Caroline Lucas – 2022 Speech on the Cost of Living Crisis

The speech made by Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.

We are in the grip of multiple crises: a cost of living scandal that is pushing millions of households into fuel and food poverty; a war in Ukraine with disastrous consequences; and the accelerating climate and nature emergencies. In the short time that I have, I want to outline their common roots in our fossil fuel-based energy systems.

The cost of living crisis is the most visible part of a deeply entrenched social crisis that the Government have systematically not only ignored, but actively exacerbated. Even now, we get the ignorance and arrogance of Tory MPs lecturing about value brands and learning to cook “properly”. I sometimes wonder what planet they are on. In the sixth richest country in the world, more than 2 million adults did not eat for a whole day last month, because they could not afford or get access to food. That is not just a crisis; it is a scandal.

The international price of energy and fuel, a global pandemic, the war in Ukraine and disruption to supply chains are all factors in what is happening to inflation and the cost of living, as is Brexit, but make no mistake: the associated social scandal is a direct result of this Government’s political choices, which include cutting universal credit and refusing to uprate benefits in line with inflation.

The choices locking us into fossil fuel reliance and climate catastrophe are equally unforgivable. Companies such as BP and Shell are gambling on Ministers failing to rein in their deadly plans for more oil and gas production. They are deadly because, as the International Energy Agency has warned very clearly, there can be no new fossil fuel exploration and development if we are to keep global heating below the 1.5°C threshold, yet the fossil fuel giants are investing in carbon bombs that will accelerate climate breakdown, and the consequences will be felt heavily by the poorest and most vulnerable. That is nothing less than criminal.

The Government’s choices have consequences for the war in Ukraine, too, and for Putin’s war chest. I welcome the consensus that we must stop financing his war crimes, and need to stop importing Russian oil and gas. However, I cannot welcome the fact that, for years, policies that could have brought us to a place of energy resilience have recklessly been torn up, with UK energy bills nearly £2.5 billion higher as a result; or the fact that the Government are about to deliver an unambitious, under-financed energy strategy that will leave millions in poverty and accelerate the climate crisis while doing nothing to reduce the UK’s dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Here are five policies to help us rise to the challenge. The first is a street-by-street, local authority-led retrofit revolution. That is the cheapest, fastest and most effective way to cut household bills, reduce demand, cut climate emissions, and create thousands of jobs in the process. The second is a transition to the abundant homegrown renewables with which our nations are blessed. Those renewables are already cost-competitive; onshore wind is six times cheaper than gas. The third is a dirty profits windfall tax on the obscene profits of the energy giants, but it should not stop there; instead, it should pave the way for a carbon tax levied on every tonne of CO2 released. That critical lever would help to shift us fairly towards a clean, green economy. The revenue would contribute to free home insulation for those who need it, free public transport and a universal basic income.

Fourthly, there should be no more subsidising of fossil fuels. The UK has one of the most lax regimes in the world for the oil and gas sector. For example, in 2019, companies got away with paying 12.5 times less tax for a barrel of oil produced here than for one produced in Norway. In 2020, Shell effectively paid no tax at all in the UK; it is the only country in which Shell operates where that was the case. Why does the Gracious Speech not include legislative proposals to kick these climate criminals out of Britain for good? Tell Shell that it is not welcome to relocate its headquarters to London. We should introduce laws that would allow us to put on trial not the peaceful protesters who are defending our futures, but the energy bosses who commit crimes against humanity by continuing to plan vast oil and gas projects that would shatter the 1.5°C climate goal.

Finally, there should be no new oil, gas or coal licences. Every penny spent pumping oil from the North sea is making the future less liveable. That is absolutely unacceptable. It is criminal, and it has to stop.