Robert Courts: Planting for Success - introducing Nature Recovery Networks

By Robert Courts MP

By Robert Courts MP

Hedgehogs are, in their own understated way, an iconic British species - yet their populations are in steep decline, and have fallen by two-thirds since 1995. Britain’s only spiny mammal roams an average of two kilometers every night, but the lack of connected space to explore is devastating the native population. Likewise, three bumblebee species have become extinct in recent decades, in part due to their fragmenting habitats, including wildflower meadows. Wildflowers are also the food of choice for young turtle doves, which have declined by 90% since the 1980s. We run the risk of building a Britain without the beautiful natural inheritance that we have taken for granted. In order to tackle this we need not only to protect the habitats these creatures depend on, but link them up with a series of joined-up Nature Recovery Networks.

It is difficult for any business, council or developer to support the Government’s goals without clear targets and pathways to get there. Just as we set emission reduction targets to tackle climate change, so too we will set out targets to enhance our countryside and protect British wildlife in the upcoming Environment Bill. We’ve made great strides already with the 25 Year Environmental Plan which has outlined how we aim to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. And while investment in our existing national park structures and protected areas is vital, these in isolation won’t be enough. In order for all of us to work together to stop, and even reverse, the worrying trend in our declining wildlife, we need a better understanding of what needs protecting and where.

Nature Recovery Networks aim to utilise spatial planning tools to create a clear map of habitats, assets and natural features that can be assessed, protected and monitored to improve the delivery of our environmental targets. By using local expertise to create a national framework, we can work together to ensure a joined-up approach to protecting these spaces. It also gives farmers, developers and councils the clarity and confidence to make strategic decisions around these areas to manage the land effectively. It could mean, for instance, that several farmers team up to connect their hedgerows or that councils plant wildflowers along connected motorway verges. We can make sure these networks are included in our local plans and better assess where public funds should be spent to support this vital public good.

These networks can also identify space for more trees, which is particularly important after the Committee on Climate Change stated that we need to double the number of trees we’re planting if we plan to meet carbon sequestration targets. We now have a great Tree Champion in Sir William Worsley, to help us to implement our manifesto commitment of planting 11 million trees, plus a further one million urban trees in towns and cities. However, finding where these trees can go, and the most effective spaces where they can best support wildlife, can be a key function of the Nature Recovery Network.

Spatial planning is a translatable tool that different sectors can understand and factor into their decision making. We already use it to consider how to reduce flood risks or manage air pollution. Consulting on the national adoption of this plan would give local stakeholders and communities a chance to give their input on the areas in their neighbourhoods that need protecting, giving them a vested interest in the network’s success. It also gives us a chance to reconnect some communities with nature, particularly in rural areas. We know how access to parks can improve mental and physical health outcomes, so supporting a network of green spaces can help us humans too.

It is clear that business as usual cannot continue without risking even more of our precious wildlife. In many ways we have already led the world on how we respond to environmental breakdown - for example through introducing the world’s first Climate Change Act. We set targets to reduce our emissions, and we then reduced our emissions faster than any other G7 nation. We can now set conservation targets and outline pathways to meet them in an equally ambitious way. We can’t expect wild species to be increasingly confined to fenced off areas of nature, and we shouldn’t need to if Nature Recovery Networks can give them broader connected spaces to roam. I hope that the Environment Bill expected in the summer will consider this as a practical way to translate our ambitious objectives into reality.



Richard Benyon: The right response to the school strikes for climate change

By Richard Benyon MP

By Richard Benyon MP

Last Friday tens thousands of students from over 40 schools across the country - including some in my constituency - went on “strike” to demand more action on climate change. No one wants to see children skipping school on a regular basis, but for a moment these determined young people managed to drag our attention away from the day to day wranglings over Brexit and onto the greatest existential threat of our age.

It should not surprise us that young people are passionate about the state of the planet they will inherit - and while there is still much more to do, in the UK we have a climate change record to be proud of. We should be talking about that, and those who have responded to the strikes with negativity have slightly missed the point - this is the defining issue of our time, and how we respond to it will have a huge impact on their future.

