Greg Barker MP is Climate Change Minister.
It is five years since David Cameron famously journeyed to the Arctic with WWF to highlight the threat of global warming. The dangers of Climate Change may be even more pressing now than they were back in 2006 but the political world and the global economy have changed too. As the economy went from boom to bust in Labour's Age of Irresponsibility, and another Conservative generation is left to clear up a wrecked economy after Labour mismanagement, gone are the easy assumptions of the boom years. A far more rigorous approach to weighing up the costs as well as benefits of climate policy is demanded, by public and politicians alike.
We need to make sure that our policy ambitions as a Conservative led Government chime with the instincts and day to day reality for families in this period of austerity. We must demonstrate the fundamental truth that Green economics is as much about encouraging basic household virtues of efficiency, saving, and cutting waste as it is about top down political gestures. For too long green politics has been dominated by the centre left pursuing often worthy goals through punitive legislation. We need to recognise that real progress more often comes from harnessing the enlightened economic self interest of people striving each day to get on and build a better tomorrow for themselves and their families.
The commitment to new carbon budgets with stretching targets to reduce UK carbon emissions by 50% by 2025, must dispel any doubts over the Coalition’s absolute determination to be the “Greenest Government ever”. But talking big while setting targets for future governments to deliver was Labour’s way. The Coalition’s green credentials will be judged on what we can deliver in this Parliament, through effective policies to help families and communities to take more control of our own energy use and costs, save money and improve our homes and quality of life.
And with economic recovery and growth our over-arching priority, to succeed in our mission of moving towards a high growth but low carbon economy, one thing is absolutely clear: Decarbonisation must not mean de-industrialisation. In fact, a low carbon Britain needs more advanced manufacturing not less. The truth is we will only achieve our bold objectives with strong green growth right across the whole economy.
That means we can’t just see climate change solutions through the narrow prism of carbon targets. To reap the full benefits for UK plc and to maximise new investment, we have to look at the wider benefits of building industrial advantage through becoming more energy efficient, less fossil fuel dependent and grabbing first mover advantage in new markets and new technologies. But the climate lobby also needs a commonsense check.
- First, we must not allow energy intensive industries to be driven offshore, potentially to far less green economies than our own, with the loss of jobs and businesses that would mean.
- Secondly, to capture the economic benefits of the huge investment in renewing our energy sector we must ensure that the supply chain for the world’s largest offshore wind programme, the UK nuclear new build programme and our global ambitions for industrial scale Carbon Capture & Storage is served by British industry not our competitors.
- Thirdly, we need to support more advanced manufacturing. The step change in industrial energy efficiency and the technological innovation required to meet our carbon budgets is a huge opportunity for British manufacturers to innovate. But British firms are also primed to grab a lead and compete not just for new domestic markets but for a bigger slice of the giant and fast growing global green goods and services sector.
That all adds up to a strong green growth agenda, with green growth recognised not as a narrow subset of the economy but as an absolutely essential driver of our recovery.
The Coalition also recognises that this requires a strong partnership with business in which government has a strong leadership role to play. The Green Investment Bank, our reform to the electricity markets, our investment in science, our support for innovative technologies, such as the £860 million for the world’s first programme to roll out renewable heat technology right across the country and the Green Deal, the most ambitious home improvement programme since the war, are just some of the examples of our genuine resolve to be a reliable partner for growth.
It is time to move the Climate agenda on, from just worrying about the damage to our planet to the opportunities for our economy that a green economy offers. Just as energy security and an ambitious UK renewables programme are two sides of the same coin, so we don’t have to choose between growth or green. On the contrary, combining the two is our best hope for long term prosperity.