17 Jun 2024

‘We want to turn Britain into the world’s first clean energy superpower’, says shadow environment secretary

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

Labour’s Steve Reed, who’s the shadow environment secretary, joins us in Westminster.

Jackie Long: Rebecca Pow was talking about nature there, not just the climate crisis. How would Labour reverse the terrible nature declines we face?

Steve Reed: You’re absolutely right to frame it in that way, because after 14 years of the Conservatives, this is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Fifty per cent of our bird species are now at risk of extinction. Every single river is polluted in our country to some extent, our landscapes are in decline.

Jackie Long: And how would you reverse that?

Steve Reed: And there are real fears that our children and grandchildren will never experience nature in the way that we do today, or that we did ten or 20 years ago. And we have to turn the page on that. So Labour has a very clear long-term plan for restoring nature. That starts with cleaning up our rivers. The Conservatives went absolutely soft on water companies and allowed this pollution.

Jackie Long: We’ve talked to the Conservatives, just tell us what exactly you plan to do.

Steve Reed: What we’ll do is put the water companies under special measures, so that water bosses who allow that kind of pollution will face criminal charges, and will ban the payment of their bonuses until they clean up their toxic filth. We will ban the use of bee-killing pesticides…

Jackie Long: Would rivers be clean? You tackle the river problem, what is your timetable for that?

Steve Reed: We haven’t been elected yet. I’m going to have to talk to my colleagues about how the legislation should be put through parliament. But there are other parts of this nature restoration plan. We want to ban bee-killing pesticides that are destroying pollinators, who are such an important part of the ecosystem. Birds are dying off, in part because there aren’t insects for them to eat because of the use of these kinds of pesticides. We want to open up access to nature. We’re going to create nine new national river walks, three national forests. We’re going to expand nature-rich habitats, like wetlands, peat bogs…

Jackie Long: So very big plans, but how does all of this sit with your other big plan to get Britain building again? Nature decline comes in part from us having taken away their homes. You’re planning to build on brownfield sites, often hugely biodiverse. This is going to make the problem worse, isn’t it?

Steve Reed: People need places to live, and we have some of the highest housing costs in the world because there aren’t enough homes. So I make no excuses for the fact that Labour wants to deal with the housing crisis the Tories have left us with.

Jackie Long: So you accept that’s a trade off?

Steve Reed: No, I don’t, no. What we will do, the Conservatives’ Rebecca Pow was talking about the environment act that they passed and that we supported. Now after they passed it, they locked it in a cupboard and padlocked it and then paid no attention to it whatsoever, missing over 90 per cent of their own targets. What we will do with the new housing is we will apply the net gain requirements, so that for any nature that is lost, it will be more than replaced elsewhere. It would be compensated for. If you remember, the Conservatives tried to weaken environmental legislation to further pollute water with their nutrient neutrality changes, we won’t do that. We will build houses without lowering environmental standards.

Jackie Long: The very clear problem for Labour is for many people, you tore up your green credentials when you U-turned on the £28 billion investment plan. Why should anyone believe that you’re truly committed to an environmental agenda now?

Steve Reed: It’s very important that what we put forward to the British public is affordable, and what Labour is offering at this general election is the biggest action plan on energy and climate ever put before the British public. When we turn on GB Energy, that will be a public company that will direct investment in wind, wave, solar, nuclear power. We can transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy towards a clean energy economy, which protects the climate but also cuts bills for households and businesses. So it’s promoting economic growth while protecting the climate at the same time. And that is an ambition completely beyond the Conservative Party.

Jackie Long: If you talk about ambition, the International Energy Agency says there needs to be a complete halt to oil and gas licences. Yet you’re not planning to reverse the new licences that the Conservative government have agreed. Why not?

Steve Reed: We can’t break contractual obligations that have already been committed to, but there will be no new licences of that kind. It doesn’t actually help the economy if we keep it wedded to fossil fuels. The vast majority of fossil fuels are imported. We’re subject to the vagaries of supply chains that can be dictated by the likes of Vladimir Putin. We want to take control of energy in our own country and turn Britain into the world’s first clean energy superpower. Clean energy to protect the climate, but also to cut household and business energy bills. It’s a bold ambition, but it’s one we will pursue.