I was delighted to talk to around 30 young people outside my constituency office on Friday about why they were striking that day. They brought with them a list of questions and demands which were a salutary reminder that we must be better at telling people of the many good things that are happening to tackle climate change. I was able to tell them that the UK will be one of the first countries to phase out coal fired generation by 2025, and more than 50% of UK electricity came from low-carbon sources in 2018. They demanded that the UK should be an advocate for the Paris Agreement. In fact, we were the first developed economy to pass a Climate Change Act to create a legal commitment to reduce our emissions, and since then we’ve reduced our carbon emissions faster than any other G7 country. We are a leading country in living up to the Paris Agreement.

The students want us to protect biodiversity by preserving our habitats and wildlife. This Government introduced the Blue Belt programme which has already seen an area of ocean the size of India protected, and our Environment Secretary has called for an even more ambitious target of 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030. My CEN colleagues, including Zac Goldsmith and Rebecca Pow, are also working on conservation with the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference and the APPG for Ancient Woodlands respectively, as Rebecca’s last CEN article outlined in more detail. The students were concerned about our agricultural system, and the new Agriculture Bill will pay farmers for vital public goods protecting our natural environment. They want to avoid unnecessary waste by maximising reuse and recycling, which is why we introduced our Waste Strategy focused on promoting a circular economy, and just last week launched a consultation on a Deposit Return System for plastic bottles.

I could go on, but the point is that these are all policies we should be talking more about and what we should be highlighting in our response to the school strike. Polling shows that climate change is one of the main issues that young people want to hear more about from politicians. So tackling climate change is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also a vote winner, particularly amongst younger voters who turned out at the last election in numbers last seen 25 years ago. They’re engaging with politics in new ways through social media, and in the past few years especially it’s rare if a school visit in my patch doesn’t entail some questions and discussion about the environment or Blue Planet II.

All of this positivity doesn’t mean that I’m complacent, I know that there is much more to do. I’ve been working with CEN and my colleagues to call for a net zero emissions target, and I hope we will see that the Committee on Climate Change advice in May supports this too. I want to see our Blue Belt programme followed through, with protections in the South Sandwich Islands for the incredible species there. We’ve got legislation in the House for Agriculture, the Environment and Fisheries which I’m contributing to and following closely. However, politics is a team sport, we need the support of Ministers, officials, civil society, NGOs and more to make all of this happen.

If these strikes raise awareness about how important this is, and just how serious the situation is, then I think they’re a good thing. I share the passion these young people have for tackling climate change and protecting our natural world. It’s an existential matter about whether we are going to survive on this planet, and while the UK can be proud to be a world leader, there is still more to do. That is how we should be responding to the strikes and talking to young people about this government’s record on climate change.

Rebecca Pow: Protecting our precious habitats - ancient woodland and veteran trees

By Rebecca Pow MP

By Rebecca Pow MP

With a background in agriculture, horticulture and environmental affairs, both in the field and through my former work as a broadcaster and journalist, I vowed that I would get involved in these crucial issues in Westminster with a view to raising them up the Government agenda. These are some of the reasons why I joined the Conservative Environment Network’s Caucus of MPs to work with like-minded colleagues on these issues. Fortunately this Government is listening and significant strides are being made in these areas.

One of my first endeavours was to set up the All-Party Group for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees, with the backing of the Woodland Trust and a dedicated team of like-minded colleagues. The idea was to attract attention to this precious habitat with the aim of increasing protection for it. The group met regularly with Ministers and I was pleased to lead a debate in Parliament on this subject.  

Ancient woodland, is at least 400 years old and covers just 2% of the UK. This magical habitat is our equivalent of the rainforest and has developed over a long period of time into a highly biodiverse ecosystem which is home to a diverse variety of species. In addition the undisturbed soil beneath ancient woodland and veteran trees is an integral part of this valued habitat and once lost it cannot be ‘re-created’. Sadly over the past 100 years at least 45 rare and vulnerable species have disappeared because of the loss of ancient woodland and more than 1000 ancient woodlands have been under threat from competing interests in the last 10 years. Despite its natural capital value, there was no protection for this habitat. Even now the Woodland Trust is dealing with over 700 threats. Whilst I fully support the Government’s drive to build more homes with the appropriate infrastructure, this should not be at the expense of our natural environment. It is possible to have sustainable development in conjunction with nature.

