Int Leadership

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.

Robert Courts: It is within our power to save our precious natural inheritance

By Robert Courts MP

By Robert Courts MP

“While the conventional, political dangers—the threat of global annihilation, the fact of regional war—appear to be receding, we have all recently become aware of another insidious danger.

It is as menacing in its way as those more accustomed perils with which international diplomacy has concerned itself for centuries.

It is the prospect of irretrievable damage to the atmosphere, to the oceans, to earth itself.”

-       Margaret Thatcher, Speech to United Nations General Assembly, 1989 Nov 8

The threats posed to our natural world have become increasingly clear since Margaret Thatcher became the first world leader to raise climate change at the UN. Last week the IPCC’s latest report warned of the millions more who would be driven from their homes by rising sea levels, the increasing flood damage both in the UK and abroad, and the economic growth lost in a world in which we fail to limit global warming to 1.5C.

The report also highlighted the threat climate change poses to some of the planets most beautiful flora and fauna. The science is clear: every fraction of a degree matters. Unless we limit global warming to 1.5C we could lose virtually all of the world’s coral reefs by 2100 and expose our marine environments to even greater risks than those covered by Blue Planet II. As a diver, and a marine conservation society member, I’m therefore delighted that the Government has formally asked the Committee on Climate Change for their advice on bringing our climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement, and limiting global warming to 1.5C by going net zero. This will not be easy, but with political will and investment in new technologies like electric vehicles and cheap renewable energy, we can protect our planet from the worst effects of climate change. 

Last week’s Illegal Wildlife Trade conference highlighted another threat posed to the natural world. Serious organised crime on a huge scale is hastening a mass annihilation of species. The figures are stark. Africa’s elephant population has declined by 70% since 1979. There are only 3,800 tigers left in the wild. Four rhinos, one of the most endangered species on the planet, are killed every day for their horns. Thanks to poaching and habitat loss, our children could soon be growing up in a world without rhinos, elephants and tigers - a world robbed of some of the planet’s most magnificent and majestic species.

We can be proud of the work the UK did last week in bringing together countries to fight back against this evil trade - and in leading the way with our own ivory ban. We must now encourage other countries - not least in the main markets for ivory in the Far East, to do the same. 

Here in the UK, the Government has taken a big step towards protecting and enhancing our natural inheritance with a new Agriculture Bill.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has decimated British wildlife, while failing to properly support farmers to invest in their businesses. Since 1970 there has been a significant decline in the numbers of British woodland and farmland birds. Pollinating insects have declined by 13 per cent since 1980. CAP payments are regressive and poor value for money for taxpayers - the largest landowners get the bulk of the money with little to no strings attached. Perversely, CAP often penalises those farmers looking to improve our natural environment - for example farmers lose direct payments if they plant trees on their land, because they are taking it out of agricultural production.

The Government’s new scheme will be based on the principle of public money for public goods. Farmers and land managers will be rewarded for the work they do to enhance our precious natural environment. Public goods will include the enriching of wildlife habitats and improving the quality of air, water and soil – natural assets upon which our wellbeing and economic prosperity depend.

We will continue to champion farmers in their core business of producing world-class food and help them to make their businesses more resilient, productive and internationally competitive. However, there is an argument that production of food, for which there is already a flourishing private market - does not require public subsidy - instead public money will be used to support those ecological goods for which there is no market.

This new system will also contribute to reducing flood risk, and help us to prevent and mitigate the effects of climate change. As we move to a net zero society, emissions from agriculture will have to fall. Through the restoration of the British countryside, the Government’s Agriculture Bill will help us protect British nature, while reducing the emissions that threaten wildlife around the world.

As Margaret Thatcher said we are in a struggle to preserve our oceans, our atmosphere, and even the earth itself. Yet with a clear trajectory to reduce our emission to net zero, policies to make that a reality, action to protect our most beautiful species and investment in innovative new technologies, it is a struggle I am confident we can win.

Zac Goldsmith: 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.