Simon Clarke: The best birthday gift for the Climate Change Act

 By Simon Clarke MP

By Simon Clarke MP

Today is the 10 year anniversary of the Climate Change Act, and we have a lot to celebrate. We have led the world in reducing our emissions, whilst still growing the economy - but if we want to meet our Paris commitments to keep global warming under 2°C, then we need to go beyond the 80% reduction outlined in the Climate Change Act and reach for Net Zero. On a day when we celebrate our legacy in fighting climate change, we should also pledge to lead the world and end our contribution to global emissions altogether.

Since 1990, we have reduced our emissions by over two-fifths while growing the economy by more than two-thirds. This is a world leading achievement that we should be proud of, with our Climate Change Act creating and supporting the pathways to this result. Our record of clean growth has also seen the creation of industries like offshore wind, which overcame all obstacles and critics to reduce its cost by 50% in just five years. This is the legacy of clean technologies, led by British industry and creating British jobs.

While this record is impressive, there is a real opportunity for us to go even further, and indeed we should do so if we aim to meet our 2°C  Paris pledges. The IPCC report was clear that keeping global warming under 2°C  means going beyond the 80% emissions reduction outlined in the Climate Change Act. It was also clear about the impacts of missing the 2°C goal, and the devastating impact it would have on the likelihood and severity of flooding, and so on. As Michael Howard wrote, ‘it has never been a Conservative value to be ‘anti-science’. When climate scientists speak, we should listen’.

It wasn’t that long ago that reaching net zero emissions would have seemed like a pipe dream, particularly to Conservatives and even to some scientists. Yet our businesses have more than risen to that challenge, with the offshore wind industry as a prime example. Others in the transport sector have also made innovative strides, and now over their lifetime electric vehicles are even cheaper than their fossil fuel guzzling counterparts. This is again, the legacy of the Climate Change Act, setting clear expectations for industry and asking them to plan accordingly. Giving them the incentives to innovate, as they have done.

A pledge to go net zero would take this a step further, and offer the same opportunity for the market to succeed. Giving business certainty and clarity is vital, and they can respond by continuing to bring down costs in a variety of ways. A recent optimistic report from WWF and Vivid Economics looked at the possibilities of going Net Zero by 2045, and what we would need to do to reach this.

As Michael Howard also wrote, ‘we are cleaner and greener than a generation ago’. I hope that the next generation will be cleaner and greener still. In ten years’ time, on the 20th anniversary of the Climate Change Act, we can be well on our way to a world in which we don’t contribute at all to global emissions - a world where we are truly tackling climate change and leading the world in doing so. That would certainly be a record to be proud of, just as we can be proud today of what we have achieved so far

Getting ahead of the game for the economic opportunities of Net Zero

 By CEN Ambassador Naomi Harris

By CEN Ambassador Naomi Harris

In the week that we celebrate the 10th birthday of the Climate Change Act I conducted a completely unscientific straw poll of 21 people and found that only four had heard of the term Net Zero. Four. Out of 21. And only one of these four were able to say anything more than ‘…hmmm…erm…carbon?’

To me that figure is eye opening, especially when you consider that all of those 21, all of whom shall remain nameless, are news junkies and all but one are in their 20s.

What does this trivial figure open our eyes to? Net Zero just hasn’t registered in public consciousness yet. Why? It’s not piqued people’s interest. It’s not seen as exciting. It’s not seen as an achievement to strive towards.

You may be reading this and thinking to yourself that Conservatives would be fools to spend time talking about Net Zero when so few people know what it is. For me this overlooks the opportunity for us to get ahead of the game, to put in place the building blocks for the country’s bright future, and to drive positive change that leaves the environment in a better place than we found it.  

We all know that the country is fed up to the back teeth with incessant talk about Brexit and is crying out for something positive to get behind. So, as Conservatives, let’s do just that.

For the economy, the opportunities of Net Zero are clear.  

We are perilously close, 12 years according to the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5C. More effort, from everybody, is needed to avoid the world from creeping over this uptick and unleashing the extreme weather, flooding and droughts, falling air quality, habitat extinction, and unprecedented movement of people that would follow. The constant refrain to ‘business hating uncertainty’ would be put into perspective should the impact of these things be felt on supply chains, share prices and consumer spending power.

Not only could Net Zero help by contributing towards global efforts to avoid the worst repercussions of climate change it could foster growth, innovation, jobs, and value creation.

