Graham Stuart is MP for Beverley and Holderness.
One of the arguments that you will inevitably have heard in recent years about why Britain should not take action on climate change is “because no-one else is.”
Although this has never been entirely true – the Kyoto Protocol after all saw more than 30 countries pledging to reduce carbon emissions – it has been an understandable bone of contention in the UK, because we have done more than most. We were the first country to pass a specific Climate Change Act containing a legally binding emissions reduction target, which passed with near-unanimous support in the Commons owing largely to the leadership of David Cameron.
Under the Conservative-led Coalition, we set up a pioneering Green Investment Bank, trebled renewable energy generation and committed to a building programme for new nuclear reactors. So the nagging feeling that others are sitting back while we develop the political and technological innovations to tackle climate change have been, for some, difficult to shake off.
Well, here’s the good news: the rest of the world is rapidly catching up with Britain and, in some cases, beginning to overtake it. A report published earlier this week sponsored by GLOBE International, the group of Parliamentarians from around the world that I chair, and the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, shows that the idea of legislating to reduce carbon emissions is catching on fast.
The study surveys climate change legislation in 99 countries worldwide, including 33 developed and 66 developing countries. These collectively produce 93 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and include 46 of the world’s top 50 emitting countries. Between them, these countries now have more than 800 laws and policies in place on climate change. That is twice as many as existed at the time of the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009; and, since 1997, the number of climate change laws and policies has doubled every five years.
Increasingly, these measures are starting to resemble our own. Last year, Finland and Denmark passed laws that are virtual replicas of our Climate Change Act. Further afield, Mexico’s Climate Change Act is also very similar, developed with the support of British diplomacy. China’s carbon markets are modelled on Europe’s, which the UK helped to establish.
So although the UK used to be in s tiny group at the front of the pack, that is becoming less and less true, as other nations follow the UK’s lead in enacting policies and laws commensurate with the growing evidence that climate change, although we cannot predict its course with precision, undeniably poses serious risks to our way of life.
Apart from growing awareness of climate change risks, the other factor pushing governments to legislate on climate change is that the transition to a clean, efficient energy system that is necessary if we are to cut fossil fuel use while growing our economies looks more and more achievable; and legislation can speed its course by providing policy certainty for investors.
Only a few years ago, China was famously said to be building a coal-fired power station every week. Now it is building an equivalent amount of clean energy generating capacity every week. It has not made the change to be altruistic, but because renewables and nuclear increasingly look a good bet compared with fossil fuel generation.
This global trend is resulting in developments that would have would have been unimaginable even a year ago, such as the Saudi Arabian oil minister suggesting that it might not be producing oil by mid-century, and the head of a leading European utility company predicting the end of the “carbon era”.
Conservatives recognise these real-world imperatives and market driven opportunities, and apply a pragmatic approach to finding policies that enable our continued prosperity whilst addressing the biggest environmental challenge of our times. As the Prime Minister has highlighted, tackling climate change is not just good for the environment but also is also good for UK Plc, creating a global innovation race in which the greenest and most energy efficient economies will win the prize.
Britain’s green economy was worth £122 billion in 2013, equivalent to twice the turnover of our car-manufacturing industry, and is growing at 7 percent a year. In my constituency, which sits on the edge of the Northern Powerhouse that our government intends to create, industrial growth in the energy sector will not come from coal and oil but from low-carbon technologies and innovation.
But still, Britain will benefit if the rest of the world is aligned with us. That means achieving a strong global agreement at this year’s United Nations summit, to which the Prime Minister is committed. And that in turn is rendered more likely by the results of the GLOBE/LSE survey. We are not alone – far from it.