14 years of the Tories – energy, climate crisis and the environment

UNISON’s national secretaries reflect on the disastrous effect of Conservative government on their sectors

Head of business, community and environment Donna Rowe-Merriman on why – both environmentally and financially – we’re suffering in the present and fearful about the future

The last 14 years has seen successive governments inflict significant damage on the environment, the energy market and England’s waterways, which has adversely affected UNISON members, public services, and consumers.

Climate change

Although the current government has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, the transition to cleaner renewable energy has been hindered by inconsistent policy and inadequate action to eliminate fossil fuels.

Investment in renewable energy has been uneven; while there has been funding in offshore wind and other renewable sources, support for solar power and onshore wind has waned, leading to slower progress in diversifying the energy mix. At the same time, controversial decisions such as allowing new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea simply undermine the UK’s climate goals.

Energy supply and prices

This lack of a coherent long-term strategy has stymied innovation and investment, leaving the UK vulnerable to energy supply shocks and price volatility.

The government’s approach to energy policy has delivered turmoil. A reliance on market forces has led to volatility in energy prices. Deregulation and privatisation have resulted in a fragmented energy market with numerous small suppliers, many of whom have collapsed in recent years due to rising wholesale energy prices. This has caused disruption and uncertainty for consumers, many of whom have faced substantial increases in their energy bills.

The environment

Deregulation efforts have often prioritised economic growth over environmental protection, leading to increased pollution and habitat destruction.

As a result, England’s waterways have suffered from neglect and underinvestment. Water company shareholders have seen £78bn in dividends since privatisation, at the same time as these same companies have accrued a debt mountain of £60bn.

Budget cuts to regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency have hampered their ability to enforce regulations and protect natural habitats. As a result, there have been numerous instances of water contamination, often from agricultural runoff and untreated sewage discharges.

Flooding has become an increasing concern due to climate change. The government’s flood prevention strategies have been reactive rather than proactive, often focusing on emergency responses rather than long-term resilience planning. The actions of the government have led to repeated flooding incidents, causing significant damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure and disrupting the lives of many.

Under-resourced, undervalued and underpaid

UNISON members, particularly those working in environmental and regulatory roles, have been directly affected by these policies. Real term pay cuts, increased workloads, and reduced resources have hampered the ability of dedicated staff who are under-resourced, undervalued and underpaid.

UK consumers have borne the brunt of higher energy costs and environmental degradation. Increased energy bills have strained household budgets, especially for low-income families, with over three million households in fuel poverty.

The continued failure of the Tory government’s energy, water and environment policies highlight the need for a more sustainable and equitable approach to governance in this country. Now is the time to come together and ensure we push for the change we want to ensure a fair transition to a greener future.

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