The concerted approach by the APPG together with public support and pressure for other organisations, I am delighted to say, bore fruit. The Government heeded calls and through the Housing White paper and the National Planning Policy Framework (footnote 9) ancient woodland was afforded the same protection as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, Green Belt and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Initially veteran trees, living legends in themselves, were not included but with further pressure this has been rectified

The revised NPPF, now instructs local planning authorities that "development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons" for which "a suitable compensation strategy exists". It makes exceptions for "infrastructure projects (including nationally significant infrastructure projects, orders under the Transport & Works Act and hybrid bills), where the public benefit would clearly outweigh the loss or deterioration of habitat". So, this won’t prevent all loss of this habitat but it’s a significant win for our woodland and demonstrates that it is possible to make a difference as a politician and importantly that this Government is demonstrating its commitment to leave the Environment in a better place than we found it, something the Prime Minister herself stated at the launch to the 25 Year Environment Plan.

I am determined to see that commitment upheld and demonstrated through the forthcoming Agriculture Bill, Fisheries Bill, Waste and Resources Strategy and of course the forthcoming Environment Bill itself. This Bill offers an important opportunity for us to create clear targets for halting and even reversing the decline we’re seeing in our wildlife. It’s particularly important for businesses to have a clear signal from the government about what we expect from them when it comes to environmental protections, so that they can plan for the future and help us in this monumental task too. An independent watchdog is also crucial to ensure oversight, provide guidance and guarantee that these targets are met.

One way of achieving these targets is to embrace the concept of Nature Recovery Networks, a joined-up system that highlights places important for plants and wildlife. Engaging a holistic approach will prevent fragmenting and isolating species and inevitably causing their decline. I hope this Bill will give us a chance to see many of our beloved British species bounce back by giving them the space they need to roam from one end of the country to the other.

Soil is another passion of mine (strange but true). Soil is our lifeblood, it’s enables us to grow healthy food, it cleans water, holds carbon so mitigates climate change and can reduce flooding and yet through mismanagement huge tracts of land will be rendered unproductive within a decade unless action is taken. Evidence from the EA Select Committee inquiry into soil, a debate on the subject and the launch of the Sustainable Soils Alliance in Parliament which I was pleased to host have played their part in establishing soil health as a DEFRA priority.

Issues like these affect us all. It’s about our future sustainability. They touch not just DEFRA but every single Government department, from health (access to green space for example improves mental health), to HDCLG (green towns are better to live in), BEIS (renewable energy and energy efficiency cuts carbon emissions and saves on consumer bills). Crucially sustainability needs to be at the heart of treasury thinking. We are merely custodians of this land and it is beholden upon us to hand on a better world than we inherited; I am proud to be part of a Government that realises this. To be fully effective our policy decisions must increasingly have a joined up approach to this.

The facts about onshore wind

By CEN Ambassador Amy Yiannitsarou

By CEN Ambassador Amy Yiannitsarou

The UK has slashed its greenhouse gas emissions by almost half (42%) since 1990 – faster than any other major developed country. How? Well, by doing a couple of things, the most significant of which is scaling up the role renewable power plays in our energy mix.

If nothing else, these statistics from BEIS’ latest greenhouse gas emissions analysis published this week, are a real testament to the success of the UK’s renewable sector. And furthermore, they remind us of the need to continue to prioritise the decarbonisation of our economy (most notably transport which made up 27% of UK emissions in 2017) as quickly as possible. Sounds simple, right?

And yet. As the UK looks to join the ranks of some of the world’s most progressive nations showing demonstrable leadership on climate change by targeting net zero emissions, on the domestic front, the power sector is facing an onslaught of challenges. Just last month, the third of six planned new nuclear plants – Wylfa - was shelved, leaving a future gap of 9.1GW (or 15% of future electricity demand) in low carbon capacity, in November the future (and potentially even the past!) of the Capacity Market was catapulted onto very uncertain ground and onshore wind, the cheapest form of large-scale low carbon electricity generation, still lacks a route to market.

