12 Apr 2012, 00:05
I am painfully aware it is both conceited and perhaps even discourteous to offer a speech unsolicited, particularly when the person you are offering the speech to employs battalions of speechwriters to do the job for him. But the news that after nearly two years of government Prime Minister David Cameron is to give his first keynote address on the environment and the green economy is too good an opportunity to pass up.
Last week I sent out a call on Twitter for suggestions from the green business community on what Cameron should say and was pleasantly surprised by the response. A host of intriguing proposals flooded in, ranging from broad advice that the Prime Minister formally recognises the reality of environmental limits, to specific suggestions for policies to tackle fuel poverty or put a price on biodiversity.
I've drawn on several of these suggestions, as well as a few of the tropes BusinessGreen has been exploring for the past frou years, to shape this very early draft of the speech Cameron should give.
It is not the speech I'd give, nor is it a speech that I'd necessarily agree with, but it is a speech (or something like it) that a Conservative Prime Minister who remains committed to leading "the greenest government ever" should give.
It needs a few more jokes, and requires some more facts and figures, but I'd argue it builds on the themes established in Nick Clegg's speech on green growth yesterday and contains plenty green businesses would want to hear.
Don't forget to Check Against Delivery!
As this week's Clean Energy Summit has amply demonstrated, climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy remains the gravest long term threat and the most exciting long term opportunity for the global economy.
Your presence here in London to debate the environmental challenges that unite us all has again underlined how seriously governments around the world take the challenge presented by climate change. And how we are willing to work together to develop the innovative clean technologies that will allow us to deliver the green growth that will address the environmental risks we face.
Thank you for your continuing commitment to tackling the greatest political, social, economic and technological challenge this generation faces.
Greenest government ever
After what turned out to be a pretty busy week, I marked my first day as Prime Minister by making the short walk across Whitehall to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and promising publicly that this new coalition government would be the "greenest government ever".
As you will no doubt be aware those three little words have caused more than their fair share of controversy.
Some critics, including some within my own party, have suggested I was foolish to have ever made such a bold claim.
Others have used our green ambition as a stick to beat the coalition with, insisting that far from being the greenest government ever we are the least green government in history.
So today, let me correct some misconceptions.
This is, and will continue to be, the "greenest government ever". And I make no apologies for that ambition, nor the policies that are ensuring it is realised.
This is the government that will deliver the UK's first Green Investment Bank; the world's largest offshore wind energy industry; the most ambitious home improvement programme since the 1950s in the form of the Green Deal; the first incentive scheme anywhere in the world for renewable heat technologies; the largest national roll out of smart meters, giving everyone accurate bills and up-to-date data on their energy use; and the world's largest carbon capture and storage funding scheme.
This is the government that increased our carbon targets, approving the fourth carbon budget that requires us to halve emissions by 2025.
After 13 years of dithering, debt, and delay from the previous government, this is the government that will finally deliver the reforms to our energy market that will drive the investment we need in new clean generation capacity.
Our package of policies will deliver over £200bn of investment over 10 years in a balanced mix of wind, marine, solar, biomass, geothermal, nuclear, and natural gas technologies.
And, most importantly, all these measures and many others will continue to drive a green economy that is growing at five per cent a year, creating prosperity and jobs across the country.
I accept that we have made some mistakes. Our plan to sell off forests was not communicated well enough, but we listened to people's concerns and were right to shift our position. Our handling of incentives for solar installation was flawed, but we learnt the lesson of how policy instability can harm emerging green industries and are now moving forward with the solar industry to ensure the sector can continue to grow in a cost-effective manner.
But despite these setbacks, any dispassionate assessment would agree: No government in British history has ever delivered such an ambitious package of green reforms.
This is a reformist government and the green economy is at the very heart of its modernising agenda.
Just the beginning
But, proud as we are of our progress so far, we are fully aware that being the greenest government ever is not actually a huge achievement.
For too long, successive governments have side-lined environmental issues. For too long, politicians have seen environmental protection and economic growth as incompatible. For too long, we have responded to the greatest environmental challenge faced by humankind with incremental improvements that have failed to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.
I fully accept that we are not moving fast enough. I understand the frustrations of the green NGOs and businesses who do a great job of ensuring these issues are never allowed to slip too far down the political agenda.
As a father of a young family, I am amongst those who wonder what the world will be like by the middle of the century when my children are my age. I worry about the planet we will hand to them and fear the impact climate change and resource shortages will have on their health and security.
