Both for the GMB, on the country at large, one of the most important debates that takes place at GMB conference is on energy and climate change. Today’s debate on Congress floor was fore  shadowed in an article in the Guardian quoting the general secretary Gary Smith calling on labour to think again about his proposals to limit expansion of North Sea oil and gas extraction. This was reinforced by the Scottish region question to Kier Starmer in the Q&A session.

The debate occurred in two sessions. The first session passed M227, on the role of energy prices in the cost of living crisis and to prioritise work with the equality strands, also Composite 16 on prepayment meters, M234 on North Sea Oil & Gas, and M237 on water shortages.

The second part of the debate, held after lunch, dealt with M238 on costs and tax of decarbonisation, M239 on the Hydrogen Economy, and the need for a just transition on jobs and wages,   M240 on electricity and 2030, 242 called environment which called for the GMB to run education programmes on personal energy efficiency and finished with a debate on M229 which calls for the re-nationalisation of the Electricity and Gas industries .

The video stream for the 1st session starts here, the 2nd stream starts here, and the debate on M229 starts here.

I have reproduced the words of the motions on North Sea oil and gas and electricity and 2030 below/overleaf, the other motions texts are published in the Final Agenda document on the GMB web site. Also, of interest and relevance is the CEC 2017 special report, which would still seem to be the baseline for policy.


Congress is very concerned that an incoming Labour Government led by Sir Keir Starmer will ban investment in new oil and gas fields in the North Sea in addition to refusing to allow onshore shale gas extraction.

Sir Keir Starmer speaking at Davos in Switzerland in January 2023 is quoted as follows: “What we’ve said about oil and gas is that there does need to be a transition. Obviously, it will play its part during that transition but not new investment, not new fields up in the North Sea, because we need to go towards Net Zero, we need to ensure that renewable energy is where we go next.”

This stance if it is not changed will be very damaging for both household energy bills and for UK energy security. It will mean that Britain will have to rely on supplies from regimes run by “henchmen, hangmen and head choppers “ as our General Secretary so memorably put it some years ago. 

Congress calls on the CEC to vigorously oppose this policy and seek to get it changed before the election.

The arguments in favour of the UK having its own gas supplies are overwhelming. Renewables are intermittent. The plain fact is that without gas to generate electricity there will be power cuts on the one day in six that there is no wind. During last winter there were long periods when two thirds of UK electricity consumption was from gas. There is as yet no viable alternative energy sources available at scale on the basis of current technology to generate electricity at reasonable prices.

New nuclear power stations are years away due to foot dragging. There is as yet no economically viable technology developed at scale to store renewables energy. Gas will be needed for electricity generation and for home heating for years to come until realistic, reliable, and affordable technologies are available.

Oil and gas fields have a lifespan of up to 20 years. Over such a timescale the UK government is faced with a straightforward choice- either develop our own supplies or leave UK industry and consumers to the mercy of the international markets. Labour should see sense on this.   


SUPPORT WITH QUALIFICATION: This was not Labour Party policy, and the reissued Labour Party spokesperson quote made clear that a Labour government would not turn off the taps on oil and gas investment, but they would stop new licences for new oil and gas fields. GMB union however remain concerned about this policy and see no conflict between issuing new licences and reaching carbon neutrality and will continue to raise the matter. No new licences would leave us more dependent on imports and put at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs, when oil and gas will be needed for decades to come. GMB will continue to raise the matter through the Labour Party national policy forum and at all levels of the Labour Party


Congress notes that as part of the Labour Party pledge to make the UK electricity supply carbon free by 2030 it plans to quadruple offshore wind capacity and double onshore wind capacity. This means an additional 42GW of offshore wind energy and a further 14GW on shore wind capacity.

This would require the installation of a further at least 3,200 giant wind turbines – with the towers and foundations fabricated from 8 million tonnes of steel. The numbers of turbine towers required are likely to be higher- as the onshore wind turbines are likely to be smaller than those offshore.

There are at least four problems with this plan to have carbon free electricity by 2030 as follows:

• First, the time required for the fabrication and installation of this number of wind turbines means that it cannot be done by 2030.

• Second, the time required to install the electricity transmission infrastructure to get this wind power into the grid means that it cannot be done by 2030.

• Third, there is no capacity in the UK to fabricate 8 million tonnes of steel into the wind turbine towers and foundations. All the jobs required to do the steel fabrication will have to be based – as they have been to date with the 28GW so far installed UK wind capacity- in the Far East.

• Fourth, on very cold days in December 2022 the total installed wind capacity delivered 1GW electricity and gas fired power stations were needed to deliver two thirds of the electricity required to keep electricity flowing. Another 42GW of installed wind capacity would not replace the gas as low wind was general over Britain. This is not something unique. One day in six there is little or no wind.

These are hard facts that cannot be ignored. Congress calls for Labour to go back to the drawing board so as to come forward with something other than this pie in the sky cloud cuckoo fantasyland policy for 2030 to put before the electorate on electricity generation in 2030.

Hard-headed realism suggests that there is no alternative to gas fired power stations for reliable electricity by 2030. Labour should stick to the net zero carbon emissions target date of 2050. In addition, Labour should get serious about developing steel fabrication capacity and jobs as part of a green energy supply chain in the UK as part of net zero by 2050.

SUPPORT WITH QUALIFICATION: GMB remains concerned about the practicalities of the Labour Party policy around ‘clean’ electricity power generation by 2030. As the motion outlines, on the basis of the information that has been presented so far, we believe that the target may not be feasible if a Labour Government wants to keep the lights on. Gas, for example, will be needed for decades to come. The CEC is looking to support the motion with the qualification that important questions remain unanswered about the Labour Party’s policy. It is unclear, for example, whether gas-fired stations will continue beyond 2030 if they are fitted with Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) – this is an important industrial issue for us. A stronger commitment to nuclear is also needed if the target has any hope of being met. We are seeking the freedom to secure additional commitments and reassurances as we head into the July 2023 National Policy Forum meeting, and to be able to respond positively if those commitments are secured. GMB will continue to raise the matter and our concerns through the Labour Party National Policy Forum and at all levels of the Labour Party

GMB23, Energy and climate change
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