07 Apr 2022
The perfect storm of a cold winter in 2021 and a surge in demand for energy as countries emerged from COVID-19 lockdowns has led to a record rise in global gas prices. On top of this, the horrifying war in Ukraine has also caused prices to rise even higher and focused our attention on where our energy supply comes from.
In February 2022, energy regulator Ofgem announced it would be raising the cap on the prices that energy companies are allowed to charge customers by 54%. That means millions of people across the UK will face steeper bills come April.
The UK is particularly vulnerable to these rises in gas prices because we’re over-reliant on gas as an energy source. Currently 87% of UK households rely on gas to heat their homes, and gas generates over a third of our electricity in the UK.
What’s more, the UK has some of the oldest and leakiest housing stock in western Europe. A failure of successive governments to invest in making our homes more energy efficient and in developing renewable energy sources has left the UK reliant on gas and exposed to the current energy price hikes.
Why the government's response isn't good enough
In real terms, Ofgem’s energy price cap will rise by £693 to £1,971 per year from April 2022. This huge increase will push people into precarious financial positions and leave many unable to afford to heat their homes.
Government has announced temporary measures to address the hike in prices, but these are insufficient and do nothing to tackle the root causes of the problem: an overreliance on expensive and polluting fossil fuels and a failure to upgrade inefficient, leaky homes.
At the same time the government is considering making us even more dependent on fossil fuels, by considering expanding the UK's supplies of gas and oil, including new licences for North Sea oil and gas and even the return of fracking.
Meanwhile, oil and gas giants like Shell and BP have announced record profits, with the head of BP referring to his company as "literally like a cash machine". While the poorest are hit the hardest by rising bills, energy companies are raking in huge profits. This can’t continue.
What are the solutions to the energy crisis?
The energy crisis should be a wake-up call for government to finally do what it should've done years ago and cut ties with unreliable fossil fuels. We've put together a 5-point plan to meet the UK's energy needs. The government must:
1. Reject calls for new oil and gas extraction projects
Extracting more oil and gas will only fuel further climate breakdown. What's more, it fails to address immediate needs of energy security and soaring energy prices. New oil and gas fields take on average 28 years to start producing. Our leaders must ditch the distractions and focus on real solutions that help people right now.
2. Rapidly increase renewable power infrastructure
Homegrown renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy, and onshore wind and solar farms are the fastest to build. Stop blocking building from happening.
3. Help homes get off gas
Everyone deserves access to affordable, clean energy. The government should fully fund low-carbon heating solutions for those unable to pay and remove caps on the number of available grants. Doing so would help the 10 million homes ready for fitting heat pumps, and mean it isn’t just the wealthy who can benefit from the transition to a low-carbon future.
4. Prioritise and fund energy efficiency
With the nation struggling to pay its energy bills, improving energy efficiency is a no-brainer. Task and fund councils to roll out street-by-street insulation programmes, starting with the neighbourhoods most in need.
5. Introduce a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies
Fossil fuel companies are enjoying record profits as our energy bills soar. Let oil and gas companies foot the bill and help fund insulation and financial support for those having to choose between heating and eating.
5 ways to act on the energy crisis
1. Help counter problematic narratives
If you’ve caught any of the media coverage around the energy crisis, you’ll notice there’s some pretty problematic narratives being peddled. Arguments include "we need more fossil fuels not less", "it's action on climate that’s caused this crisis" and "attempts to reach net zero emissions should be abandoned". Worryingly, some politicians and commentators are using the war in Ukraine to suggest that now’s the time to start extracting more fossil fuels in the UK. But this is not the solution to the energy crisis. We need to make sure these arguments don’t go unchallenged.
Check out the section below on key messages and use these in your communications and conversations.
2. Read up on how the UK can secure affordable energy for everyone
We can ensure everyone has access to affordable energy, while avoiding funding fossil-fuelled conflicts abroad, by investing in home insulation and rapidly increasing our production of cheap, home-grown renewable energy. Rather than moving backwards to our fossil-fuelled past, we can move forwards towards a cleaner, energy secure future. Read more about energy security in our blog.
3. Get the word out and share content on your social media
Social media is the quickest way to reach new people. When speaking about the energy crisis on social media, it's important to also acknowledge the devastating impacts on people affected by the invasion in Ukraine. Read the Friends of the Earth statement on Ukraine.
We’ve created a set of pictures for you to share to help get the word out.
