With all eyes on the UK as we gear up to host this year’s COP Climate Summit, it’s already an extraordinary time to be in the energy business.
With just six weeks to go until the summit opens, and a weekend spent in crisis talks with energy companies and the regulator, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng must surely be feeling the heat over a surge in gas prices that is feared could raise household bills and force energy-intensive users to cut down on production this winter.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, Kwarteng once again reassured the British public that security of supply “is not a cause for immediate concern within the industry” and that “energy security is an absolute priority for this government.” He talked of the importance of protecting vulnerable customers and the role of the much-debated price cap as a means to protect millions of people from sudden price increases. But many are nervous.
Social media channels are filled with discussions around how and where to find the cheapest energy deals, punctuated with news of smaller suppliers calling for bailouts or going bust having failed to secure contracts far enough in advance to protect themselves from extreme price rises. Concern over the knock-on effect on businesses that have only just started to get back to some semblance of normality post-lockdown is also high, with some experts floating the prospect of a three-day week across affected companies – a suggestion firmly denied by Kwarteng in recent days.
What we all need is a bit of certainty, and none more so than the businesses who are expected to lend their support to the UK Government as it continues its bid to demonstrate climate leadership on the world stage.
Kwarteng’s appearance on the virtual Breakfast sofa comes just one day after over 80 of the UK’s biggest businesses urged the Prime Minister to move swiftly to deliver a more coherent net zero strategy ahead of COP26. They called for a clear timetable, detailed policy measures, market mechanisms and sector-specific messaging. All this will need to be supported by the Treasury who have been tasked with ensuring the cost of such measures are spread fairly across society – a detail that has never been more urgent as millions of households in England, Wales and Scotland brace themselves for a 12% rise in their energy bills when a higher price cap (which is staying) comes into force this October.
As the Chair of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben, said this summer: “Boris Johnson has done some remarkable things in the sense that he has clearly signed up to the toughest targets of any country in the world. But the problem for this government is that having done that, we still haven’t seen the delivery programme.” It’s time to see the ambition translated into action.