The UK is on the cusp of a new era of clean infrastructure. From offshore wind turbines the size of the Shard, to transformative new technologies like carbon capture and storage; our net zero target has the potential to stimulate investment right across the country.
The number one priority for the next Government is obvious: deliver Brexit. After that it needs to build on the UK’s good record on climate change, and the introduction of the new net zero target, with a full-throated embrace of green conservatism that can both unify the nation and deliver economic regeneration.
On 2nd July, 42 Conservative MPs signed a Declaration of green conservative principles - acknowledging the scale of the environmental challenges we face but also the unique role that the free market will play in tackling this crisis.
There are three reasons why this Declaration - and the policies contained in the attached Manifesto - should underpin the agenda of the next Government.
First - the moral case. The Conservative tradition of environmental stewardship stretches back beyond Margaret Thatcher’s seminal UN climate change speech to Edmund Burke’s idea of intergenerational fairness. Just as we balance the books today to avoid saddling our children with debt, so too we protect our environment to safeguard their natural inheritance.
In recent years, however, our understanding of the scale of the environmental crisis we face has grown dramatically, and with it the urgent need to act. The air in our cities has long been poisonous but now we know the extent of the harm it does to our children. We have long been warming our planet but now we know the increased risks of flooding and food scarcity if we fail to limit this to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Species have long been dying out and our soil long degrading but now we know the rate at which we are demolishing the building blocks of life. Conservatives have never ducked responsibilities in the hope that someone else will clean up the mess - we face up to the realities of a challenge and deal with it.
As the moral case has grown stronger - so too has the economic case. Renewables are now the cheapest form of electricity. Wind turbines should only ever be erected where there is local support; but given that onshore wind is surprisingly popular right across the country it is time to lift the blanket national ban that currently blocks them from competing against offshore wind in the auctions the Government uses to procure renewable power. Let communities decide if they want to host the cheapest source of electricity generation.
A new generation of more efficient onshore turbines, set alongside our rich offshore resources, can make the UK the Saudi Arabia of wind energy - powering the continent with cheap, clean British electrons.
Meanwhile, by taking nature into account and committing to properly greening the Green Belt, we can build a new generation of homes that restore the countryside and boost productivity. Current planning policy fails to protect British wildlife, which has been declining for decades, without delivering the homes that our young people need. A Royal Commission on Planning can deliver a new system that protects nature, boosts productivity and gives every young person the ability to own their own (zero carbon) home.
This new green infrastructure will not only restore our planet and deliver economic renewal - it can also unite our divided country. Climate change is the number one issue that younger voters want politicians to talk more about - and recently came second only to Brexit as the most pressing issue they believe is facing the country. What makes people proud to be British? The NHS - and then our countryside. Environmental protection is not simply the morally correct thing to do for future generations; it is not only the future economic model for our nation - it’s the path to a Conservative majority. As we look towards the UK’s hosting of the vital UN climate conference in 2020 - and the chance to encourage our allies to ratchet up ambition to match our new target - it’s clear that a full embrace of green conservatism can provide us with a new national mission; and help to bring together our divided nation.