COP28 concluded last week with an important agreement to transition away from fossil fuels and to triple global renewable energy capacity. When the summit began, some wrote off its prospects of success and were sceptical about the UK’s role on the world stage. But, once again, we proved them wrong; despite an agreement looking unlikely at points, British negotiators played a prominent role in bringing over 200 countries together to agree a constructive final text.
Britain came to this COP with a long and proud history of leadership on climate policy and action. When I was business and energy secretary, we became the first major country to enshrine net zero in law. When we came into government a third of our power supply came from coal, but now most of the electricity powering Britain now comes from low-carbon sources like offshore wind. We led the Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26. We have shown the world what it looks like for an advanced economy significantly to cut emissions, and most of it has been done under Conservative government.
Where we have led, others have followed. But they are now catching up. In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act has stimulated nearly $90 billion of investment and 170,000 jobs. In China, clean energy innovation and investment has outstripped expectations and means that its emissions are predicted to peak in the next year and then fall relentlessly. It is notable that the two biggest economies in the world have chosen to make cutting emissions part of explicit strategies for economic growth.
This prosperity theme was echoed across the COP summit. As I observed it, the most persistent theme from countries of all sizes and stages of development was the need to link action on climate with improvements not impairments to domestic standards of living. Climate policies that are unaffordable for consumers or which cost more jobs than they create were deemed by many to be unacceptable. Increasingly, countries are requiring climate action to address the need for increased economic growth and the security of energy supplies.
These imperatives have – rightly – been underpinning drivers of UK climate policy. One of the most gratifying developments in recent years has been to see the revival of manufacturing and the technical services industry in places like Teesside and around the Humber as investment has poured in and good jobs have been created serving an offshore wind industry that now leads the world. As other countries now look to follow us, we can capitalise on this lead by exporting renewable technologies and knowhow to other countries. In Japan the week before COP, I spoke to numerous investors who wanted to work with Britain’s renewable sector to emulate our success.
It was also clear in Dubai that most of the world’s investment needed to reduce emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change will come from private sector, rather than public funds. The UK is exceptionally well-placed to continue to be a leading player in the banks, funds and institutions that will arrange climate finance for these investments over the coming decades.
The UK will only ever account for a small portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but our influence on global climate policy and practice goes well beyond that. Our diplomatic prowess gives us the skills to shape deals. The City of London means that we have an outsized influence on investment far beyond our own coasts. And, as Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, I see every week how our universities and technologists are contributing to developments that will make it easier and more economically beneficial to attain net zero and enhance energy security: from battery storage that can turn renewable energy into firm power, to small modular nuclear reactors that can provide reliable zero carbon electricity.
The climate deal in Dubai is done and it will keep progress towards reducing the world’s emissions moving forward. Prosperity and security, as well as environmental stewardship, are the big objectives for governments around the world. Our experience and expertise, combined with our advanced position in science and innovation, plays into an expanding global market. The COP agreement underlines a big economic opportunity for Britain in the years ahead.
First published by Politics.co.uk. Greg Clark MP (Tunbridge Wells) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.