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.

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.

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.

The power of the Great Green British Consumer

 By Megan Trethewey

By Megan Trethewey

‘A free market economy, operating under the right rules and regulations, is the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created’. The Prime Minister has repeated this mantra many times since she entered Number 10, but the balance between the invisible hand of the market and the ‘right rules and regulations’ can be a tricky one. This is particularly true in environmental policy – but more rules and regulations aren’t always the answer when consumers can exercise their power over the market. With more eco-brands out there – and more climate warnings from scientists – individuals should be taking responsibility, and using their power to make cleaner, greener choices.

The Government of course plays an important role in nudging consumers in the right direction. The 5p levy on plastic bags was criticised as a tax from a ‘nanny state’ by some MPs (Philip Davies), but small policies like this can have an important impact. According to some scientists, there has been a 30 per cent reduction in plastic bags in the ocean off the UK’s coastline and around some European countries since these charges were introduced.

Plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 signal both to consumers, and investors, which way the market is going. However, demand for EVs will come from consumers and can’t be artificially created by Government policy. If buyers areskeptical about something then they’re simply less likely to buy it, which is where the Government should focus its efforts.

This gets to the heart of conservative environmentalism, providing conservative answers to green issues. Brexit offers new opportunities for increased environmental protections, yet these new regulations must work with green consumers and utilise their sense of personal responsibility over their purchases.

The Great British Consumer significantly underestimates their influence on businesses, and how much change their buying power can influence. Unilever published a report in 2017 showing that a third of consumers internationally are now choosing to ‘buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good’. They estimate there is a market worth €966 billion (£865 billion) for brands with clear sustainability credentials. So it’s no surprise that Unilever recently launched its first personal care brand in 20 years, targeting the green consumer with recyclable packaging and vegan ingredients.

Just as voters can influence their politicians, consumers can influence businesses to change their practices. Blue Planet 2 was the most watched show of 2017, influencing many of us to reduce our plastic use after we saw the impact it was having on our oceans. According to a survey commissioned by channelmum.com, 64 per cent said they were using reusable water bottles, and nearly all (98 per cent) said they were likely to buy a brand that was cutting down on plastic. It’s even led to the revival of the milkman in some parts of the country as consumers go for refillable glass bottles instead of the plastic alternatives, and many big brands are following their reusable example.

While some on the Left caricature big businesses as resource-gobbling polluters, there are an increasing number of businesses innovating and voluntarily holding themselves to high environmental standards. For instance, Unilever’s new brand will be subject to an internal carbon tax to support programmes to reduce emissions and landfill waste.

There is, of course, something to be said for the affordability of these green products. The same survey referenced above found that only 17 per cent could afford the non-plastic alternatives if they were more expensive, but there are some sectors where eco-businesses can be cheaper than non-green alternatives. Some renewable electricity providers (Octopus/Bulb) are now cheaper than the Big 6. This is in part due to the reducing costs of renewables, but also because they have broad consumer support helping them to drive down prices.

It is not blasphemy for conservatives – indeed it is common sense – to say that that all markets need some regulation to work properly. In some circumstances where there is a clear need for them the Government should still step in. Yet in most cases the Government should simply nudge consumers to exercise their power to make purchasing choices that reflect their values, and the markets will react.

The Government can also help consumers to make smart green choices by better informing them of what to look for. Many people now check the energy efficiency standards for buildings before they choose to rent or buy, knowing how it will impact their bills. Information like this doesn’t always come from the Government – Blue Planet was from the BBC – but they can play a role too.

Personal responsibility is at the heart of what it is to be a conservative. We’re all learning to bring reusable coffee cups and bottles with us to reduce our waste, the next steps for the environmentally conscious consumer should be checking the sustainability credentials of their day-to-day purchases. The Government can therefore create the ‘right rules and regulations’ to complement the consumer’s choices, with both working in tandem.

