22 May 2015, 00:05
Calum John Murray was born just after 5am on 19 March 2015, arriving with considerably more drama than either his mother or I had envisaged. Suffice to say, one of the sounds you least want to overhear in the seconds after your son is born are the words "do we need to take him to crash?" The sound you most want to hear, the happiest sound of our lives, came a few minutes later: a baby crying.
I've argued in the past the default position for writing about the environment – indeed the default condition for anyone who regards themselves as an environmentalist – is a state of perpetual cognitive dissonance. A dialectical tension between the optimism inherent in the natural world and our successful efforts to protect it, and the pessimism fuelled by the awareness environmental degradation is outpacing our efforts to create a sustainable economy. I never realised until those first five minutes how these contrasting extremes are redolent of parenthood. The all-consuming joy that comes with holding your child in your arms is coupled with the fear people rarely speak of, and must strive to stop becoming all-consuming: the fear that this little life is so fragile. For many environmentalists these tensions are interconnected, the hopes and fears for their own offspring inevitably shaped by hopes and fears for the entire next generation.
This all sounds a bit downbeat, but it shouldn't. Calum is without doubt the most perfect little person who ever existed, and anyone who wishes to argue the point is obviously wrong. It is part of human nature that the hopes tend to win out over the doubts. Call it optimism bias, call it the human spirit, the joy beats the fear much more often than not.
However, the challenge facing all of us – the realisation of the currently rather battered-looking promise the next generation will have it better than the last – is dependent on us resolving this conflict between environmental, economic, and societal optimism and pessimism in favour of the creation of a better, cleaner, and sustainable world. Can we honestly say at this point we are delivering against this challenge? That we are doing everything we can to protect and empower our children and their generation?
I promised myself I wouldn't write this piece. The inevitable "look, I've become a dad" article is situated near the very zenith of journalistic self-absorption, up there with the inevitable "here's what I learned about dating", and "let me tell you about my diet/exercise regime".
Buzzfeed's Tom Chivers has written some wonderful articles on becoming a new father and several years ago George Monbiot wrote a characteristically heartfelt open letter to his new daughter. But the list of "new dad" articles that don't immediately succumb to audience-alienating navel gazing is not long (perhaps because one of the concerns of new parents I have noticed in the past few weeks is actually gazing at their child's navel).
On top of that, I've always been allergic to "the children are our future" school of environmental communication, on the grounds it detracts from the hugely compelling short and medium-term reasons for embracing clean technologies and behaviours. Reasons such as energy cost savings or health improvements, which don't require people to make the leap of envisaging the ultimately unknowable experience of people in 2080.
However, they say write about what you know, and right now, amid the nappies and the broken nights, this is what I know.
Calum is born to one of the most important generations in human history. This is not hyperbole. It is his and his peers' destiny to join the first homo sapiens, the first hunter-gatherer tribes, the first agricultural communities, and the first industrialists as one of the few defining cohorts in the entire sweep of human history. His generation will either successfully deliver a global wave of green industrial transformation or be forced to battle the horrifying implications of what it means to live in a world facing climate breakdown.
As Al Gore's investment partner David Blood observed this week, "the transition to a low-carbon economy will be the most significant change in economic history". He is not wrong. Nothing like this has been attempted in the past and almost everything depends on the outcome of the transition.
Currently, we remain wilfully blind to the looming deadlines we face. We are closer in history to the point at which the UK's power industry should be almost fully decarbonised than we are to Tony Blair's first election victory. By the time Calum leaves school, electric cars should be the norm, homes should be largely powered and heated using clean energy, and global deforestation should have halted. Similarly, we are closer to the point at which greenhouse gas emissions should be cut by 80 per cent and global emissions should be halved, than we are to the first election victories of Thatcher and Reagan. By the time Calum is my age, he should be living in a near fully decarbonised society.
Consider this: Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones have been touring for longer than we have to deliver a near zero-emission global economy. On that basis, Justin Bieber and Olly Murs could one day be touring in a decarbonised world, which would be kind of bittersweet.
However, if on one side of this equation we have a handful of decades to deliver one of the most exciting and rewarding transformations in the history of civilisation, on the other side we have the daunting realisation that failure to do so means my son and his coevals will discover first-hand if scientific warnings of what it will be like to live in a 4°C world are accurate.
If Calum is lucky enough to match the lifespan of his great-grandparents, he will see the 22nd century. Having been held in the arms of a great-grandmother who knew and loved people who experienced the 19th century, he could well know and love people who will see the 23rd century. All being well, he will see first-hand whether humanity prospers or struggles in the Anthropocene.
