Election 2024: Labour to create new office for net zero in government to push green transition

Labour will ramp up its efforts to achieve net zero with a dedicated team of officials working to eliminate carbon emissions if it wins the election, Sky News understands.

The party's transition team, led by Sir Keir Starmer's chief of staff Sue Gray, is considering setting up an Office for Net Zero if it forms the next government, sources said, with a focus on delivering its aim for clean power as laid out in its manifesto.

It is not yet clear whether the new office would sit within the Cabinet Office - one of the key control centres in government alongside Number 10 and the Treasury - or under the the existing Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Desnez).

The current department, established in Rishi Sunak's reshuffle last year, has general oversight over net zero policies but does not have a formal delivery function across government.

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It comes after a former Tory minister who quit in protest at the government's approach to net zero and oil and gas production has revealed he will vote Labour at the election.

In another blow to Rishi Sunak's faltering campaign, Chris Skidmore accused the prime minister of "siding with climate deniers" in order to "deliberately politicise" the transition to clean energy.

Last year, Mr Skidmore led a review into net zero, which recommended the government set up a new Office for Net Zero Delivery that would have joint ministerial oversight from the Cabinet Office and the now-scrapped Department for Business and Trade.

The transition to a green economy has proved to be a key dividing line between Labour and the Conservatives in this election - although both parties have been accused of watering down their climate policies in the face of external pressures.

In its manifesto published last week, Labour committed to decarbonising the power system by 2030 - five years earlier than the Conservatives.

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While Labour have announced moves to accelerate the move to net zero, including doubling onshore wind, tripling solar power and quadrupling offshore wind by 2030, Mr Sunak's approach has been more cautious.

Last year the prime minister announced he was easing a series of green policies to protect "hard-pressed British families" from "unacceptable costs".

Among the U-turns was a delay to the proposed ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and a weakening of targets to phase out gas boilers.

They came following the Conservatives' narrow win in in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election - a battle fought and won by the party's opposition to London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) scheme, which charges heavier polluting vehicles £12.50 a day to drive on the city's roads in an attempt to improve air quality.

Labour's loss in Boris Johnson's former seat also prompted a rethink for Sir Keir, who said Sadiq Khan needed to "reflect" on the role the scheme played in the party's failure to win the constituency from the Conservatives.

Earlier this year the party finally confirmed it was scrapping its flagship policy to spend £28bn-a-year on green investments in government - saying the figure had been "stood down" because of the "damage" the Tories had done to the economy.

Sir Keir confirmed the party will now spend just £23.7bn on environmental schemes over the course of its first term in office - equivalent to just under £5bn a year.

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Establishing a net zero office within the Cabinet Office would signal Labour's commitment to achieving net zero by placing it at the heart of government - but such a move could prove unpopular with certain members of Sir Keir's team who want the party to proceed more cautiously with the move to net zero.

Shaun Spiers, the executive director of Green Alliance, told Sky News: "Leadership on the greatest challenge of our time needs to come from the top of government, not left solely to the energy department.

"If the UK is to meet its legally-binding climate targets then it will need Number 10 and the Cabinet Office to help drive the agenda forwards, ensuring that the Treasury, as well as the transport, environment and industry ministries play their part."

The Labour Party has been approached for comment.