Instead of assuming that the Government should always ban something, consumers should take responsibility for their purchases where they can afford to do so. For those on the centre right, regulations and taxes aren’t inherently bad, but consumers have to do their part too. After all, if there is no one to buy it, then there is no point in selling it, and this is where the green conservatives can find their balance.

Published in Conservative Home

Gove is doing good work for our planet and our Party, but it’s just the beginning

 By Sam Richards

By Sam Richards

Last December, Conservative MPs were briefed on Number 10’s strategy for the coming year. Beneath the roof of Brexit and the economy would sit three supporting pillars: housing, education, and the environment.

Conservative environmentalism is a well-established tradition built on solid philosophical principles: just as we balance the books to avoid saddling our children with debt, so too we have a duty to future generations to leave our country and our planet in a better state than we found it. As Lady Thatcher put it: “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy — with full repairing lease.” Yet the idea gained new traction after polling showed that the top issue younger voters – who deserted the party at the 2017 General Election – wanted to hear more about from politicians was climate change. Suddenly, following in the Iron Lady’s footsteps on green issues was no longer simply virtuous; it became politically expedient.

Green issues have of course also been driven up the agenda by a determined new Secretary of State. Soon after returning to Cabinet, Michael Gove produced first a trickle, then a torrent, of policy announcements. Plastic microbeads, harmful to marine life, were banned – with cotton buds and plastic straws soon to follow. A plastic bottle deposit return scheme is to be established, and CCTV to be installed in slaughterhouses across England. A bill banning the sale of ivory has just this week landed in Parliament.

These small but meaningful policy changes are sometimes wrongly derided as pure headline fodder. To pick just one example: the introduction of CCTV to our abattoirs will ensure that even at the very end of their lives, animals are treated with respect. And beyond these smaller policies, there is the potential for a genuine transformation of the British countryside.

The Government’s planned reforms to rural payments – linking public money to public goods and prioritising the enhancement of nature – could put British farming on a sustainable footing for the long run, while delivering cleaner air, clearer water and healthier habitats. They would also boost carbon sequestration – needed if we are to meet the Government’s ambition of bringing our climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement, and enshrining into law a net zero target (as supported by over 100 Parliamentarians, including former party leader Lord Howard).

This new net zero target would mean Britain no longer contributing to climate change – a remarkable achievement for the home of the industrial revolution. It will also send the clearest signal to younger voters that the party cares about the planet they will inherit.

Yet there is more to do if the Government is serious about securing the “win” on the environment. The Government has promised a new Principles and Governance Bill to set up a new environmental watchdog and green principles policy after Brexit, but Conservatives with an eye to genuine green growth can aim so much higher. The Prime Minister and Gove aim, like Thatcher, to pass on our environment in a better condition than they found it. That will require a new Environment Act, setting a clear legal path towards breathable air and greater biodiversity.

Investing in our environment can head off some of the biggest risks to businesses and communities like flooding, pollinator decline and polluted air. These add up to billions of pounds of environmental liabilities that can be reduced at a fraction of the cost through environmental action. But the real prize is the growth agenda. We’re on the cusp of a green economic revolution that could see large-scale capital investment in environmental projects that, as discussed, will help diversify farm income and create more competitive businesses from housing development to financial services.

Conservatives have always been pioneers in environmental legislation – we should have the confidence to not simply replicate EU structures but to be world-leading; the gold standard.

The guns of the sceptics are increasingly silent – not just because they have been faced down by particularly effective ministers, but because the evidence is now overwhelming. We know that the last three years have been the hottest three years in recorded human history. We know the impact that pollution is having on our children’s lungs. We know that the costs of renewable energy and electric cars are falling, while the costs of inaction on climate change are rising. The economic calculation has shifted.

We know, too, the political calculation. There are no votes in being seen as Trump-lite figures who reject advanced technologies and basic science. The Government has delivered a host of small but positive measures; now for the transformative legislation that would be good news for both the Party and the planet.

Published in Conservative Home

Going green doesn't have to mean socialism. Britain can lead the capitalist way

 By Sam Richards

By Sam Richards

We balance the books today so that our children are not burdened with debt tomorrow. The case for protecting our environment is the same: we have a duty to future generations to leave our country and our planet in a better state than we found it.