Since 1990, the UK’s emissions have gone down by 40% while the economy has grown by over 60% -showing that green growth is possible. The low-carbon sector supports more than 400,000 jobs in the UK and this number is expected to grow by 11% per year up to 2030. This is four times more than the rest of the economy.

The reason why? The green economy is moving at a rate of knots from a narrow focus on power generation to a broader focus on blending decarbonisation with digitisation. This means that parts of the economy that were historically ‘out of bounds’ are becoming rapidly greener and connected to other sectors as a consequence. Just look at electric vehicles as an example. Auto manufacturers and energy retailers are working together in a way that was a dream when the Climate Change Act was signed.

What’s more, we can be proud that in 2018, 20% of electric vehicles sold in Europe were made in the UK, while more than half of our country’s electricity comes from low-carbon sources with 32% from renewables. And there is more to come. Digitisation is opening up a whole world that allows consumers to take greater control of their energy use at the same time as the cost of renewables continues to come down. Onshore wind is already the cheapest technology, but by 2020, the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that all renewables will be as cheap, or cheaper than fossil fuels – costing between 2p and 7p per kilowatt hour.

It is people who will benefit from the falling cost of energy and it is people who will benefit from the improved air quality and better health that goes hand in hand with falling emissions.

As Conservatives, let us talk confidently about what the ambition to reduce the country’s emissions to Net Zero could mean for the economy and for people’s lives. Net Zero is affordable and it is feasible. Most importantly it is desirable. Let’s not waste any time in getting on and driving towards it.

Zac Goldsmith: The Government should think again on fracking planning changes

 By Zac Goldsmith MP

By Zac Goldsmith MP

Despite false starts and a few tremors, fracking has begun again in the UK for the first time since 2011. In large part thanks to this long delay, the Government is now proposing to make it easier for developers to start drilling by loosening the planning rules relating to it, and reducing the power that local people have over new fracking sites in their area.

Under current proposals so-called “exploratory drilling” could be approved via permitted development - bypassing the standard planning process. Exploratory drilling would, in planning terms, be treated along the same lines as a new conservatory. Meanwhile, decisions on full-scale fracking could be approved by Westminster via the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project Regime - rather than by elected local councils.

This would be a huge mistake. Whatever the arguments for fracking, a firm commitment to local democracy has rightly been a mantra of modern conservatism. It is only at the local level that local concerns can properly be taken into account. When a local authority reviews a shale gas application it will look at very local issues, from road access, the effects of large volumes of truck movements, light and noise pollution and so on. No one can argue that central Government can possibly understand these local concerns from Whitehall.

The Government cannot square its often-stated commitment to localism and democratic planning with these proposals. Nor for that matter can they be squared with the Government’s policy in relation to the far less disruptive and more popular on-shore wind turbines, which can be rejected or approved locally.

Given the potential for methane leakages, the Committee on Climate Change are sceptical that fracking can be done in a way that is environmentally friendly - but they acknowledge that gas will continue to play a part of our energy mix for decades, as a bridge from a world powered by fossil fuels to a net zero emissions economy. Indeed part of the Government’s success in decarbonisation in recent years has been the shift from generating electricity from coal to gas - although it is worth stating that new renewables, including wind and solar, are now cheaper than both.

But the argument that fracking will reduce our reliance on Russian gas simply does not stand up to scrutiny. According to Ministers in 2016 just 1% of UK gas came from Russia. The largest amount of our gas is imported from Norway - a friend and ally that is highly unlikely to turn off the taps any time soon.

In addition, to replace this imported gas, we would need to frack on a hopelessly unrealistic scale. To replace just 50% of the gas that we import, the British countryside would need to be pockmarked by over 6,000 well pads. The UK is not Utah. Without the wide open spaces needed to host the industrial equipment and sheer volume of trucks, fracking in the UK will necessarily blight communities - and the Government will face a huge backlash from these communities if it imposes fracking on them against their will.

It is difficult to overstate just how unpopular fracking is with the British public. The last BEIS attitude tracker showed only 18% support. For context, 76% of respondents supported onshore wind. Fracking is so unpopular that BEIS have now stopped asking what people think about it for fear of the results. MPs who have sites in their constituencies will tell you that those opposed to fracking are not just the predictable gaggle of left-wing campaigners - these are Conservative voters who are deeply about concerned about the mass-scale industrialisation of the British countryside. We ignore their concerns at our peril.

