Investment in clean energy and the low-carbon economy fell sharply in the UK last year, even as rival nations were increasing their firepower in the global green race, data shows.
The UK’s investment in the energy transition fell by 10%, from $31bn to $28bn, from 2021 to 2022, while similar investment in the US rose by about 24% to $141bn, and in Germany by 17% to $55bn.
Across the EU, investment in the energy transition away from fossil fuels rose by $26bn last year, to $180bn, in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The figures, which cover public and private sector investment, come from research by the House of Commons library, commissioned by the Liberal Democrats, and appear to show the UK falling behind at a crucial time. The US, through the Inflation Reduction Act, is planning a $369bn expansion of low-carbon efforts, and the EU is similarly pursuing green growth.
In the UK, renewable energy generation has been a mixed picture in recent years. Offshore wind has grown substantially, but onshore windfarms have been almost impossible to build in England since the planning laws were changed in 2015, while there has been hesitation over solar farms. The government has also refused to mandate solar panels on the roofs of new buildings.
Last month, the government unveiled a raft of measures intended to boost the low-carbon economy. But the announcements were overshadowed as ministers first labelled the measures “green day” then reneged to rebrand it as “energy security day”. There was no new money for the plans, and the centrepiece – investment of £20bn over 20 years in carbon capture and storage technology in the North Sea – was called into doubt by scientists.
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate spokesperson and MP for Bath, accused the government of a “dereliction of duty” in failing to focus on the economic opportunities of going green, and to safeguard energy supplies and the climate.
She said: “The government’s claims of being world leaders in the energy transition are in tatters. This data lays bare their neglect of our vital net zero goals, and failure to insulate us from the next energy crisis.”
She added: “While other nations are facilitating major investment into the key industries of the future, our government is content to sit back and watch them race ahead. The result will be a lack of energy security, higher energy bills, and the continuing failure to hit our climate targets.”
The data covers all investment in the energy transition, which includes renewable energy, electric vehicles, electrified heat such as heat pumps, hydrogen, energy storage and carbon capture and storage. Previous data collated by the House of Commons library, up to 2020, focused on renewable energy, so data from before 2020 cannot be directly compared, but it also shows a large fall in the UK’s investment in renewable energy.
From 2016, when investment hit $24bn, renewable energy investment fell sharply to just $7.6bn in 2017, according to the research. UK spending on renewables recovered slightly in 2018 to $8.8bn but then slumped again to $5.3bn in 2019.
Hobhouse called for a £150bn public investment programme focused on achieving the UK’s legally binding target of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and including key green technologies of the future.
She said: “It is clearer than ever that we need to facilitate major new investment. Instead, the government is repackaging old announcements to give the appearance that they are taking action.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero said: “Selective analysis of figures in this way is misleading. As home to the first, second, third and fourth largest operational offshore wind farms in the world, backed by £198bn of investment into low-carbon sectors since 2010, our record speaks for itself.”
The spokesperson said: “That’s 50% higher than the US as a share of GDP, and that’s why 40% of our power came from renewables last year, nearly twice the figure for the US. Furthermore, the price of many renewable technologies has come down in recent years.
“The government is continuing to back clean energy, including the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years in Sizewell C. Last month, we unveiled our Powering Up Britain plans to help us further deliver affordable, clean, homegrown power.”