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