This unpopularity explains the delay in fracking in the UK. Understandably, people do not want the trucks, the tremors, the noise, the nuisance, and the pollution coming to their area. The response from the Government cannot be to simply change the rules and make it harder for concerned local people - and even elected local representatives - to object. By holding a consultation on planning regulations the Government has fulfilled its manifesto commitment to review the planning rules around exploratory drilling and fracking.

But by now, the Government surely has its answer: the final say on fracking should remain with local people.

Why Climate Change Particularly Matters for Women

 By Meg Trethewey

By Meg Trethewey

As the recent IPCC report set out, climate change will affect every nation, and every person on the planet. From more regular African droughts, to increased flood damage here in the UK, we will all bear the costs of inaction. Yet the worst impacts of climate change will be felt most keenly by those sections of the world’s population that are most reliant on natural resources, and who don’t have the capacity to respond to climate disasters. Climate change degrades access to and the quality of these resources, and increases the frequency of these extreme climate events. Women in developing countries are particularly vulnerable due to gendered inequalities including those that limit their movements and access to help, and so climate change disproportionately impacts them. But there is hope - the UK has ambitious plans to fight climate change. We must do more and use the tools we have to do it soon.

The IPCC report showed that the difference between 1.5 and 2°C would mean nearly double the risk of floods and extreme heat waves, as well as increased episodes of severe drought and impacts on food production. In developing countries, it is mostly women who are responsible for preparing food and fetching water for their households. During droughts, women are forced to travel longer distances, often several times a day to fetch water, and this can have an impact on young girls who have to drop out of school to help. When there is a lack of clean water and sanitation, family members are also more likely to be sick, with caring burdens falling on women too. In ways like this, climate change’s impact on natural resources makes these responsibilities more difficult for women to fulfill.

Earlier this year, we made the case for utilising the organic growth in development funding for conservation, to help protect the natural resources that communities rely on. In Madagascar for instance, 70% of people rely on forest resources to meet their basic daily needs, yet only 8% of the Madagascan forest remains intact. Sustainably managing the forest is vital for preserving habitats and carbon sequestration, but it’s also important to meet the needs of local people.

Furthermore, according to the UN, more women are killed by natural disasters than men, and this is often due to existing inequalities. There are many examples of this. During the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, women and children made up 77% of the victims in Indonesia, as well as 96% of the victims of the 2007 tsunami in the Solomon Islands. During Cyclone Gorky in Bangladesh in 1991, around 140,000 people died from the floods, with women outnumbering men 14 to 1. This is partly because of unequal access to the early warnings or information about the storm but also because the women are less likely to be taught to swim. Similar stories from development agencies and charities show how women are more vulnerable due to cultural barriers and inequalities that limit their movements and access to help.

These are brief examples, but the UN has a wealth of case studies and data on this. They also have many programs focused on utilising women in developing countries to reduce poverty and implement environmental programmes. However, climate change is a global issue, and each country has a responsibility to respond to it, including the UK.

Both the degrowth left and the climate-sceptic right claim that action on climate must necessarily come at the cost of economic growth. However, the Government has led the G7 in cutting its emissions while also growing the economy, and there are already more than 400,000 jobs in the UK’s low carbon economy, which is projected grow by over 10% a year up to 2030. Positive trends like this show that the stereotype of ‘green costs’ is outdated.

The UK is even planning to go a step further. During the recent Green Great Britain Week, Minister Claire Perry asked the Committee on Climate Change for their advice on reaching a Net Zero target, meaning we would aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This would be a huge, world-leading move, showing that the UK can reduce its impact on global emissions to zero while still being committed to growing the economy. The UK has the opportunity to make an impact on contributions to climate change, if it acts now.

The IPCC report and others like it call for urgent change, with the message that we need to see progress sooner rather than later or we risk the wrath of a 2°C world. This would be detrimental to the UK in many ways, impacting our agriculture and wildlife, as well as increasing the likelihood of floods and heatwaves. But the impact on developing countries would be far worse, and women are particularly vulnerable. For these reasons, along with many others, climate change particularly matters for women, and so acting to stop it should matter to us too.