Yet far too often environmentalists have offered little more than a thinly-veiled assault on the free markets that sustain our modern way of life, and protecting our planet is seen as a chance to sneak socialist dogma in through the back door.

Our policy responses to the real and immediate environmental challenges we face must be pragmatic and market-driven: climate change is too important to be left to Corbynistas demanding we all eat tofu at Christmas.

Keeping our air clean and our water clear is of course more than just our duty as responsible stewards of the environment – there are huge economic opportunities as the world shifts to a new economy. Last year China invested $132.6 billion in clean tech. India will ban all non-electric cars by 2030.

Going green is a good investment – but it’s also smart politics. Younger voters are unsurprisingly keen on the idea of intergenerational fairness, which is perhaps why climate change is the number one issue they want to hear more about from politicians.

So what sensible centre-right policies can we deploy that enhance our environment, grow our economy, and demonstrate our commitment to protecting the planet for generations to come?

First, leaving the European Union offers an historic opportunity to make Britain an even greener, more pleasant land.

The current EU set-up for rural payments is predictably poorly coordinated and overly complex. Large subsidies are payed to landowners purely on the basis of the amount of land they farm, while a smaller pot goes towards environmental enhancement, yet is ineffectively administered.

A new market-based commissioning scheme for rural payments after Brexit that prioritised environmental enhancement (tree planting or crop rotation, for example) would see farmers and landowners bidding against one another in auctions to protect our natural heritage at the lowest cost to taxpayers.

Preserving and enhancing our beautiful countryside is a huge job, and it would be a fantasy to think that this could be done on the cheap. The reformed system would mean much better value for money, but public funding for rural payments should be retained at its current levels, at least in the medium term, to put British farming on a sustainable footing for the long run.

Secondly, reforms to energy policy could make British businesses more competitive and cut household bills.

Wind technology has improved beyond recognition in the last 10 years – it is now the cheapest source of new electricity generation. New onshore wind turbines are hugely efficient and require no subsidy – they are also, contrary to the received wisdom, immensely popular.

According to the Government’s own figures 76 per cent of Brits support onshore wind – with just 8 per cent opposed. It’s hard to think of a policy with a greater democratic mandate that is currently blocked by Whitehall.

Wind farms should only ever be built where there is strong local support, yet opaque planning laws currently rob communities of a real choice – when surveyed in 2016, more than 50 per cent of local planning policy teams said they felt either unsure or not confident about how the rules governing new turbines work.

At a national level, without a clear route to market, British businesses are effectively blocked from investing in a sector with immense export potential. Onshore wind should be included in the next Contract for Difference auction, the market mechanism Government uses to procure new power supply at the lowest cost, and where communities wish to host them, they should be built.

Finally, protecting the planet offers Britain the chance to lead on the global stage.

At the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the Government made a welcome commitment to tackle ocean plastics. Every year one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.

Further action such as the proposed ban on cotton buds and plastic straws, to accompany the planned deposit return scheme, is vital.

The Government also announced that they would soon ask the Committee on Climate Change for advice on how to strengthen our emissions reduction targets to bring them in line with the Paris Agreement. The world is committed to ratcheting up ambition in the next two years – the prize for the UK lies in moving quickly and becoming the first G7 nation to set a 2050 zero emissions target into law.

Doing so would demonstrate to our allies, and those potential trading partners who are vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change, that we take our responsibility to tackle this existential threat seriously. It would also give clarity to business over the trajectory for coming decades, giving them time to adjust, and send a clear signal to the next generation of Elon Musks that the UK is the place to invest in new clean tech.

Despite the doom and gloom from those on the left, going green doesn’t have to mean abandoning your iPhone and restarting life in a clearing in the New Forest.

The cutting-edge technology that capitalism provides – from new efficient wind turbines to electric cars – combined with sensible, market driven policies, can cut costs for businesses and consumers while protecting and enhancing our environment for future generations.