On this last point, CEN took the opportunity last week to reinvigorate a conversation amongst Conservatives – what is the cheapest source of electricity and do we want it? Alongside Vattenfall and the campaign group 10:10 Climate Action, CEN brought together over 30 Conservative MPs from across Britain, over 100 constituents and supply chain businesses for a long overdue dialogue on the UK’s cheapest, large scale renewable technology – onshore wind.  Hearing from the likes of up-and-coming Scottish Conservative MP Luke Graham and CEN’s Parliamentary Caucus member Simon Clarke MP, our successful event pressed home the fact that onshore wind is not only popular (76% of people support onshore wind), but that 61% of Conservatives also want to end the current policies which exclude onshore wind from playing a greater role in the energy mix.

Despite the current challenges that certain other low carbon technologies are facing, decarbonising the power sector doesn't need to be hard. Onshore wind is a real British success story that we as Conservatives should celebrate and capitalise upon, not abandon. Continuing to develop this industry and supply chain will not only lower consumer bills in the long run (according to BVG, onshore wind farms could be built for £45MWh compared to £82/MWh for gas) but pay consumers £1.6 billion over 15 years. If this isn’t reason enough to make you sit up, here’s another.

We’re blessed in Britain to have some of the windiest parts of western Europe – often concentrated in parts of the island with lower levels of investment and economic development, such as Scotland and Wales. BVG Associates’ analysis shows that 86% of the potential future onshore wind development pipeline is located in Scotland and 12% in Wales (with the potential for expansion beyond this should Welsh local infrastructure issues be resolved). Further analysis suggests that a fully developed and functioning onshore wind industry can bring a further 18,500 jobs during peak construction and 8,500 skilled jobs in the long term. Of these jobs, 60% will be in Scotland and 17% in Wales. Parts of the UK that need it the most.

And there is yet more positive news. For those communities who want wind farms, benefits are also realised in the form of direct Community Benefit Funds – more than £15 million was paid to local communities across Scotland in the year to November 2017. Now my maths is not great, but with onshore wind having an operating lifetime of around 25 years multiplying this investment could create a lifetime direct investment in community schemes of £375 million. For any community, that has to be a number that is hard to ignore.

The list of people and organisations calling on the Government to allow onshore wind development in communities that want it grows every day – the NIC, the CCC, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government – to name a few. Surely, highly skilled jobs, cheap energy bills, clean energy and direct investment is something that all Conservatives can get behind.

Antoinette Sandbach: Lower bills, less waste and better health. Time to insulate UK homes.

By Antoinette Sandbach MP

By Antoinette Sandbach MP

Published on Conservative Home

Last year, unnecessary winter deaths topped 50,000 – and more than 15,000 of these are directly relatable to a cold home.

This figure is shameful, and represents a huge amount of suffering. It is also clearly avoidable. There can be no justification for cold homes in the UK, blighting the lives of the neediest in society and leading to knock-on effects that spread through the economy – from lost working days to hospital visits and tumbling morale.

Before fingers start to be pointed, we must be clear: this figure is not due to rising energy bills, which, on average, have fallen over the past decade. They are also declining as a percentage of household income, the latest Ofgem data shows, as energy-hungry appliances are replaced with low-power alternatives and inefficient gas boilers are upgraded to the latest technology.

But while our TVs, computers and fridges are costing less to run, we still waste a huge amount of energy from UK homes in the form of heat. This is one of the largest open goals in UK politics: the lack of measures to insulate our homes and slash how much energy is wasted from leaky windows and poorly insulated walls and roofs.

Since 2008, the Government has logged the energy efficiency of UK homes as they have been sold or built; a register of 16 million homes that cover close to 1.5 billion square meters of British soil. They make for unpleasant reading. Upwards of 11 million of these miss the EPC C rating, which should be the bare minimum for any home.

This isn’t just a problem with older homes, in 2017, the largest entry on the register was band D properties, while more than 1.1 million properties are F- or G-rated, from which heat will be pouring out. Unquestionably, the homes of the poorest are likely to be the least-well insulated.

In addition to costing more to run, wasting so much heat requires us to import more gas from overseas, as well as unnecessarily adding to national carbon emissions. Imagine another aspect of life that was this wasteful. Cars that had not improved fuel efficiency in years, or businesses choosing not to boost competitiveness by reducing energy costs. It just doesn’t make sense.

Poorly insulated homes are also not fit for the future, something that Government is more than aware of. The Clean Growth Strategy aims to upgrade as many homes as possible to EPC grade C by 2035, but, unfortunately, is light on detail about how we get there.

Luckily, enthusiasm on both benches should help them decide. Building on recently-passed legislation that will ensure rented homes are warmer, cheaper and more pleasant to live in, a bill is working its way through the house on the potential for technology to boost energy efficiency. UK companies are among the market leaders in developing low-carbon tech, including on innovative efficiency kit, but without a route to market many of them will continue to rely on sales overseas.

A much-needed inquiry from the BEIS committee into energy waste will inject expert opinion into the debate, throwing forward a host of policies that can help us slash energy waste across the nation.

Legislation to ensure that new homes are built to the highest possible standards must, surely, make sense. Opposition from the housebuilding oligopoly needs to be shouted down, with developers forced to build high quality homes that will be cheap to run for decades to come.

The failure of the last wide-reaching piece of efficiency legislation – the Coalition-introduced Green Deal – should not dissuade ministers from acting in this space. It won’t be difficult to get this right – ensuring that new homes are built to the highest standards and that homeowners are incentivised to upgrade windows and insulate lofts.

After all, less money spent on heating leaves more to pump into the economy; research has shown that every pound invested in energy efficiency will boost GDP by £3.20 as the country is left with more disposable income to spend on household bills, new clothes or weekends away.

Other countries manage to insulate their homes far better than we do; it is not right that Britain should fall behind on such a simple act. If we get this right – and there is no reason why we should not – morbid headlines about winter deaths will rightly become a thing of the past and we as a nation will be able to take pride in all of society living in high quality homes.

Kevin Hollinrake: High environmental standards boost economic growth

By Kevin Hollinrake MP

By Kevin Hollinrake MP

Published on Conservative Home

British voters overwhelming support high environmental standards – 80 per cent, for example, want the UK to maintain our world-leading food safety regulations after we leave the European Union.

This is unsurprising – high environmental standards in agriculture keep our livestock healthy and our food safe to eat, and in product design they cut our energy bills by improving the efficiency of our ovens and toasters.

A sensible, long term framework of environmental rules spurs investment and innovation from business.

Many businesses of course face examples of vexatious red tape – and Brexit does provide us with the opportunity to cut some of the bureaucracy that has impeded business and made our lives more difficult. From the baffling small print on radio adverts, to compelling pharmacists to scan every medicine in front of their customers, there are plenty of nonsensical EU regulations that add unnecessary costs to businesses and should be scrapped.

Yet the desire to trim unnecessary red tape can sit comfortably alongside support for a long term, sensible framework of high environmental standards that, if properly enforced by an independent watchdog, will restore our countryside, clean up our air, and boost British business.

BuroHappold Engineering recently explored the relationship between environmental regulations and competitiveness, in particular the impact of the implementation of the London Plan in the construction sector, the Landfill Tax in the waste sector, and the passenger car emission regulations in the car industry.

In all three cases their analysis found that the upfront costs of complying with regulations were outweighed by the economic benefits they triggered through increased business investment in innovation and skills, better-quality products and infrastructure, greater business competitiveness, and job creation.

For example, there was an overwhelming consensus that despite flaws in the testing methodology, passenger car CO2 emission regulations have been a success story for the UK and EU car industry. The regulations have provided certainty, scale, and a clear framework to meet targets, without any negative impacts on competitiveness. The relatively stable and consistent regulatory framework has allowed for a long-term and broader view of managing the costs of compliance.

This commitment to a stable and consistent framework underpins the UK’s Climate Change Act – which, through its long-term approach to tackling global warming, has delivered certainty to businesses and deep reductions in CO2 emissions. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by 42 per cent, while our economy has grown by two-thirds. This means that we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation, while leading the G7 in growth in national income over this period.

