Last week, the UK government’s Digital Competition Experts Panel published its report ‘Unlocking digital competition’, addressing the role and economic power of large tech firms. The report, also known as the Furman review after lead author Jason Furman, may not have been obvious reading for the energy sector on a day when the Chancellor announced several climate measures in his Spring statement. But the digitalisation of the energy sector has made these the new frontiers of policy, and the review deserves close reading.
New York congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (widely known as AOC), has once again captured headlines with a resolution in the House of Representatives calling on the US government to undertake a “10 year mobilization” to create a ‘Green New Deal’ (known by its own initials GND). Two weeks on and the resolution is now scheduled to go to the floor of the Senate where it was proposed by Democrat Senator Ed Markey. It will fail, but it has reinvigorated the debate on climate action within the Democratic Party. And in its alignment of climate action with a radical agenda of economic transformation it is raising the political stakes for business climate activism.
UK: Global Counsel team members Rishi Patel, Matthew Duhan and Adam Terry discuss the prospects for a Labour government, and what it could mean for businesses and investors, particularly in the energy and financial services sectors.
On Monday, the International Panel on Climate Change released its most important report in recent years: the prosaically titled Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. The good news is that the report’s authors conclude that limiting warming to 1.5°C is still technically possible. Otherwise, the news is mostly bad. The report outlines both how urgently and how radically policymakers would need to act to meet the 1.5°C target. Time is running out, so why is climate change struggling to get a hearing? There is a plethora of reasons, but an age of populism is arguably bringing three to the fore: problems of association, communication and prescription.
Prime Minister Theresa May restarted the UK energy bills debate last week, announcing a draft Energy Bill which would allow Ofgem – the UK national energy regulator – to cap household energy bills in the form of the time-limited introduction of a ‘safeguard tariff’. While the GC energy practice watched from afar in Rome, some unexpected lessons from the Italian market emerged in discussions we were having with Italian policymakers and market participants.
As part of its long-awaited clean air plan, the UK government today announced its intention to ban conventional petrol and diesel engines in new cars and vans by 2040. Arguably, they need not have bothered. Many analysts now predict that, in terms of total cost of ownership, electric vehicles (EVs) will be the most affordable on the market by the early to mid-2020s. In that sense, the announcement fits with the UK government’s commitment to exit coal-fired power generation by 2025; while neither is as important as they first appear, both are undoubtedly landmark decisions.
On Thursday, self-proclaimed deal maker Donald Trump turned ‘deal breaker’, as he announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The decision provoked condemnation from an extraordinary spectrum of political and business leaders, and the US now appears on course to leave at some point towards the end of 2020. Soon after the announcement, some European commentators made the counterintuitive case that the Trump decision may actually be an opportunity for European climate leadership. Do they have a point?
When it finally came, UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that she would introduce a cap on energy prices if re-elected was made more in anger than in sorrow. Declaring in the Sun newspaper that she is “fed up with rip-off energy prices” May promised to cap the ‘standard variable tariffs’ (SVT), through which most UK households buy their energy. The cap will be put in place by the regulator Ofgem, and although not all details are yet clear, May’s expectation that it would “save families on poor value tariffs as much as £100” strongly suggests the imposition of a cash limit.
Today, the BEIS Select Committee released its report on the UK government’s Brexit negotiating priorities on energy and climate change. The report highlights important issues, including the need for a delay in the UK’s exit from nuclear cooperation agreement Euratom, potential “special arrangements” to maintain a single Irish energy market, and the view that the UK should not leave the EU-ETS before 2020, but should consider alternatives if the EU-ETS cannot be reformed. But largely it is a plea for the status quo, reflecting both the economic benefits of membership of the internal energy market and the views of a sector which mostly believes that Brexit’s energy challenges can be separated from its turbulent politics.
Yesterday’s government White Paper on Brexit confirmed that the UK will leave the European nuclear research and cooperation framework Euratom. Having concluded that Euratom is “uniquely legally joined” with the EU, the government argues that Brexit will require the UK to leave Euratom when it leaves the EU. While Euratom has its own treaty status, it is the central role of EU institutions – specifically the European Commission and European Court of Justice - in Euratom which appear to have determined the government’s position. The timing is unfortunate for a UK nuclear industry which has been progressing – albeit slowly - towards new build projects at Hinkley Point C, Wylfa and Moorside, but will now be caught in a wave of new uncertainty.