Published in the Telegraph

Saving the planet requires economic growth

 By Sam Barker

By Sam Barker

Contrary to the Cassandras, this week wasn’t a bad week for the environment.

It was in fact particularly good: at least in its 1989 and 2015 vintages. And not bad in this year, either.

On the 8th November 1989 Margaret Thatcher gave the UN General Assembly both glorious barrels on the ‘threat to our global environment’. 

As always, she started with the scientific facts: 

“We are seeing a vast increase in the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere…we are seeing the destruction on a vast scale of tropical forests which are uniquely able to remove carbon dioxide from the air… We now know, too, that great damage is being done to the Ozone Layer by the production of halons and chlorofluorocarbons”. 

Indeed, a whole section of the speech is dedicated to ‘the latest scientific research’. She peppered the speech with references to Charles Darwin, Fred Hoyle, the British Antarctic Survey, the Polar Institute, the British Meteorological Office – beautiful understating her country’s scientific dominance. It was she who set in train the climate modelling that has caused so much debate since.

Characteristically, Lady Thatcher then turned to the pragmatic economics, in a statement that made her, perhaps, the first major proponent of clean growth: 

“But as well as the science, we need to get the economics right. That means first we must have continued economic growth in order to generate the wealth required to pay for the protection of the environment. But it must be growth which does not plunder the planet today and leave our children to deal with the consequences tomorrow. And second, we must resist the simplistic tendency to blame modern multinational industry for the damage which is being done to the environment. Far from being the villains, it is on them that we rely to do the research and find the solutions.”

And finally, she did not shy away from the moral responsibility of mankind: 

“We are not the lords, we are the Lord’s creatures, the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself—preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder.”

The speech was a tour de force, and much pain might have been avoided if its prescriptions had been followed.

In 2015, our current chancellor, Philip Hammond, spoke on a similar theme to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. As with Lady T, he lashed out at a left wing who “believe we have to sacrifice economic growth and prosperity” to meet the threat of climate change. He concluded: 

“As conservatives, we know the responsible thing to do is tackle threats when we see them, and to do so in ways which preserve our future security and prosperity. And we know the smart thing to do is harness the power of the market to tackle the challenges of climate change.”

So what of the same week in 2016? 

Well in the UK Greg Clark set out plans to upgrade UK energy infrastructure and increase clean energy investment. This included plans to phase out unfiltered coal power from the UK grid, with the benefits to health and energy security (ConHome readers will recall this from Nick Hurd last year). In Marrakech, nations continued discussions on implementing the Paris agreement (a business for which the UK has considerable comparative advantage in governance, services and finance). In New Delhi, the Prime Minister’s deals with President Modi included strengthening the $1.1bn masala bond market (and the first dedicated green bonds); R&D collaboration on solar energy storage and energy efficient building materials (and joining India’s ‘International Solar Alliance’); and the promise of a UK/India energy conference in 2017.

Some readers might by now be clamouring about the GOP elephant in the room. And yes, The Donald has at best described himself as ‘somewhat of an environmentalist’. But if he wants the “clean air… and crystal clean water” he is committed to, he will have to make some accommodations with Richard Nixon’s Environmental Protection Agency. Indeed he may find, in office, that his room for manoeuvre is restricted. Under the terms of the Paris Agreement he wants to cancel, a country can only announce its withdrawal after it has been in force three years, and must give a year’s notice before withdrawal takes effect. This puts any withdrawal on the eve of the 2020 U.S. election. 

Most of all, he is a businessman, and you make money in business following the numbers not the rhetoric. Last year, Philip Hammond pointed out that low-carbon is a $6 trillion business, about nine per cent of the world economy, and growing at four to five per cent a year. The Chinese economy is de-smogging fast as they look to deliver quality of life and domestic energy security. 

As Lady Thatcher said 26 years ago: 

“We must have growth…to pay for the protection of the environment…which does not plunder the planet today.” 

This week was a good week for that.

Published in Conservative Home.