For so many people around the world, it is growing increasingly difficult to see the resetting of the calendar as a step toward better and brighter things – particularly when the impacts of the climate disaster, the cost-of-living crisis, and the Ukraine Russia war are growing more and more severe by the week.
That’s not to say all is lost, or that the next few years have already been written in stone. Late 2022, in November, saw a fresh ray of hope from the COP27 summit – and, as ever, proactive individuals and corporations have represented shining lights to those who are still hesitant to ‘do their bit’. But, as of the start of 2023, there is a new urgency to this work – a sense of ‘make or break’, ‘last chance saloon’, ‘now or never’ lies heavy in the air.
December was a cold month. For much of the country, a thick blanket of snow descended overnight and the millions of households currently struggling with the cost-of-living crisis were forced to confront the true extent of the burden of unprecedented household bills as the cold pushed in. Then, almost as quickly as it arrived, the cold lifted. Europe was plunged into a winter heat wave – popular ski destinations closed as a result of the devastating lack of snow.
Elsewhere in the world, the impacts of climate change were felt in other ways. Despite dwindling news coverage, Pakistan remains devastated by flooding. 14 million people have been recorded as food-unstable, and a new warning of impending flooding has inspired fresh fears for the country’s population.
We are far beyond the point of denying climate change – but now that world leaders can no longer gloss over the facts, what is really standing in our way?
1. A devastating lack of funding for sustainability
Largescale solar installations will represent a backbone for the UK’s sustainability efforts. Other countries, like China, Vietnam, and Japan currently represent world-leaders in terms of solar capacity, but the UK remains far behind. Recent comments from the conservative party – most notably, from ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss – have made clear their stance on solar farms, and their desire to ‘dig their heels in the ground’ and avoid making any (desperately needed) commitments to the projects.
But even the Conversative party acknowledge the need for energy efficiency in homes and businesses if the UK is to meet its optimistic target for 2050 – although, so far, they have made little progress toward underpinning those efforts.
For the renewable energy sector to succeed, and for it to offer the UK the economic boost it sorely needs, the government must inject significant funding into it. That way, it can create thousands of new job opportunities – and represent the driving force behind sustainability efforts.
So far, however, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has offered a poultry £9.6 million in funding for training up a new workforce in energy efficiency installations. This is far from sufficient, and now represents a real blockage for the UK’s burgeoning sustainability sector.
Can we overcome it? Yes, as numerous other trailblazing countries have already demonstrated not just that largescale solar projects are feasible, but that they can bring a significant economic boost in the process. Similarly, the demand for private solar PV systems in UK homes has risen dramatically over the past 12 months and, each week, many homes emancipate themselves from the greed of the global fossil fuel sector.
The same goes for commercial solar, which offers businesses the opportunity to become trailblazers in their own industries – and avoid the sharp pinch of the rising cost of energy.
2. A resurging interest in coal and nuclear energy
The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine is a key driving force behind the cost-of-living crisis – something we wrote about back in March of 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia represents one of the world’s most prolific exporters of oil and gas, and has been widely accused of using its status against countries that show support to Ukraine.
As a result, energy suppliers were compelled to raise their prices. At first, this was posed as an unfortunate result of the conflict but, as time has passed, greed and corporate irresponsibility have both shone through as the true drivers behind the cost-of-living crisis, which has plunged more than a million homes into poverty.
The UK government – and, on a wider scale, EU leaders in general – have been forced to look for alternative options. And, while this may seem like the perfect opportunity to embrace renewable, clean energy source such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric, and bioenergy, it appears that nuclear energy has made its way to the top of the list.
While it is occasionally posed as a ‘clean’ and ‘sustainable’ source of energy, it remains the case that nuclear energy is far from ideal. Not only is it far riskier than true renewable energies, but it also has a significant carbon footprint. From construction of nuclear power stations to mining uranium, which is central to nuclear fission, nuclear energy is far from the right choice for a country that is supposed to be on the brink of a sustainability breakthrough.
We can only hope that ongoing protests will deter the government from investing into nuclear energy, and that the alternatives will rise to the fore sooner, rather than later.
Can we overcome it? While it is possible, thanks to widespread protests against the plans for a new Sizewell C plant, the situation remains very delicate. The government have announced £75 million in funding – a bid to encourage outside investment – for nuclear development. This is an unfortunate chapter in the story of Britain’s sustainability efforts, but it may help to temporarily lower household bills, even if the Ukraine Russia war continues on into 2023.
3. The government’s silence over rail worker strikes is delaying a green push
For the past six months, the government has affirmed its unwillingness to enter into talks with the rail workers union (ASLEF), which has been hosting strikes in order to enter into talks over a pay dispute, and issues with security and conditions in the workplace.
This industrial action has caused significant disruption to the UK’s railways, but public opinion generally falls in favour of the rail workers. Nevertheless, the government is maintaining its position.
One of the most unfortunate consequences of the government’s refusal to meet with ASLEF is, general secretary Mick Whelan recently claimed, a significant delay to efforts toward greener transport.
The ongoing distraction and disruption of industrial action is preventing rail leaders from implementing vital changes, that will help the government to push toward their targets for cutting CO2 emissions and supporting climate reform.
With the rail strikes forcing more and more travellers to opt for private car journeys, cleaner travel is effectively trapped beneath the government’s boot. The railways are seeing less investment, fewer passengers, and increasing costs that are making rail travel an underdog, when it could be a trailblazer for sustainability.
Can we overcome it? Ultimately, that rests in the government’s hands. Not only do rail workers need a long-overdue pay rise, but the lines and stations themselves need to be improved to a standard befitting a country with such an ambitious target for positive climate change. Ultimately, nothing can improve until the government commit to working with ASLEF, rather than against it, and only time will tell whether our railways can revolutionise low-carbon travel across the country.
Commitment is Key
What each of these issues have in common is the, at best, lethargic or, at worse, reluctant approach from our government. Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic – brought on, in part, by the growing climate crisis – it has been clear that a green recovery, where the emphasis is on truly sustainable measures, is central to the country’s economy, and, of course, its ability to meet those targets laid down in the Paris Agreement.
This reluctance is, in all likelihood, attribute to a wide range of factors. The world’s fossil fuel giants have remarkable swaying power, and hold a near-Monopoly on the UK’s homes and businesses. This can be changed, but the ‘powers that be’ have to be willing to divorce themselves from such a profitable, powerful industry.
One of the greatest benefits renewable energies offer to investors – whether private homeowners, or corporations – is a high return on a relatively low investment. While leaning into this sector can offer a strong, resilient economic boost, there is far less money to be made from households and businesses that rely on free and renewable sources of energy. For that reason, it is no surprise that we are seeing so much pushback from the world’s greediest entities.
It is not all doom and gloom, and plenty of new technologies, projects, and ideas are being pursued by researchers and engineers based all over the world. Many countries are shrinking their carbon output, but we will need a much stronger push if we are to meet our target, and hope to undo some of the damage that has been done to the world.