As a patriot, I look at our continued reliance on overseas sources of energy and I understand how our long term security is undermined by our failure to become more self-sufficient. I look at oil price volatility and recognise that for as long as we are reliant on these fuels our economy will be vulnerable to price spikes that are outside of our control.
As a Prime Minister, I have received the frequent updates from the UK's scientific advisors on the latest climate science and I admit that they are daunting in the extreme. I challenge anyone to look at predictions that sea levels could rise by more than half a metre within the lifetime of a child born today and not feel a shiver of unease.
The first job of government is to keep people secure. If we fail to address these environmental risks we will be failing in our primary duty.
So let me address another misconception.
Our green policies are the beginning, not the end, of our plans for the low carbon economy. Our ambition will increase, our progress will accelerate. We are already the greenest government ever, but we are committed to becoming greener still - much, much greener.
To coin a phrase made famous by the first British Prime Minister to commission research into climate change: We are not for turning.
Climate scepticism is not climate pragmatism
There are those, again some of them within my own party, who seek to belittle the risk posed by climate change. Who argue that we face no serious environmental threats, that manmade climate change is not happening, and if it was we would find a way to deal with it. Who argue that the steps we are taking to deploy cleaner technologies are unnecessary and too expensive.
To them I say this: proper scepticism is fine, but when did the denial of established science become a test of political virility? And more importantly, what happens if you are wrong?
Conservative governments have always been renowned for their pragmatism, so ask yourself this: Would it be pragmatic to ignore the warnings our leading scientists have issued?
It would be the precise opposite of pragmatic.
To succumb to the siren voices telling us we do not need to take action would be the height of political recklessness.
As Prime Minister I will not countenance such recklessness, regardless of the advice offered by esteemed former Chancellors.
But if we are aware of the environmental risks we all face, we are also aware that talk of imminent doom is no way to inspire people to take action. We want people to be aware of the risks presented by climate change, but we also want them to seize the opportunities it offers.
Because the idea that green living inevitably means embracing a Spartan, hair shirted existence is another misconception. We do not want people to engage in greener actions simply because they are better for the environment. We want people to engage in greener actions because they are better full stop.
On both an economic and a community level green models for living and working are not just greener, they are better.
Let us address the economic opportunity first.
The UK's green economy is worth around £120bn a year, employs nearly a million people, and is growing at five per cent a year. Globally, the clean tech sector is worth trillions and is similarly growing at a rate significantly faster than the wider economy.
Let me address another misconception. Every member of this government wants the UK to secure as large a chunk of this global economic opportunity as possible. We would be mad to want anything else.
As this week has demonstrated there are thousands of innovative, fast-growth, entrepreneurial companies operating in this space, who are committed to building a low carbon economy. They are already a larger and more strategically important part of the economy than the carbon intensive firms they aim to replace. And they are extremely cool, the very epitome of modern British ingenuity and design.
Take the British renewable energy firms working to make solar power cost effective.
Now, we are not known for our sunny weather in this country. But in Naked Energy we have a UK start up that has worked out how to maximise electricity and heat output from the sun that we do get. In Oxford PV, a spin out from our world-leading Oxford University, we have a company that is promising to deliver power-generating solar glass to the world's skyscrapers. In G24i we have a Welsh company that is integrating solar cells into mobile devices in a way that means we will never have to charge them up again.
These technologies are not just clean, they are cool.
And it is not just start ups. Engineering giants like General Electric, Siemens and Vestas are rushing to the UK due to our business friendly environment and our world-leading position in offshore wind energy, building and erecting offshore wind turbines that are taller than Nelson's Column.
Nissan has chosen Sunderland to build its car of the future, the hugely exciting electric Leaf.
All of the Big Six energy companies are signed up to the world's most ambitious smart meter roll out, promising to deliver real time energy meters to every home in the UK by 2019, bringing an end to inaccurate billing and making it much easier for people to save energy and cut their bills.
The list of green corporate success stories goes on and on. Each one creating jobs and growth, at the same time as cutting carbon emissions.
I understand that while many people would like to see this green economy delivered, they worry about the cost. "Improving energy efficiency in order to reduce energy bills is all well and good," they say, "but what about the green tariffs that are driving up those self-same energy bills".
Well, let me address another misconception. Green tariffs are not the main driver behind rising energy bills. The newspapers who keep blaming green levies for rising energy bills are misleading their readers.