Robert Courts: It is within our power to save our precious natural inheritance

 By Robert Courts MP

By Robert Courts MP

“While the conventional, political dangers—the threat of global annihilation, the fact of regional war—appear to be receding, we have all recently become aware of another insidious danger.

It is as menacing in its way as those more accustomed perils with which international diplomacy has concerned itself for centuries.

It is the prospect of irretrievable damage to the atmosphere, to the oceans, to earth itself.”

-       Margaret Thatcher, Speech to United Nations General Assembly, 1989 Nov 8

The threats posed to our natural world have become increasingly clear since Margaret Thatcher became the first world leader to raise climate change at the UN. Last week the IPCC’s latest report warned of the millions more who would be driven from their homes by rising sea levels, the increasing flood damage both in the UK and abroad, and the economic growth lost in a world in which we fail to limit global warming to 1.5C.

The report also highlighted the threat climate change poses to some of the planets most beautiful flora and fauna. The science is clear: every fraction of a degree matters. Unless we limit global warming to 1.5C we could lose virtually all of the world’s coral reefs by 2100 and expose our marine environments to even greater risks than those covered by Blue Planet II. As a diver, and a marine conservation society member, I’m therefore delighted that the Government has formally asked the Committee on Climate Change for their advice on bringing our climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement, and limiting global warming to 1.5C by going net zero. This will not be easy, but with political will and investment in new technologies like electric vehicles and cheap renewable energy, we can protect our planet from the worst effects of climate change. 

Last week’s Illegal Wildlife Trade conference highlighted another threat posed to the natural world. Serious organised crime on a huge scale is hastening a mass annihilation of species. The figures are stark. Africa’s elephant population has declined by 70% since 1979. There are only 3,800 tigers left in the wild. Four rhinos, one of the most endangered species on the planet, are killed every day for their horns. Thanks to poaching and habitat loss, our children could soon be growing up in a world without rhinos, elephants and tigers - a world robbed of some of the planet’s most magnificent and majestic species.

We can be proud of the work the UK did last week in bringing together countries to fight back against this evil trade - and in leading the way with our own ivory ban. We must now encourage other countries - not least in the main markets for ivory in the Far East, to do the same. 

Here in the UK, the Government has taken a big step towards protecting and enhancing our natural inheritance with a new Agriculture Bill.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has decimated British wildlife, while failing to properly support farmers to invest in their businesses. Since 1970 there has been a significant decline in the numbers of British woodland and farmland birds. Pollinating insects have declined by 13 per cent since 1980. CAP payments are regressive and poor value for money for taxpayers - the largest landowners get the bulk of the money with little to no strings attached. Perversely, CAP often penalises those farmers looking to improve our natural environment - for example farmers lose direct payments if they plant trees on their land, because they are taking it out of agricultural production.

The Government’s new scheme will be based on the principle of public money for public goods. Farmers and land managers will be rewarded for the work they do to enhance our precious natural environment. Public goods will include the enriching of wildlife habitats and improving the quality of air, water and soil – natural assets upon which our wellbeing and economic prosperity depend.

We will continue to champion farmers in their core business of producing world-class food and help them to make their businesses more resilient, productive and internationally competitive. However, there is an argument that production of food, for which there is already a flourishing private market - does not require public subsidy - instead public money will be used to support those ecological goods for which there is no market.

This new system will also contribute to reducing flood risk, and help us to prevent and mitigate the effects of climate change. As we move to a net zero society, emissions from agriculture will have to fall. Through the restoration of the British countryside, the Government’s Agriculture Bill will help us protect British nature, while reducing the emissions that threaten wildlife around the world.

As Margaret Thatcher said we are in a struggle to preserve our oceans, our atmosphere, and even the earth itself. Yet with a clear trajectory to reduce our emission to net zero, policies to make that a reality, action to protect our most beautiful species and investment in innovative new technologies, it is a struggle I am confident we can win.

As dire as the IPCC’s report is, it offers opportunity and hope. If we act.

 By CEN Ambassador Barney Wharton

By CEN Ambassador Barney Wharton

Last Monday, the IPCC published its assessment of the need to limit global temperature rises to 1.5oC. It is depressing, but required reading. The authors set out starkly that failing to limit emissions and temperature increases will have permanent and devasting impacts on a wide range of ecologies and societies around the world. It is absolutely clear that we, as a global community, need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and be carbon neutral by the middle of this century.

For electricity, this means eliminating coal from the energy mix and generating 80% of our electricity from renewables by 2050, even while demand rises due to the growth of electric vehicles and rising living standards in developing nations. This seems daunting, but I am confident that the decarbonisation of our energy system offers industrial opportunity, growth and prosperity, if we act now.

I am optimistic because the old assumptions about how the energy system works are no longer true.  I attended the Conservative party conference once again this year. In between catching up with old friends at the Hyatt, and attending receptions that I had been invited to, and a few I hadn’t, I did manage to get to a few fringes. One of those was entitled “Transcending the trilemma”. It looked at the idea that the three central objectives in the energy system – cost, carbon and security of supply - are in competition: that clean energy is more expensive, or that a more secure system has more emissions. It was an interesting debate, but the tense was wrong: we have already transcended the trilemma, and new opportunities are open to us.

Oil prices are now at their highest since 2014. This feeds through to gas, and ultimately electricity prices. Average daily spot prices in the UK’s electricity market have been over £60/MWh (6p/kWh), and regularly more than £80/MWh in recent weeks. Compare this cost to the most recent auctions for offshore wind, at which new generation was secured at £57.50/MWh (2012 prices) and onshore generation in Germany at less than £40/MWh. Wind is now the cheapest form of new generation available and building more will bring bills down. In Africa, microgrids combining solar and batteries are the quickest and cheapest way of providing power to the world’s poorest people. Low carbon is synonymous with low cost.

When the IPCC report was published on Monday, wind was generating 30% of the UK’s power. You may have noticed that the lights did not go out on Monday; there were no power cuts. Or maybe you didn’t, because it is what you expect from a modern energy system. Indeed, the UK has one of the most stable grids in the world – other countries look to the UK to see how to successfully integrate renewables into the system. We are doing this through developing new markets which are creating a flexible energy system. The falling costs of batteries are driving the growth of large-scale electricity storage. Ever more sophisticated use of data and software, combined with increasing digitisation, is allowing us to manage both the demand and supply sides of the system more effectively. Innovation means that security of supply no longer relies on firing up the gas plants.

And this gives me hope, despite the IPCCs’ depressing assessment. I strongly believe in the power of both human ingenuity and the market, but helped by a clear direction set by government. Here in the UK we have among the highest renewable energy mixes in the world – 30% last year, up from 7% in 2010. This is a trend that can and will need to continue. Competitive auctions for new power contracts have delivered the UK’s world-leading offshore industry, and the sector has the ambition to quadruple deployment by 2030. But we need more onshore wind, marine and solar in the mix, combined with an ever smarter and more flexible system. We have the technologies and skills, but these can only deliver with a long-term energy policy that supports competitive markets for renewable technologies and new smart energy services.

A robust domestic energy policy presents further opportunities, especially as we look to global markets following Brexit. In China, the reliance on coal means that the number one cause of civil unrest is pollution. They are all too aware that they urgently need to decarbonise their electricity generation. Next week I am joining a delegation of around 20 small and medium British businesses in the offshore wind industry to China. The UK’s expertise in subsea surveying, cable laying and crew transfer is something that the Chinese desperately need if they are going to succeed in their ambition to become an economy based on low carbon generation.

The IPCC report gave a dire assessment of the future of our environment if we continue along our current path. We need urgent action across the global economy to cut emissions. This action will need investment from businesses, government and individuals. However, this also means the creation of markets for new and ground-breaking technologies. An outward looking nation, that has a history of innovation, industrial strength and entrepreneurial spirit, as well as possessing the technologies that the world needs, should not see this as a challenge, but an opportunity. We must grasp it.

Barney Wharton is Head of Policy at RenewableUK; a Conservative Environment Network Ambassador and a member of the Cities of London and Westminster Conservative Party.

Zac Goldsmith: The IWT Conference must be a watershed moment for global nature

 By Zac Goldsmith MP

By Zac Goldsmith MP

Global nature is in crisis. We are currently witnessing species extinctions at a thousand times the natural rate, with the wildlife population declining by half since the 1970s. Water sources are drying up, forest cover is shrinking, and vital habitats like mangroves and coral reefs are being decimated.

As an environmentalist, I care deeply about this devastation of beautiful creatures and pristine habitats, but the extra tragedy of what is happening to our planet is in how it ruins human lives too. When the natural world is harmed by depleting fish stocks or destroying forests, people – especially the very poorest – bear the brunt.