You can also link to an article on our website that explains more about how the UK can secure energy for everyone.
4. Contact your MP
It's crucial that our Members of Parliament hear loud and clear that we will not tolerate being dragged back to age of fossil fuels, and that instead we must urgently invest in renewable energy and insulate our nation's homes. You can tweet your MP or email them using our easy template.
5. Engage the local media
Local media work will be crucial in owning the narrative and putting forward the solutions. There are several things you can do on this front. Options include writing letters to your local paper, dialling in to local radio shows with your views, and putting on an event or action that can be covered locally and help get the message across.
6. Understand what's happening in your area
We need to understand how this energy crisis affects our communities and what we can do in the coming months and years. This will take time, so get started by doing some research and talking with others. A good place to start is Friends of the Earth’s Near You tool. Simply type in your postcode and you’ll find data on fuel poverty and energy efficiency for housing in your local area.
1. Solidarity with Ukraine
Our immediate thoughts are with everyone suffering the devastating impacts of the war in Ukraine. We join the call for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian invasion forces and a peaceful and diplomatic long-term solution.
2. We must urgently end our reliance on gas
The current energy bill crisis is caused by a global gas price surge - which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. But it’s hitting the UK particularly hard because of our reliance on gas. Successive governments have failed to take the action needed to end the UK’s fossil fuel dependence, and now we’ll all have to pay the price through eye-watering bills. Drilling for more gas in the UK won’t help bring down our bills, because it’ll be extracted by private companies and sold to the highest bidder on European and global gas markets. This is happening already, with oil and gas giants making record profits on fossil fuels. More gas isn’t the solution and won't give us energy security. Instead, the government must insulate the nation’s homes to reduce our need for expensive and polluting gas, and invest instead in clean and cheap renewables that will bring down our bills.
3. The crisis is unfair and will disproportionately affect those already struggling.
The rise in energy prices is disproportionately hitting the poorest households and the impact on them will be devastating. More people will have to choose between paying for basics like food or keeping their homes warm. In fact, the next wave of price rises threatens to push 2 million more households into fuel poverty. This is not right. Rising energy bills will also exacerbate existing health inequalities. Warm homes are healthier homes, particularly in the winter, and especially if you’re older or already unwell. Urgent support is needed to protect those most at risk.
4. Fossil fuel companies are making extra profits and benefiting from this crisis, while ordinary people suffer.
It's not right that fossil fuel companies are allowed to make record profits off the back of soaring gas prices, while energy bills skyrocket and the planet suffers. We've called on the government to introduce a windfall tax and use the profits to help make energy bills more affordable for those struggling, and improve the energy efficiency of UK homes. Over 55,000 people supported our windfall tax petition, and a massive 76% of people agree and support a windfall tax according to a recent national YouGov poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth.
5. It's not too late to act and secure a better future
This energy crisis should be a wake-up call for the government to finally do what it should've done years ago and cut ties with expensive and polluting fossil fuels. It's a tragedy that it’s come to this, but it's clear that we need a more reliable system to heat and power our homes, once and for all.
Now’s the time for government to stop our overreliance on volatile gas markets by investing in renewable energy sources and efficient homes. The pay-off will be healthier, warmer homes and lower bills.
If we get this right, and we can, everyone will have access to a warm home that can be affordably heated, without heating the planet.
Solidarity with allies
The energy crisis isn’t just a climate issue. As well as fossil fuels funding conflicts around the world, energy price rises are also a housing issue, a poverty issue and a health issue. We need to understand these intersections and show solidarity and allyship with other groups and communities impacted by the fuel crisis.
Think about how the gas crisis is impacting people in your area and if there are any other groups organising in your community. Think outside of the climate and environmental movement. Are there anti-poverty groups, renters’ unions or health justice groups? Make a list and do some research. Are there any events or actions coming up that you could support with? Check out our guide to building local alliances.
Fuel Poverty Action is a nationwide network of activists that supports people experiencing fuel poverty and campaigns for systemic changes to improve the lives of those hardest hit by both the housing and climate crises. They’re an amazing group organising demos and actions on the energy crisis. Check out their website and follow them on social media to keep up to date.
Fighting the impact of rising energy bills while getting rid of fossil fuels from our homes for good will be a big focus of Friends of the Earth’s work over the coming year. We’ll keep being responsive to the immediate crisis while setting the scene for a long-term campaign. We’ll share more info in the coming months. In the mean time, keep in touch via [email protected]