The same principle – that businesses benefit from a clear and consistent regulatory framework – underpins the Government’s Environment Bill. The Bill will set out clear goals and targets to reverse the damage done to the British countryside over previous decades and clean up our toxic air.

Businesses welcome the clarity provided by these targets. Anglian Water, for example, have argued that “when targets are too vague, it’s almost impossible to assess whether government is on track to hit them. In order for real progress to be made on the environment, goals within the Environment Bill must be carefully established with robust timetables.”

Businesses will then only invest if they have the confidence that these targets will be properly enforced: hence why the independence of the statutory body – the “watchdog” – is so crucial. Firms need to know that whoever is in government, their investments in things such as new technology to improve air quality will pay off.

The UK is a world leader in clean growth, with over 400,000 jobs in the low carbon economy: one in five electric vehicles sold in Europe in are made in Britain; our offshore wind sector is second to none; and the City of London is the home of green finance. This is in large part down to investment decisions that have been driven by our Climate Change Act – and the certainly provided to business by the existence of an independent Committee on Climate Change that will make sure standards are upheld.

We now have the opportunity to set the gold standard with a world-leading Environment Bill, and achieve similar results for British nature, while providing the certainty British businesses need about the direction of travel to a cleaner, more prosperous future.

Ben Bradley: The Best Brexit for Bees

By Ben Bradley MP

By Ben Bradley MP

While the past few months have been saturated with Brexit, other issues continue to fly into my inbox - and the fate of our tiny pollinators rightly generates a huge amount of buzz amongst my constituents.

Bees and Brexit have more in common than you’d think. 35 of the UK’s bee species are currently under threat of extinction, while 76% of UK butterfly species and 66% of UK moth species are in decline. The disastrous Common Agricultural Policy has decimated our countryside, and wildflower meadows, which bees rely on to get from place to place, have declined by 97% since the second world war.

Earlier this year I introduced the Protection of Pollinators Bill to Parliament which aimed to create protected wildflower corridors for bees and other insects.

It is important to note that the value of the UK’s 1,500 species of pollinators to our farms and crops is estimated to be £400-680 million per year. They’re vital for the food we eat, and the plants that other species rely on as well.

I was delighted that following the introduction of my Bill, Michael Gove pledged £60,000 to map these important habitat corridors and identify where we should focus our conservation efforts to best protect pollinators. This will inform our National Pollinator Strategy, a 10 year plan for collaborative efforts to improve the status of pollinators, and other measures like our pledge to ban neonicotinoids (certain sorts of pesticides) will help too.

The first Environment Bill in over 20 years also promises to provide new opportunities for standards to protect pollinators for various sectors from industry to developers and so on. A consultation launched last week looks at introducing an environmental net gain principle for developers to promote biodiversity, and wildflowers should form a part of this. All of these domestic policies are hugely welcome and demonstrate the Conservative Party’s green credentials.

Brexit offers a real chance for change. CAP has decimated the British countryside - the number of pollinating insects has declined by 13% since 1980. Rather than simply handing over taxpayers’ cash to landowners on a per acreage basis, our new Agriculture Bill will reward farmers for providing public, environmental goods. That can include support for the wildflower corridors that bees and other pollinators rely on around their farms. Farmers, who know how important these insects are to their business, will finally get the support needed to protect them.

And that’s not all. Michael Gove has said that he supports looking at further controls on pesticides in the UK. Outside of the EU we will have the chance to better assess how we manage our environment and ensure that we tailor our policies to suit our unique environment and native species. This opportunity to take back control of our environmental policies, coupled with rewards for environmentally friendly farming practices from the Agriculture Bill, will have a huge impact on the way our agriculture interacts with our wildlife, bees and bugs.

We know that there is a problem, bees and other pollinators are in trouble, and we know what we need to do to fix it. With the National Pollinator Strategy, the Agriculture Bill, a green Brexit and funding for pollinator corridors (as outlined in my Bill) I am confident that British bees will soon be flourishing once again.

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.