Climate Change Ambition

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.

Why Climate Change Particularly Matters for Women

By Meg Trethewey

By Meg Trethewey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

By Rebecca Pow MP

By Rebecca Pow MP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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