If I share one thing in common with climate sceptics, it is a deeply held hope the current climate models are badly wrong, that the climate is not as sensitive as we think to sharp increases in greenhouse gas emissions and we will ultimately see only modest warming this century. The problem is, the evidence self-styled 'lukewarmers' cite to support their position is frequently less than compelling and too often ignores basic principles of responsible risk management – namely, that if the stakes are this high, you err on the side of caution. As the peerless US climate blogger Dave Roberts argued in a controversial but essential article, the best available evidence suggests "barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit".
Efforts to tackle this looming crisis, to deliver the transition to a new zero-emission world that is so critical to our medium-term security, are hamstrung by a collective omerta that ensures the national conversation rarely, if ever, touches on the true scale of the risk and opportunity our society faces. Writing as someone who has spent much of the past 10 years trying to break this omerta, the selective blindness of so many political and business leaders to the challenges my son's generation faces is a pretty damning indictment of my professional failure.
Why are we failing to engage fully with the most exciting and terrifying issue of our epoch? Our tendency to assume the world as it is now is the world as it will continue to be – status quo bias, as Roberts calls it – must provide a big part of the answer.
I attended a meeting recently where plans from a leading brand to deliver cutting-edge clean technologies to an entire city borough were being discussed. One of the people around the table wondered whether it would be possible, given it would mean installing new technology in every single building, totalling tens of thousands of individual homes. "That," I said, perhaps a little too sharply, "is precisely what it means". We need to change almost everything and at a pace that has never been achieved before. The fact so many people, including many who regard themselves as environmentalists or green professionals, fail to comprehend the true scale of what is happening is one of the biggest challenges the green movement faces.
This selective blindness, this failure to follow climate change warnings and clean tech development curves to their logical conclusion, is everywhere. On our second evening at home after leaving hospital my wife and I spent a couple of hours watching our son stare into space, as the first leaders' TV debate of the election campaign played in the background. Towards the end of that seemingly interminable broadcast my attention was piqued by a question from one of the younger members of the audience on intergenerational justice. I can't remember the precise wording, but they enquired as to how our prospective leaders would restore the promise they would enjoy happier and more prosperous lives than their parents. For me, the responses were perhaps the most depressing component of a singularly miserable campaign and all the evidence you need of the strange death of political oratory in this country.
Each of the candidates mumbled something about house building or tuition fees or the deficit, while only the Greens' Natalie Bennett saw fit to give climate change and the green economy a passing mention. Where was the recognition of what is happening to our climate and economy and what needs to happen next? Where was the optimism politicians are supposed to trade in, the sense that a better and sustainable society is possible?
What we needed to hear, what my son, gently drifting off to sleep, needed to hear was this: "It may not be fashionable to say so, but in many respects your generation is blessed. You have access to the world's libraries in the palm of your hands, you will live longer and safer lives than any of your forebears, you will have freedom to pursue your dreams and loves that was too often denied your ancestors, the 'white heat' of technology will transform your lives in ways we cannot yet imagine. But it is also true your parents and their parents have failed you. We have lived beyond our means, both in narrow financial and wider environmental terms. The opportunities that are yours are tempered, and could be smashed, by the enormous environmental crisis we have bequeathed you. It is now up to us, as your parents and guardians, to work with you to overcome those challenges, to embrace the new technologies and businesses that will build a new economy – a zero-emission economy driven by clean energy and green transport and a digital revolution which together can ensure your generation's prospects are far, far more promising than they look right now."
Can we deliver that society? And more importantly, can we deliver it fast enough?
Perhaps not. As Roberts argues, to stand a reasonable chance of limiting temperature increases to 2°C we need a transformation so rapid and all-encompassing it borders on the miraculous. But, as he also argues, economic and technological development is not linear. Miracles, or at least near-miracles, happen. Moreover, if we can't keep temperature increases below 2°C, 3°C is much better than 4°C. The fight goes on.
Yet, if we are to succeed in this fight, one thing is clear: we need to recognise the truly historic nature of what we are trying to achieve and the scale of the transformation that is even now being quietly, and often successfully, pursued. It was more than five years ago investment in new clean energy capacity started to outstrip investment in new fossil fuel power. It was last year, if the IEA preliminary data is to be believed, that global emissions growth detached from economic growth. There are signs that the revolution that will define the economy my son grows up in is well under way. But the under-reporting that dogs this transformation and the counter-productive clinging to outdated and unsustainable models that slows it down need to be smashed. As humans we create the future we imagine, but we have to have the nerve to imagine it first. Only by doing so can we stand any chance of avoiding the "awful shit" many scientists fear this century holds in store.