For as long as the market is blind to the value of nature, and to the cost of waste, pollution and environmental destruction, then these depressing trends will accelerate. The solutions to this crisis are therefore many and complex, and lasting progress will not be made without monumental efforts at every level of government, here and abroad, and without a fundamental shift in the way we do business.

But in a couple of weeks’ time, the UK will take a lead in combating one of the key causes of the global nature crisis when it hosts the fourth conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT).

IWT is worth around £17bn annually and ranks as the fourth largest illegal trade globally after drugs, people and weapons. It is serious, organised crime that funds some of the worst organisations and terrorist groups in the world. It is responsible for the poaching of iconic species like elephants, rhinos and tigers, as well as less well-known creatures like pangolins, and the destruction of pristine forests and fisheries.

Elephants are being slaughtered at a rate of some 20,000 a year – that’s one every 25 minutes – to fuel the trade in ivory. Four rhinos are killed every day for their horns. Pangolins – the most trafficked animal on the planet – are used for their blood, scales and meat. And the most illegally traded species of all is rosewood, with illegal logging decimating the forests of countries like Madagascar.

But it’s not all bad news, and the UK in particular has a positive story to tell in tackling this heinous trade. Four years ago, our government showed global leadership in bringing together world leaders to discuss this issue and take action, culminating in a ground-breaking declaration that still sets the global standard on steps we can take to stamp out IWT.

Domestically, the government can trumpet a world-leading ban – soon to be passed into law – which is vital in halting the legal and illegal trade in ivory. The British army is in Malawi, helping to train rangers who are the first line of defence against poaching, and the IWT Challenge Fund sees government money going to small projects across the world that are, for example, seeking to disrupt trafficking of wildlife products in Cambodia, and strengthening law enforcement in Mongolia where snow leopards are targeted.

And recently, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has announced UK support for vital habitats in Indonesia, protecting species like the Sumatran tiger by creating jobs and alternative livelihoods for local communities. This is a model I hope we can expand across our overseas aid spending.

But we can and should do more, and this year’s IWT conference – for which I have been asked to be the government’s ‘champion’ – must be a watershed moment in tackling both this evil trade and the wider crisis in global nature in the lead up to biodiversity conferences in 2019 and 2020.

I am excited to report that this IWT conference will be the biggest one yet, with more people from more countries coming together to pledge more action. The UK will up its game by doing more to support countries in Africa which see first-hand the devasting impacts of the illegal trade, and we will lead from the front with the Ivory Alliance 2024, which will urge as many nations as possible to match our ivory ban.

This is not just about what governments can do. The private sector has a vital role to play, and I am delighted that the conference will mobilise leaders in the tourism, tech, e-commerce and travel sectors, each of which has a major contribution to make.

With the right commitment and momentum, we can begin to turn back the tide on IWT and the global emergency faced by the natural world. The prize for doing this is a safer, more prosperous planet for people and animals alike; the cost of failure would be unimaginable.

Sowing the seeds of success

 By CEN Ambassador Robert Lingard

By CEN Ambassador Robert Lingard

Let’s start with a statistic and a shocking one at that: 56% decline in farmland birds since 1970!

That’s more than half of our iconic farmland birds – which include skylarks and corn buntings, turtle doves and yellowhammers – gone. Vanished from our landscape. Silenced.

That’s not even considering the tragic reduction in bugs, bees, beetles, butterflies and more, that have accompanied this biological desertification of our countryside.

Let’s continue by looking at what’s happened to our land management over the last 40 plus years, as the UK has embraced the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, driven by intensive agriculture and a goal of maximising production.

To have a policy that has encouraged hedges to be stripped, trees to be felled and as much land as possible to be used for production, can surely only have a negative impact on our natural environment.

Now, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been an effort to resist this. Both by the environmental sector and farmers themselves – many of whom have gone above and beyond, often hindered rather than helped by the current agricultural system, to attempt to save our precious nature.

I’ve met many of these farmers. Committed stewards of the land, often second, third or even fourth generation farmers, who know their patch better than anyone.

They’ve seen complicated ‘environmental payments’ for arbitrary pieces of land in the name of this species or that, often without a proper strategic plan.

They’ve also struggled to make their efforts pay. Whilst many don’t require payment – often doing it out of their deep connection with our precious landscape – they do recognise the need for a sustainable system, to assist them on a larger scale and to incentivise others.

