The UK sets a path for clean, affordable energy—and renewed climate leadership

The new United Kingdom administration is one that is passionate about clean energy and the energy transition. But first, to understand its approach to energy policy, it is important to understand how this new government will operate.

Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s pitch is that the government will be focused on “mission delivery” with mission delivery boards chaired by Starmer personally. He has said that his approach to all issues will be “country first—party second.”


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Almost all members of the Shadow Cabinet have been appointed to those same portfolios in government and, in addition, Starmer has also brought back some former ministers from the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown years. They are all therefore familiar with their portfolios, widely respected, and able to hit the ground running. It is also clear that the prime minister wants to work closely with the private sector in order to make early progress on the government’s priorities.

Ed Miliband has been appointed as secretary of state for energy security and net zero. This is broadly the role he held when Labour was last in government before 2010, so he knows the issues well and is a genuinely passionate advocate for tackling climate change and delivering net zero.

With the UK government now one the most secure among the large western nations (with a five-year mandate and a very large majority), the United Kingdom is expected to reassume a leading role in the international discussions on climate change. As the only country to have reduced its carbon emissions by over 50 percent since 1990, many will welcome that leadership once again.

In most areas, there will not be a huge difference in UK government energy policy under the new administration, but there will be a few distinct changes.

Labour has set a very challenging target to decarbonize the electricity grid by 2030. Until there is much more detail about how this can be done, industry will understandably be skeptical about the feasibility of such a goal, the costs involved, and how local communities will be brought on board. This will involve a significant further commitment to renewables, including a welcome early announcement to end the ban on onshore wind. The United Kingdom’s success in developing offshore wind will be continued.

There is evident government support for new nuclear, including next generation small modular reactors, and in the longer-term for fusion. The government wants to see a significant role for hydrogen and for tidal power, but these cannot deliver at scale in time for the 2030 target, so expect to see an acceleration of carbon capture utilization and storage programs. Starmer has spoken recently about the continuing role for gas in the mix, to deliver energy security, and this can only happen if its use can be decarbonized.

Labour is committed to ending the granting of new oil and gas licenses for the North Sea, while respecting the licenses that have already been issued. In reality, these would be for field developments that are many years off, so they would not make any significant difference to the United Kingdom’s energy security in the short-term. Of more immediate impact, there will be a new levy on companies operating in the North Sea oil and gas sector, and here the detail will be crucial—if not done carefully, companies may simply choose to leave the United Kingdom, as many have already done.

At the heart of its energy policy, there will be a new government organization, Great British Energy, and although its full details are still to be clarified, its purpose is to drive forward the clean energy sector and accelerate the transition. If done properly, it will help ensure the roll-out of the grid infrastructure needed to harness the wealth of renewable energy that the United Kingdom has in abundance.

Also of value will be greater attention on issues that have not had the attention they deserve, such as energy efficiency, decarbonizing heat, and an acceleration of demand-side response measures that are already starting to transform the electricity market. The government already knows that the success of its energy policy will be judged in large part by whether people can afford their bills.

Sadly, energy rarely seemed to be center-stage under the Conservative government (unless in response to a crisis), and that seems to be changing fast. There is already a sense that energy deeply matters to this administration—not just to deliver energy security but as an economic driver, helping to decarbonize homes and businesses, and creating a mass of new green jobs.

As a former Conservative energy minister, I wish this new administration well. If they can get these policies right, they stand a very good chance of delivering the holy grail in energy terms—clean, and secure energy, at a price people can afford.

Charles Hendry is a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, a former member of the UK Parliament, and former UK minister of state for energy.




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Image: Offshore wind turbines in Barrow Offshore Wind Farm. (Andy Dingley, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0