We are on course for a climate catastrophe. 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record. Unless the Paris agreement’s target of limiting the rise in temperatures by 1.5C is met, heatwaves like that in 2003, which killed tens of thousands of people in Europe, will become the norm. And that is before considering rising sea levels and desertification that will sink cities, and kill and displace millions, or the fact that the Earth has already lost half its wildlife in the past 40 years.
The task for politicians is to propose real solutions to the single most important issue facing humanity. Too often, the environment is considered a matter for scientists, enthusiasts and activists. To increase public understanding and energise the political debate, we need more than facts – we need a programme that resonates with people’s everyday experiences, offering not just warnings but opportunities and improvement.
"At the heart of this policy will be a new generation of community energy co-operatives. We will create 1,000 of these co-operatives with the support of a network of regional development banks, and legislate to give them the right to sell energy directly to the communities they serve."
No issue better connects the environment to people’s lives than energy. In Britain today, seven million households struggle to pay their bills because of spiralling costs, while the big six energy companies have seen their profits rise by more than tenfold since 2007. The energy market is not just expensive, inefficient and polluting – it is, above all, undemocratic.
In order to deliver clean, affordable heating and electricity we need to change the whole system of energy supply. When energy is driven by the needs of people, it will be greener – because saving the planet is in the interests of everyone.
That is why I am today announcing a bold new set of policies which will pioneer a democratic, community-led system of energy supply. Over the course of the next parliament, we will use public investment and legislation to promote the creation of over 200 local energy companies, giving towns, cities and localities the powers they need to drive a clean, locally accountable energy system with public, not-for-profit companies.
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At the heart of this policy will be a new generation of community energy co-operatives. We will create 1,000 of these co-operatives with the support of a network of regional development banks, and legislate to give them the right to sell energy directly to the communities they serve.
At the same time as building a new publicly run, locally accountable energy system, we will invest in the high quality homes and insulation needed to make Britain environmentally sustainable. We will create a National Home Insulation programme to insulate at least 4m homes to energy efficiency standard B or C. In the private rented sector, we will set compulsory standards at the same level and end the misery of cold rented accommodation. This would save millions of people money on their bills as well as saving energy that is currently wasted on poorly insulated homes.
In order to have any hope of keeping the rise in temperature to 2C – let alone meeting our Paris agreement target of 1.5C – we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. This can and must be done. Scotland is already on course to generate 100% of its electricity from renewables, and Britain has an ample supply of wind and water. In government, I will commit to generating 65% of Britain’s electricity from these sources by 2030.
All of these measures will create secure, skilled employment for hundreds of thousands of people. As part of our transition to a low-carbon economy, we estimate that we will create 316,000 jobs in wind, solar and wave power. We will use a £500bn national investment programme, with a National Investment Bank and a network of regional development banks, to ensure that these jobs and opportunities are created in places where they are most needed – in coastal towns and areas with high unemployment.
Too often, environmental catastrophe is explained in the same terms as an asteroid hitting the earth. But the problems and the solutions are political – they are about the prioritisation of profit over the needs of people and, at the heart of it all, a lack of democracy in how decisions are made. By democratising our energy supply, and giving people power over their own destinies, we can rebuild and transform Britain so that no one and no community is left behind.