That’s why I was so delighted to see the creation last year of the Nature Friendly Farmer’s Network. A group of farmers ‘who have come together to champion a way of farming which is sustainable and good for nature’ and who are ‘passionate about ensuring our countryside is being productive and bursting with wildlife’ – the holy grail I hear you say!

What’s more, they know it can be done as they have been doing it. The question is, how do you redesign a complete system, thousands of farmers and a vast amount of land, to achieve this everywhere?

Many environmental organisations have long pitched for the idea of ‘public money for public goods’, the idea of providing that sustainable finance for things, like nature and biodiversity, which aren’t ‘profitable’ on the market. This includes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has agricultural advisors across the country and leading thinkers at their HQ in Bedfordshire.

Imagine then the joy earlier this month when the Secretary of State, Michel Gove MP, published his long-anticipated Agriculture Bill. A Bill that clearly puts forward an ambitious funding model based on this principle of public money for public goods. One that incentivises and enables farmers to both deliver on productivity and their environmental stewardship.

The Bill has a strong focus on environmental protection and it has committed to a ‘strong regulatory baseline, with enforcement mechanisms that are proportionate and effective’ – which will no doubt be music to the environmental sector’s ears!

From investment in new technologies, to rewarding farmers that take appropriate steps on flood management, such as planting trees, or maintaining hedgerows and making their farm more resilient; to the pressures of climate change, this Bill has the potential to revitalise and revolutionise farming and our natural environment.

Now, there’s more to be done and this is still early days. Appropriate funding will of course need to be better developed, beyond the current funding commitments until 2022 made by the Secretary of State. There will also need to be further thought about how the four countries of the UK interact going forward, which will no doubt be a priority for post-Brexit planning.

However, this is a very welcome start and I for one welcome the commitment and zeal of Michael Gove, especially this passion for a Green Brexit.

So, when you next walk through the countryside why not stop and listen, taking note of all that’s been lost to date - the buzz, the birdsong. Hopefully, rather than all the noise remaining just in Westminster, there’ll be lots more coming back to a farmland near you!

Targeted policies not new targets will accelerate the EV transition

 By Sam Richards

By Sam Richards

As the UK hosts a Zero emission vehicles summit, CEN Director Sam Richards takes a look at suggestions to boost EV uptake

This week, the UK hosted its Zero emission summit in Birmingham. We all know the stats: the UK produces 1 in 5 EVs sold in Europe, it has the largest battery plant in Europe - both a result of Nissan’s presence in Sunderland, and has the second-highest number of electric and hybrids on the road in Europe, only just pipped to the post by Norway. Given our rich history of automotive manufacturing we are in pole position (sorry) to lead the world in the electrification of transport.

There is a twin imperative to speed up this transition. First, transport is now the highest emitting sector in the UK economy. To even hit our existing climate change targets - let alone those required by reaching net zero - GHG emissions from transport need to start coming down, fast. Secondly, poor air quality blights too many British cities. A recent study by KCL showed that in 2010 there was the equivalent of up to 5,900 premature deaths across London associated with long term NO2 exposure.

Some green groups like Green Alliance and WWF argue that the best way to accelerate the process is to bring forward the target date for the phase out of diesel and petrol cars from 2040 to 2030. Their argument is that this sends a clear signal to investors that the UK is serious about the electrification of transport, and will encourage automotive manufacturers to get a move on and start selling us EVs. An interesting blog from the excellent Matt Finch found that automotive manufacturers could be doing more, to say the least, to advertise new electric models.

Privately, major manufacturers say that clear milestones offer helpful signals. Yet while bringing forward the phase-out date would be good headline material, it’s hard to see it making a big difference in either boosting UK manufacturing or increasing demand for EVs.

First off: the equation for manufacturers when deciding where to build their next model is simple - what’s the total cost of production? They add up labour costs, supply costs, transportation costs, energy costs and so on - then they build the new model where its cheapest. If it’s cheaper to build the new LEAF in Barcelona than Sunderland, that’s where it will be built. There’s an argument that if bringing forward the target boosts domestic demand, that could reduce transportation costs, but this seems too marginal to tip the balance.

