Jack Perschke is the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Derby South. He is a former Captain in the army and spent three years as an aid worker after leaving the army. He now advises businesses and government departments on implementing complex and high value change programmes.
I’ve written before about the distinctions between “Red Greens” and “Blue Greens”. In my view the environmental agenda has for too long been owned by big-state pseudo socialists who believe that targets, state-centric action and legally binding agreements are the answer to the myriad of environmental challenges we face in the next few years. It’s this camp that I’ve nicknamed Red-Greens.
For Red Greens the saviour is the state or, in the case of climate negotiations, it’s that unfailing deliverer of expensive inaction – the UN. It sets legally binding targets, we all dutifully strive to meet them, manfully fail in the process (or find a more immediate worry to spend our money on) and then engage in meaningless court battles to prove whose fault all this failure was as the world around us burns. In a typical bit of self-depreciating understatement Gordon Brown said that we have 50 days to save the world and, “no Plan B”. Fortunately, he’s wrong. Not only do we not need Gordon Brown to save the world, not only is it utterly beyond his ability to do so but there is also a perfectly feasible “Plan B”, it just involves no targets, not laws, no rhetoric, no complex government plans – just action. We need to stop looking around for a state-sponsored saviour and realise that the answer resides in our homes, our local businesses, our universities and our neglected industry.
Blue Greens, like their centre-right economic cousins, are suspicious of targets, central schemes and actions that run counter to the logic of human nature and the market. However, we do believe in addressing market failure, we do believe climate change to be one of those market failures and we do want to see the world address it as a matter of the highest urgency. We just don’t buy solutions that sound a lot like the sorts of measures that have, over the last 12 years, failed our schools, our hospitals, and our workless population. Making a big plan with ambitious targets that sound good, creating agencies to oversee it, throwing plenty of money into the mix, and sitting back to watch the results doesn’t work. Domestically it has resulted in waste, missed targets, crippling intra-governmental litigation and has suffocated innovation and individual action. It is the view of Blue Greens that we’ll see all of this and more if we adopt this approach to solving an international problem like carbon emissions.
So how does this all tie-in to Copenhagen? Well it was the ultimate Red Green fantasy – 193 countries all trying to negotiate. Sudan at the same table as the US, the Maldives shaping the same agreement as China. A great example of inclusiveness and global cooperation, so by that measure, it was a success. Sadly, in carbon emission terms, there are only 20 countries that matter. Those 20 major emitters need to emit less greenhouse gases, they need to take responsibility for the damage they’ve already caused and they need to accept that everyone’s energy profiles are going to have to change. Fine, that’s worth a summit and probably worth a couple of pages of paper to codify. However, beyond that, it’s all talk, it’s all cost and, beyond being decent PR, it was never going to lead directly a cooler, safer, more stable world. So with the limitations of processes like Copenhagen now manifestly proven what should we do now? Without targets and agreements – is there no hope of saving the world?
The answer is that we’ll save the world in the same way that we’ve gone about achieving anything worthwhile, we’ll mobilise the power and variety of human ingenuity. There may be investment to be made, a few billions for our research institutions and our surviving industrial powerhouses, there may also be agreements among the 20 emitter countries as to what a successful path looks like – targets, milestones, signs of success, it doesn’t matter what they’re called but they’re little flags that show you where you are, where you’re succeeding and where you should reinforce or cut your losses. They’re not the perverse behaviour-changing millstones that Red Greens want them to be. The answer is that, like the old energy infrastructure, the new energy infrastructure will be created bit by bit, according to local needs and without Gordon Brown or anyone else looking over a detailed set of plans to make sure that it’s happening in the “right” way.
The reason I believe that this is the way forward is because that’s how it’s happening already. In the toughest investment climate since the depression, it is estimated that $120-130bn was invested in clean energy in 2009. Investment in 2010 and 2011 looks set to blow that figure away. Indeed we should be more worried about a bubble growing as the $177bn fiscal stimulus package comes online. As this investment is made, the returns have transformed too. According to the CEO of New Energy Finance, “analysis estimates that the cost of electricity from most renewable power technologies will have fallen by 10% or more during 2009, with solar power costs down by an astonishing 50%.” With this rate of growth and technological advance – who needs Copenhagen?
So in the future we’ll probably see more chatter and noise from UN conference halls but that’s not where we’ll see the solution born. The solution will be found in gradually improved efficiencies, increased market confidence and a couple of wonderful leaps in technology that none of us can predict today. So I believe the silver lining of Copenhagen is that this truth is clearer than ever and that will help the grandstanding stop and the action move up a gear.