09. 12. 2019

Friends of the Earth's Disgraceful Manifesto Analysis

As a former Director of Friends of the Earth, I can say with certain knowledge that FoE is an organisation that makes its fair share of mistakes – as much under my watch as under any of my successors.

But I cannot recall anything as grotesquely absurd as its decision on Friday to score the Labour Party Manifesto as better on ‘the climate and ecological emergency’ than the Green Party. Labour was scored with 33 out of 45, the Green Party 31, the Lib Dems 30, and the Tories on a rather generous 5.5.

Methodologically, the process left much to be desired. The original manifesto analysis (in which the Green Party came top) was then amplified by the parties being allowed to make additional pledges that weren’t included in their manifestos. By all accounts, the Green Party didn’t bother too much with this follow-up, but the Labour Party went to town with its supplementary answers – including a pledge to cancel the new runway at Heathrow if it found that this insane project was inconsistent with the new climate targets it would be setting. (This shows just how easy it was to play FoE as complete dupes: it’s already incontrovertibly clear that a new runway at Heathrow will be incompatible with existing climate targets, let alone tougher targets.)

I hate it when an organisation like Friends of the Earth gets it so badly wrong. Whilst it’s absolutely right to welcome Labour’s enthusiasm for a Green New Deal (which is indeed eloquently promoted in its Manifesto) and other good low-carbon policies (especially on housing), it’s utterly irresponsible to ignore the contradictions in Labour’s overall position. After all, this is a party that is in favour of HS2, in favour of a new coal mine in Cumbria (that FoE has failed to do anything about), is still committed to airport expansion (forget that supplementary pledge), obstinately committed to Hinkley Point and to new nuclear power stations, to the Trident Renewal Programme, and so on and so forth.

It gets worse. Labour is also in favour of pursuing completely conventional economic growth (as measured by GDP per annum) indefinitely into the future. What do they think is driving the Climate and Ecological Emergency in the first place?! And Labour has completely failed to understand the horrendous consequences for the UK’s environment if we leave the EU. Its wilful refusal to campaign unequivocally against Brexit is a massive failure that no environmentalist should allow to be set easily to one side.

These things are all so much more material than a bit of simplistic box-ticking around the Election manifestos.

SHAME ON YOU, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH.

There’s one aspect of this which particularly worries me: the fact that Friends of the Earth can actively promote the electoral prospects of a Party that is still pro-nuclear – pro-nuclear energy, and pro-nuclear weapons. I’ve suspected for a long time that there’s an influential and highly insidious pro-nuclear lobby at the heart of FoE today – despite all sorts of reassurances (private and public) from its CEO Craig Bennett that this is not the case. I don’t believe him. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that he has been unable to deal with this nuclear fifth column, with this ludicrous manifesto debacle just the latest manifestation of this failure.

As evidence of this, consider the questions that Friends of the Earth selected to put before the four parties in its manifesto analysis: four questions – on renewables, fracking, carbon pricing and (weirdly) hydrogen. But nothing on nuclear. An FoE questionnaire on energy without any mention of nuclear. I think that tells you pretty much all you need to know.

The Labour Party Manifesto’s commitment on nuclear is short and to the point: ‘We will build new nuclear power needed for energy security.’ But to understand the Labour Party’s reaffirmed commitment to new nuclear power, you have to go back to the ‘Expert Briefing’ it brought out in October: https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ThirtyBy2030report.pdf. The section on nuclear in this Report (Section 4.13) is one of the lamest statements on nuclear power I can remember in a very long time.

Existing Labour Party policy (now supplemented with the new Manifesto pledge) is ‘to maintain nuclear generating capacity in the UK at its current level out to 2030’, which they calculate means roughly 9GW of new nuclear by 2030 to replace all the reactors coming offline. Without so much as an ironic smiley face, they go on to assert that Hinkley Point will be coming online in 2025 with 3.2GW, as promised by EdF (really!), that the same kind of EdF reactors at Sizewell C will be able to achieve another 3.2GW by 2030 (really!!), leaving a further 3GW to be identified for which there are apparently ‘multiple sites’ (really!!!) where new reactors can be sited – despite the collapse over the last year or so of schemes at Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury.

Who does the Labour Shadow Cabinet think it’s kidding? None of these fantasy reactors will deliver a single electron to the grid before 2030 – by which time Labour has assured us that we will all be living in a net zero emissions economy, apart from a few difficult sectors. Is anybody in the Labour Party joining the dots any longer?

The contempt this policy reveals for energy consumers (and in particular for those struggling to pay their bills) is staggering. Back in 2008, the projected cost of building two reactors at Hinkley C was estimated at £4 billion. By 2012, that had risen to £12bn, and £18bn by 2016. In September this year, EdF revealed that its latest estimate was between £21.5 and £22.5bn. None of the complicated (as in high cost) work has even started at Hinkley, so it’s guaranteed that this will rise further. The Government has already acknowledged that the additional cost to consumers of this nuclear monstrosity will be around £30bn – others have estimated that it could be far closer to £100bn over the lifetime of the reactors.

I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but the International Energy Agency has now become a better defender of hard-pressed electricity consumers in the UK than the Labour Party. Six weeks ago, it released a report signalling that offshore wind was now such a mature, cost-effective technology that it could, theoretically, if countries so decided, provide for the world’s entire electricity supply!

Here in the UK, when the latest offshore wind projects announced in September come online in 2023/2024, the guaranteed strike price will be £39.65 per MWh. This is an astonishing achievement. Just five years ago, the guaranteed strike price for offshore wind was £140 per MWh. Hinkley Point comes in at a monstrous £92.50 – basically an out-and-out bribe to persuade EdF and the Chinese to build the bloody thing in the first place.

Within a year or two, the UK will have around 10GW of offshire wind, at a fraction of the cost of Hinkley. And as the IEA says, that could be just the start: there are gigawatts more out there, getting cheaper and cheaper by the year.

How dare the Labour Party not only acquiesce in this grotesque nuclear injustice, but sign up for much, much more of the same, to be inflicted on those it claims to care most about?

And how dare Friends of the Earth (implicitly, if not explicitly) endorse this continuing nuclear nightmare?

I say again: SHAME ON YOU, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH.
 

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