Can we do it? When my wife and I went into hospital it was still winter; by the time we left with our newborn son, there was blossom on the trees and young squirrels and birds had appeared in the garden. In the weeks after Calum was born a billionaire entrepreneur in California unveiled a battery that could make zero-carbon off-grid homes a reality and world leaders declared once again they will deliver unprecedented international co-operation to tackle climate change. Meanwhile, my son has already taken to looking out the window at the bright green trees in the park opposite and carefully considering the light as the sun rises and sets. The joy beats the fear much more often than not.
15 May 2015, 16:41
Where is the political centre ground? If one question can sum up the miles of column inches and lost hours of political soul-searching that have defined the week since David Cameron's shock election victory this is it. And if much of this analysis is to be believed the answer lies in the endless pursuit of the right combination of the words aspiration, hard-working families, and 'John Lewis couple' - a pursuit so lacking in real insight that the one true aspiration of all hard-working families and John Lewis shoppers is fast becoming the impossible dream of not being condescended to by the political class.
However, if the past week has taught us nothing it is that once a narrative has been set running it can shape the political landscape for decades. So, if we have to have a debate about the truism that political parties can only win from the centre ground (without anyone adequately defining that term) it is important that green businesses and environmentalists offer a vocal reminder that the centre ground is their true natural habitat.
For too long environmental issues have been subjected to the lazy caricature that they are inherently left-wing. You know the sort of thing, the absurd belief that only socialists care about clean air and water, which used to be the preserve of the wilder fringes of libertarian blogosphere but is now standard fare for the Telegraph and Times comment pages. This trope has long been a source of amusement among mainstream environmentalists, not least because it implies the chief executives of some of the world's most successful companies are traitors to capitalism because of their commitment to tackling environmental challenges. But with a centre right government in power for the next five years, the perception the green economy is the sole preserve of the left is anything but a joke. In fact, it could soon represent a serious threat to the UK's clean tech competitiveness and climate security.
David Cameron's decision to appoint some impressive modernising centrist voices to key green ministerial roles may have represented a reassuring first move from the government. But there is little doubt there are right wing politicians and commentators who will make hampering the development of the green economy and propping up fossil fuel interests one of their top priorities for the next five years. A media storm is coming for green businesses, which may stop just short of full blown climate scepticism, but will do everything in its considerable power to present green policies as unnecessary, costly, and, yes, left wing.
Consequently, it is critical green businesses get their defence in early and assert once again that both the green economy and environmental issues such as climate change do not fit neatly onto this increasingly bankrupt left-right spectrum.
There are no doubt people who can argue that because it is a shared experience our environment is inherently left wing, but these are the same people who think buses are Stalinist and as such can be safely ignored. The reality is that if protection of our shared environmental resources is a left wing shibboleth, conservation of environmental resources that must be handed down through the generations is a central tent of conservatism. If business is a solely right wing construct (and it is not) and green issues are a solely left wing construct (and they are not), then where do green businesses sit if not in the centre?
Meanwhile, at the practical policy level if green regulations and government investment are part of a supposedly left wing response to environmental risk, green tax breaks and the world's clean tech entrepreneurs and corporate R&D labs are supposedly right wing concepts. The nexus of technology, science, risk, governance, investment, and behaviour that represents climate change and our response to it is far too important to be confined to one political tradition. In so much as they are fundamentally about where we live, how we live, and the challenges and opportunities we face these issues are right at the very heart of the centre ground.
And they are also about aspiration. The biggest failure of the environmental movement over pretty much its entire history is the manner in which it has allowed itself to be characterised as being anti-progress, and at its worst anti-human, when it is actually a deeply progressive movement (in the non-political sense) focused on enabling happier, safer, and more fulfilling communities.
The green economy can and should play a key role in the aspiration agenda that politicians of all stripes are now seeking to embrace. After all, if the clichéd short-hand for middle class aspiration is one of new cars, home improvement programmes, and a good and rewarding job, then clean technologies and green industries have something compelling and attractive to offer on each of these fronts. The manner in which green products are already characterised as being the preserve of a certain kind of middle class family - John Lewis shoppers, if you will - only underlines how the sector is already shaping this admittedly narrow understanding of aspirational consumption. The green economy can help meet material aspirations even before you consider people also aspire for clean air and beautiful natural environments in which to raise their families.
