Caroline Spelman is a former Environment Secretary, and is MP for Meriden.
The increasing evidence of extreme weather events is ever apparent. Headlines about climate change, and the pressure of human activity on our natural environment. The recent WWF Living Planet Report (2016), for example, shows that from 1970-2012 there has been a 58 per cent decline in vertebrate numbers globally, and it is now estimated that climate change could lead to the extinction of one in six species. Coupled with habitat destruction, changes to weather patterns and natural environments are happening faster than wildlife or people can adapt.
The economic imperative for action on climate change is also clear. The publication UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017, from the Committee on Climate Change (the Government’s advisers on tackling and preparing for climate change), demonstrates that £1 billion is already spent in the UK on dealing with the impacts of flooding and coastal erosion, with 860,000 households living with a significant chance of being flooded. That number is set to rise to 1.9 million under worst case scenarios.
Against this pressing and serious backdrop we can be proud that the UK has been at the forefront of the fight against climate change, leading the way in international efforts to agree collective action as well as progress at home to reduce our carbon emissions.
The enacting of the Climate Change Act in 2008 placed the UK in the vanguard as demonstrated by Parliament’s approval of the fifth Carbon Budget back in July, followed by the Prime Minister ratifying the Paris Agreement in December.
Likewise, the Government’s recently published Industrial Strategy sets out a positive framework for the low-carbon economy we need and I am encouraged that the Government acknowledges that delivering affordable sustainable energy is a central pillar in this.
As a nation we demonstrate daily our ability to innovate and develop solutions – impressively, last year a quarter of our electricity came from renewables, and the UK is a world leader in offshore wind power. More power came from solar panels than from coal stations in Britain between April and September 2016. This shows our ability to meet this challenge, and the economic good sense of doing so.
As we make the transition to cleaner energy sources, phasing out coal along the way (another announcement for which this government deserves real plaudits), there will be huge opportunities for growth and jobs – including in sectors like wind and solar and the supply chains, and data use for smart technologies, where the UK leads the world. Particularly as we leave the EU, this kind of growth, to secure home grown, renewable energy, will be critical to the UK’s future success.
However, whilst we can be proud of our efforts to meet the carbon targets, as set by the Committee on Climate Change, there is still more that can be done – particularly in heat and transport – to give markets confidence in our intentions for the longer term. We must always prioritise investment to where it will make most difference, and the Industrial Strategy – supported by the Emissions Reduction Plan that I hope we’ll see soon – will have a key role to play in building the low-carbon economy we need to see in our country.
We do lead the world on climate action and in a green technological revolution, but we have to be bold and we have to keep up efforts to protect and restore our natural environment. That is why this year I am proud to support the efforts of WWF for its annual Earth Hour (8:30pm, 25th March) to keep this message alive with the public, and will join the millions of others across the UK reflecting on the impacts of climate change, and the choices we must make together to address it.
We have set ourselves the ambitious task of being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. The policy direction set out by this government brings closer to achieving that goal.