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Sunak to outline UK energy security plan amid green backlash

Sunak to outline UK energy security plan amid green backlash
Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, departs 10 Downing Street to attend a questions and anwswers session in Parliament in London, UK, on Wednesday, July 19, 2023.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will outline plans to bolster energy security on a visit on Monday to Scotland amid growing disagreement over the government’s broader environmental policies. 

Sunak will announce measures to help the North Sea oil and gas industry adapt to the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions and meet industry leaders in Aberdeenshire, the UK’s drilling hub. The Sunday Times reported that Sunak will unveil multi-million-pound funding for a carbon capture project in Scotland that could help support oil and gas production.

Meanwhile, the government made it cheaper for industrial firms to pollute by giving out more emission allowances than expected under its carbon trading program, the Financial Times reported.

Energy and climate policies have risen in the political agenda following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a cost-of-living crisis that has fueled concerns that the green push has hurt household finances. Critics have warned that the UK has failed to invest enough to beef up energy security as other countries, such as the US, and pump money into green technology.

Voters are also divided over recent anti-car policies, one window into diverging opinions about the pace and cost of the UK’s climate policies.

Sunak said on Sunday that he is on the side of motorists as he ordered a review into a programme to reduce traffic in residential areas, helping to improve air quality and encourage more walking and cycling. Critics argue that they create more congestion on other roads.

The Guardian reported that ministers are also mulling restrictions on local councils imposing 20 miles-per-hour (33km/h) speed limits for vehicles.

However, Sunak stopped short of delaying the deadline for a 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars despite growing pressure from Conservative backbench MPs.

“I just want to make sure people know that I’m on their side in supporting them to use their cars to do all the things that matter to them,” Sunak said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph. “The vast majority of people in the country use their cars to get around and are dependent on their cars. When I’m lucky enough to get home to North Yorkshire it’s more representative of how most of the country is living, where cars are important.”

Labour’s shadow climate change and net zero secretary Ed Miliband accused the Tories of waging a “culture war on climate,” saying his party is focused on “lower bills and good jobs.”

“Every family and business is paying the price, in higher energy bills, of 13 years of failed Tory energy policy,” he said on Sunday. “It is absurd that having left this country so exposed, the Conservative Party is asking the public to believe they can fix it.”

Earlier this month the Tories narrowly held onto the seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in outer London in a special election after a backlash over the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), which charges motorists £12.50 per day for using vehicles that don’t meet low emissions standards.

Climate policies and concerns over their costs could become a dividing line in a general election, which is expected next year.

New licences

Labour currently has a large lead in polls over the Conservatives, while voters have signalled their opposition to some green policies. Polling by YouGov suggests that more than half of voters would oppose the introduction of Ulez in their area.

Sunak will confirm on his visit to Scotland that the government will press ahead with granting 100 new oil and gas licences to boost North Sea production, according to a report by the Times.

Energy Minister Martin Callanan had earlier suggested that the UK could allow more oil and gas exploration in the North Sea as the government attempts to bolster energy security.

“If we can get the resources that we would otherwise be importing from our own supplies in the North Sea that employs British people, that raises money for the UK exchequer and is actually less carbon intensive than importing that through methods like liquid natural gas,” he said in an interview with Times Radio on Sunday. DM

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