why Labour opposes the current government’s almost fanatical faith in shale gas. Labour’s position on fracking is that the development of shale gas cannot and must not come at the expense of meeting our legally binding obligation to avoid dangerous climate change, nor can fracking be given any nod of approval at all without scrupulous environmental safeguards in place. Any future Labour policy on fracking, either way, would be formulated with care after drawing on research and the meticulous gathering of evidence of all potential environmental risks.
Over the last three years, Labour has worked with organisations including the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and the Local Government Association, drawing on work by Royal Academy of Engineering and other bodies to produce a list of vital conditions to reform the regulatory regime for shale gas. The conditions include independent inspection of well integrity, mandatory monitoring for fugitive emissions and a presumption against development in protected areas such as National Parks. They represent a comprehensive approach, based on scientific evidence, to bring a rigour and coherence to the UK’s regulatory framework.
Labour recently successfully forced through these conditions as series of legislative amendments to constrain government plans to “fast-track” fracking. George Osborne, the chancellor, was demanding “rapid progress” from cabinet ministers, including delivering the “asks” of fracking company Cuadrilla.
As the Guardian reports: “Ministers were forced to accept Labour’s new environmental rules last week to avoid a rebellion by Conservative and LibDem backbench MPs, many of whom are facing opposition to fracking from constituents.”
Additionally: “Fracking is set to be banned on two-fifths of the land in England being offered for shale gas exploration by the government, according to a Guardian analysis.”
A moratorium, as proposed by the Green Party, would never have been successful at this stage, and Labour knew that. Had the moratorium actually scraped a successful yes vote, the Tories would most certainly not have abided by that, leaving them free without constraint to go ahead with their plans to fast-track the industry. Labour succeeded in binding them to agree on considerable restrictions, which will tie the Tories’ hands until well after the election, as well as excluding almost half of the Country’s potential shale gas sites from being potential drilling sites.
Such a wide-ranging ban is a significant blow to the UK’s fracking industry, which David Cameron and George Osborne have enthusiastically backed. The future of fracking now looks to be in the balance. Many analysts say the outlook for fracking is bleak.
The Guardian goes on to say: “An independent analysis by Greenpeace also found that 45 per cent of the 931 blocks being licensed for fracking in England were at least 50 per cent covered by protected areas, which it said was likely to make them unattractive to fracking companies.
“Just three per cent of the blocks have no protected areas at all, Greenpeace found.”
Louise Hutchins at Greenpeace UK added: “The shale industry’s seemingly irresistible advance is now looking more and more resistible every day, unless ministers can explain why fracking is too risky for the South Downs but perfectly safe in the Lancashire countryside, the next obvious step is to ban this controversial technique from the whole of the UK.”
There is always a populist option when it comes to doing politics. It’s rarely an effective approach, since it is based on superficial appeal only. Labour once again chose the rational, coherent and ultimately effective option, and with consistent foresight, they secured the best possible outcome.