The King’s Speech – what’s new for energy and sustainability

In a momentous State Opening of Parliament, King Charles III laid out the UK Government’s ambitious agenda for the coming year. Central to this plan is a bold move to amplify oil and gas expansion through a newly proposed bill. This announcement has ignited a fervent discussion, with environmentalists and policymakers scrutinizing the potential impacts on the nation’s energy landscape.

The King’s vision for a sustainable future

At the heart of the King’s address was a resolute commitment to guide the nation toward net-zero emissions by 2050, all while ensuring that the transition places no undue strain on households. This ambitious goal is poised to shape the UK’s energy policy landscape for years to come.

A pivotal debate: fossil fuels and the political divide

A significant point of contention lies in the approach toward fossil fuels. The Labour Party has pledged to halt new oil and gas licensing rounds if they assume power, but will honour existing licenses. In stark contrast, the Conservative Party has championed a robust North Sea oil and gas licensing strategy, already launching a major round last year with plans for another in the near future.

Perhaps the most pivotal revelation in the King’s Speech was the confirmation of a policy mandating an annual licensing round. This strategic move is positioned as a means to bolster the UK’s energy security and reduce dependency on unstable international energy markets and unfriendly foreign regimes.

Environmental advocates raise their voices

Unsurprisingly, environmental activists have raised their voices in protest. The International Energy Agency’s 1.5C-aligned pathway to global net-zero energy by 2050 underscores an immediate halt to all upstream oil and gas projects with extensive lead times. Skeptics question whether bolstering North Sea oil and gas capacity will truly fortify British energy security and lead to more affordable bills, especially in light of comments by Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho suggesting otherwise.

The global perspective: a market-driven industry

Oil and gas, being global commodities, are subject to the dynamics of the highest bidders and most influential players in the market. Organizations such as Carbon Brief, Uplift, and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) have highlighted the terminal decline of North Sea oil and gas production as reserves dwindle.

A vision beyond borders: supporting global transitions

The King affirmed his government’s commitment to aiding developing nations in their energy transitions and holding other countries accountable for their environmental commitments. This declaration, however, has triggered questions about potential contradictions within a government advocating for both oil and gas expansion and global environmental stewardship.

Revving up the debate: ‘pro-motorist’ policies

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently made waves by postponing the UK’s ban on new petrol and diesel vehicle sales from 2030 to 2035. This shift was part of a broader roll-back on policies aimed at advancing the low-carbon transition. The government has also taken a firm stance against the expansion of the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone, a move that garnered support in the Uxbridge by-election.

The King’s Speech highlighted the government’s ‘pro-motorist’ policy measures, echoing announcements made at the Conservative Party conference. These measures will curtail the ability of English councils to impose 20mph speed limits on main roads and to implement low-traffic neighbourhoods and clean air zone schemes.

Shining a light on homes: efficiency and renters’ rights

The King’s Speech was slated to introduce new regulations for landlords to enhance the energy efficiency of rental properties, a proposal that was subsequently scrapped in September. Additionally, plans to relax water pollution rules for housebuilders faced defeat in the House of Lords. This turn of events underscores the weight of public sentiment on issues related to water pollution.

The speech also paved the way for the government to move forward with phasing out certain leaseholds in England and Wales, a move aimed at alleviating maintenance expenses and legal fees. Furthermore, the Renters Reform Bill, intended to prevent unjust evictions and provide renters with comprehensive information about their properties, continues its legislative journey.

Renewable energy: A beacon of hope

The King’s Speech shone a spotlight on the imperative to attract unprecedented levels of investment in renewable energy sources. This bold declaration reflects the King’s longstanding interest in renewable energies, as demonstrated by carbon-cutting measures in Windsor and ongoing geothermal feasibility studies at Balmoral.
RenewableUK’s Chief Executive, Dan McGrail, lauded the government’s commitment, emphasising the need for specific policies and budget allocations to translate this vision into reality. He called for revisions to capital allowance rules, advocating for offshore wind projects to qualify for the main rate of 18%. Additionally, McGrail urged re-evaluation of the Electricity Generator Levy, an area of contention within the industry.

Final thoughts

As the UK navigates the complex terrain of energy policy, the King’s Speech has set the stage for a year of fervent debates and critical decisions. Balancing the imperatives of environmental sustainability, economic growth, and energy security will undoubtedly be a formidable task. The coming months promise to be a pivotal juncture in shaping the nation’s energy future.