The best way to boost EV manufacturing in the UK? Bring down costs for businesses. The UK has some of the highest industrial energy costs in Europe - so let’s make it easier for businesses to procure new cheap renewable power, possibly via Government backed PPAs. In order for EV manufacturing to take place here we’ll need high tech suppliers we currently lack - government support for a supply chain cluster now would be much more useful for manufacturers than a new future target date.

It’s also unclear that a 2030 target boosts domestic demand - beyond perhaps encouraging manufacturers to give us the hard sell on EVs sooner. We know that over the next 5 years there will be countless new electric models, all with longer ranges and more functions than previous EVs. Manufacturers are desperate to be seen as owning the zero emissions future. What I’m saying is don’t worry: car manufacturers still want to sell cars. The hard sell is coming.

What we need now are tangible, targeted policies to boost demand. Tackling range anxiety with the rollout of more charge points. Extending the Plug-in Car Grant to keep the sticker price of EVs competitive in the short term before they can compete on up front costs with ICEs - which could come as soon as the mid 2020s.

The market is already delivering cheaper EVs with longer ranges - and with cost reductions coming in 5 years’ time there will be no reason not to buy an EV.  The Government is supporting them in this, with neat ideas like the new green number plates, and more substantial policies, like cash for battery R&D. The current course is the right one. We don’t need a new long term phase out date - sensible, targeted policies that boost demand and back business will be much more effective for speeding up the EV transition.

Rebecca Pow: We can bring down energy bills even further with new clean tech

 By Rebecca Pow MP

By Rebecca Pow MP

The Government has a great record on bringing down bills - and new clean tech offers us the opportunity to cut them ever further

We know that policies to tackle climate change are both popular and necessary. Yet the untold story is how much money we are saving as a direct result of cutting emissions - and how much more we could save yet. British homes are now paying nearly £4 billion less for electricity and gas than they were in 2008. A significant proportion of this can be attributed to more efficient appliances and better insulated homes. The old energy trilemma - balancing up cost, carbon emissions and security of supply - could be solved: it turns out measures to tackle climate change are saving us money on our energy bills. The same dataset above shows that the average dual fuel bills was £6 lower (when adjusted for weather conditions, £36 without adjustment) in 2017 than in 2016, and more than £150 lower than in 2013.

I support the Government’s energy price cap - which should be seen as an intervention to rebalance a lopsided market. As the founder of clean tech firm Octopus recently said “For too long, the Big Six have been using every trick in the book to overcharge 17 millions households, with customers throughout the UK overpaying to subsidise the inefficiency of these bloated giants.”

Yet the deepest cost reductions will come from private sector innovation and new clean tech. Our Government has made a real commitment to promoting innovative technology, with significant investments in storage and offshore wind. As the massive cost reductions in wind power have shown this support is delivering results, and as the costs of renewables and batteries continue to fall, so too will our bills. However there is more that can be done. That’s why I’m calling for a public consultation on new technologies to enable companies to illustrate to the Government how their inventions can help achieve energy policy objectives - stimulating further investment and even greater innovation. It’s vital this covers applications not just for domestic households but also applications for business and commercial use.  

Take one example - Stored Passive Flue Gas. This British invention significantly improves the efficiency and domestic hot water performance of A rated condensing gas boilers, thereby helping households save around £100 a year on their gas and water bills because the boiler will be more efficient.  If fitted into every home with a gas boiler, we also could see savings of 2.6 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Reducing emissions and cutting bills.

Or take another snappily-named device related to gas systems - Metrology for Acoustic Recognition of Gas Optimised services (MARGO). Another British invention, this new smart billing system can more accurately measure the gas supplied to, and therefore the Co2 produced by, households already installed with existing mechanical gas meters. If widely installed it could reduce reported household CO2 emissions by 10% a year - equating to households saving 4 % a year on gas bills.

These are just two examples - smart technology from heat pumps to hydrogen boilers will soon be helping to cut emissions and costs across the country. The National Infrastructure Commission estimate that the new decentralised, flexible, smart grid could save consumers £8bn every year.

I hope that a new public consultation on clean tech could stimulate further ideas and investment and so lead to lower fuel bills and less emissions of CO2. This will benefit not just my constituents in Taunton Deane, but people everywhere by reducing fuel bills and creating a cleaner environment. With our technical expertise and existing experience UK has the opportunity to become a hub for investment in new clean technology. We should seize this opportunity to maintain our position of climate leadership and bring down bills for consumers.