I want to be very clear on this. Because of Labour's 13 years of inaction on energy policy, energy prices will inevitably rise over the next decade as we are forced to replace old generating plants.
But, by combining measures to drive new investment in clean energy plants with measures designed to improve energy efficiency, overall bills will rise by less than they would have done if we had continued with business as usual.
In addition, in the long term energy and fuel bills will be lower, that's right lower, because investment in renewable energy and new nuclear plants will protect the UK from volatility in the global oil and gas markets.
People will end up with more money in their pocket as a result of our commitment to the green economy.
The Green Deal energy efficiency scheme is not an invasive means that violates the sacred principle that a man or woman's home is their castle. It is a simple and effective way of improving our castles, making them warmer and more valuable at the same time as saving hard working families money.
Green technologies such as solar panels, ground source heat pumps, and hybrid cars are not gimmicks, they are a means of reducing energy and fuel bills, as well as environmental impacts.
Ultimately this is the most exciting aspect of the green economy: the way it can impact people's lives and pockets for the better.
These new green companies and technologies are not simply creating growth for growth's sake. They are delivering improvements that could make all our lives healthier, less stressful, and more fulfilling.
We know instinctively that a good environment helps make for a good society, and vice versa.
We rightly get angry when we see litter on our streets or pollution in our waterways. We are more likely to feel pride in our community and connections with our neighbours if we live in an area where the environment is respected and maintained.
The green economy is not just an industrial revolution. It promises to be a community revolution too.
A true green economy will put electric and hydrogen cars on our streets, removing air pollution from our city centres, saving tens of thousands of lives a year, and allowing motorists to sidestep the problem presented by rising fuel prices.
It will provide affordable, clean and efficient public transport for all, curbing congestion and reducing commute times.
It will deliver flexible working and video conferencing options that will allow people to spend more time with their families without reducing their productivity.
It will provide more resource efficient goods that last longer and need replacing less often.
It will bring an end to fuel poverty, creating warmer and cosier homes that are highly efficient and even generate their own energy.
It will encourage people to share resources, such as lawn mowers, ladders, even perhaps cars.
It will tie communities together in pursuit of more likable and low carbon environments. It will be the Big Society in action.
All of which begs the question how do we make this happen? How do we realise these green opportunities in a way that minimises the green risks we face?
The first point is to remember that these changes are already happening.
Technologies such as solar panels and electric cars are being normalised at a rapid rate. In 10 years' time, it will be as difficult to remember what life was like before onsite renewables and zero emission cars as it now is to remember life before smart phones and multi-channel TV.
But how do we accelerate the transition?
The opposition, as always, would argue we need to more big government action to accelerate the transition. More stimulus, more subsidy, and hang the expense.
But this approach would be short sighted at a time when the public finances were healthy, let alone at a time when we have only just begun to repair the damage done by years of Labour profligacy.
There is a crucial role for government to play in accelerating the development of the low carbon economy, but it involves a far more nuanced approach than the blunt instrument of public grants.
Our approach is far more intelligent, we will provide a stable policy framework to drive clean tech investment and correct the market failures presented by pollution, harnessing the ingenuity and innovation of businesses to drive green growth.
That is why we are preparing to launch the Green Deal and are reforming the electricity market to drive investment and introduce more competition.
That is why we will use the Green Investment Bank and our carbon capture and storage funding to leverage private sector finance.
And that is why I am announcing today that from next year large listed companies will be required to publicly report on their carbon emissions, providing investors and other stakeholders with the information they need to make environmentally informed decisions.
Because ultimately it will be the business community that will determine whether the green industrial revolution proves successful.
As both the developer of clean technologies and business models, and the test bed for those self same technologies and business models, the private sector is the only force powerful enough to overcome the environmental challenges we face.
The green economy has a friend in this government and we will do everything in our power to make sure its full potential is realised.
I am committed that in the 21st Century, the UK will deliver an industrial revolution in clean technology to match the first industrial revolution that Britain gave the world in the 19th Century.
And, just as with the first industrial revolution, this clean revolution will again be a gift to the whole world - providing a template that others can follow.
A template that will show how green growth is not a nice to have, but the only route to long term recovery available to us all.
A template that will deliver economies that are cleaner, cooler, and just plain better than the tired old models they will inevitably replace.
A template we can all believe in.
ABOUT JAMES' BLOG
Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray