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Climate and energy leadership nowhere to be seen as heatwave returns

The Independent logo The Independent 10/08/2022 Harry Cockburn

It is hotter than ever. The country is tinder-dry. There were more wildfires in the single month of July than during all of last year.

During the recent heatwave, temperatures exceeded 40C and scores of houses burnt down on the edge of London. Another damaging heatwave is on its way. Water restrictions are now in force.

These catastrophic climate conditions have been knowingly fuelled for decades by unrepentant oil companies – all now giddy on their highest profits in history.

The unsurprising result: People are furious. If that wasn’t bad enough, unchecked energy bills threaten to lay waste to the already precarious finances of millions. Hardship looms, and the pitiful state of the energy system combined with the war in Ukraine potentially further limiting Russian gas imports to Europe means blackouts in winter are more likely than ever.

At this moment of acute national crisis, the prime minister has been on holiday leaving a rudderless "zombie government" at the helm, essentially waiting for the end (of the administration) to come.

So instead of a rational conversation on how to reduce the terrifying bills and cut the UK’s exposure to the unpredictable fossil fuel markets, all focus is now on the Conservative party’s contenders for the leadership.

Here there is scarcely any awareness of the scale of the crisis either, with the candidates squabbling over which inadequate scraps (cuts to green levies from Truss, cuts to VAT from Sunak) they can toss to the increasingly desperate masses.

Beyond vague and distant plans for more nuclear power stations, there are no major policy ideas coming from the Tories on how to deal with the crippling energy bills set to top £4,000 a year. They are scaling down essential support for renewables, and refuse to take experts’ advice to insulate homes and support a rapid move away from gas-powered heating.

But then, there’s barely been a murmur from Labour either. In the midst of what Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis has described as a "portentous national cataclysm", Keir Starmer is hardly out there touting messages of determination and the plans required to put us on a path out of this mess.

Instead, his clear lack of passion for the environment and his mild proposals to focus on economic growth risks aligning him closely with the dispiriting Tory status quo.

Forty properties were destroyed in Wennington, greater London, last month amid the highest UK temperatures on record (Getty Images) © Provided by The Independent Forty properties were destroyed in Wennington, greater London, last month amid the highest UK temperatures on record (Getty Images)

Former prime minister Gordon Brown appeared to have a greater grasp of the enormity bearing down on the country, this week calling for an emergency budget to stop people going hungry.

In recent weeks, even the Liberal Democrats have finally spotted the gaping chasm where the UK’s energy and climate policy should be.

This week Lib Dem leader Ed Davey has called for the government to absorb the £36bn cost of the huge energy price rises, recognising that British citizens now face "a drop in living standards unlike anything we have seen in my lifetime".

The party also issued press releases to national papers urging a halt to water companies in England awarding themselves millions of pounds in bonuses, while they simultaneously allow billions of litres of water to leak away daily.

During the heatwave, the fires, and amid growing concern at the lamentable state of the Conservatives’ energy plans, journalists have found getting any kind of alternative strategy from Labour much like getting blood from a stone.

It doesn’t take much awareness to recognise that people across the UK are crying out for impassioned, coherent opposition to the climate and energy disaster being thrust in front of us by a Truss or Sunak administration.

While Starmer’s apparent technique of giving the Tories enough rope to hang themselves might secure him an election victory (but also might well backfire), all the time he’s failing to scoop up all the support available from people desperate for an unswerving, rational energy and climate strategy – the one thing required to guarantee prosperity on our planet in any form.

Harry Cockburn is environment correspondent at The Independent.

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