There are plenty of green technologies and policies that a truly centrist political project, be it from a government that lives up to Cameron's One Nation promise or a revitalised Labour opposition, could embrace (community energy, solar schools, a revamped Green Deal, electric vehicles, Green ISAs, are just a few that spring to mind). Meanwhile, as George Marshall has pointed out in a series of recent articles, there are also plenty of issues that highlight how the green economy and action on climate change extends far beyond the left to marry with a host of traditionally right wing concerns, including conservation, intergenerational justice, security, and national pride.
All of this is so obvious that it shouldn't really need saying, but it is also much easier said than done. Marshall's critique of an environmental movement that is too comfortable in a left wing enclave has plenty to recommend it, but for me it slightly underplays the extent to which some green figures have been trying for years to engage with right wing commentators and arguments in a bid to highlight areas of shared concern and interest. Too often these well-meaning efforts have been welcomed by a level of ideological obstinacy that is at least the equivalent of the left's, and which in its worst cases is coupled with a reckless disregard for credible scientific warnings and a reluctance to engage fully with the evidence base that gives modern clean technologies their credibility.
However, there is nothing to be gained in retreating from this hostility and allowing the erroneous idea that the right has little to do with environmental issues to become entrenched. After all, the political centre ground is there for the green economy to command, not least because that is where it has always sat.
11 May 2015, 12:09
The sigh of relief from across the green business community was almost audible. With the bizarre and ultimately doomed appointment of climate sceptic Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary casting a long-shadow there was genuine concern David Cameron could use his unexpected majority to push action on climate change down the agenda with the appointment of a Secretary of State disinclined to take decarbonisation seriously. It is not as if he didn't have plenty of ambitious ministers with minimal interest in climate change and hostility towards clean technologies to choose from.
With one Tweet those fears, not to mention concerns the whole Department of Energy and Climate Change could be for the chop, were quelled. The appointment of Amber Rudd as the Energy and Climate Change Secretary is not simply just reward for an able and collegiate politician who has just increased her majority in a marginal seat, it is also great news for the green economy.
Rudd has repeatedly put herself on record as warning that it is vital to take action on climate change, because of the "devastating impact it could have nationally and internationally" - a braver and more principled position than it should be for an ambitious Conservative politician given the manner in which this analysis is loudly rejected by some of her own colleagues.
More importantly, she has a coherent sense of how environmental protection and climate action fits into modern Conservatism having previously identified herself as a "Thatcherite when it comes to climate change", fond of quoting the Iron Lady's famous assertion that "The core of Tory philosophy and for the case for protecting the environment are the same: No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy-with a full repairing lease".
As a former banker, city headhunter, and financial journalist she also understands instinctively that it is business and innovation that represents the last best hope of delivering steep cuts in global carbon emissions.
Perhaps most importantly for green businesses, energy utilities and investors, Rudd has experience at DECC and a mandate to broadly continue with the current low carbon policy regime.
Both the FT and Telegraph have already run articles arguing current policies are failing and calling for a fundamental overhaul of UK energy policy that dilutes the current focus on decarbonisation. Climate sceptic backbenchers will lap up this analysis and use it to demand a wider re-think. However, Tory sources this morning indicated the green economy should not worry too much about this analysis given the leadership's commitment to long term emissions reductions remains solid. Rudd's appointment underlines that commitment and means Cameron has passed the first test of whether he will stand by his pre-election commitment to continue to drive the decarbonisation of the British economy. Significant changes to the previous government's electricity market reform programme and energy efficiency strategy would now come as a major surprise.
It is important to remember Rudd's appointment is anything but a sinecure and her commitment to tackling climate change is no guarantee this government will do so effectively. She faces numerous daunting challenges, several of which are made harder by a manifesto that lacked sufficient ambition on environmental issues and paints the Conservatives into a contradictory corner where they hymn the virtues of low cost decarbonisation while blocking low cost onshore wind farms and offering little in the way of new thinking on low cost energy efficiency measures.
The Paris Summit is just the most high profile of a series of early tests, which also include the finalisation of long-running nuclear negotiations with EDF, the need to jump start the UK's carbon capture programme, and imminent spending cuts at DECC. Crucial negotiations with the Treasury and Number 10 on the next wave of emissions targets and clean energy funding also present a major challenge, as does selling fracking to an increasingly suspicious public. Rudd's previous role as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor may result in more collegiate relations with the Treasury than DECC has experienced over the past five years, although it may also fuel fears the Treasury brake on green economic progress will become even more pronounced.
All these challenges will need to be overcome while coping with the impact an EU referendum will have on investor confidence and battling with a constant drumbeat of opposition to green policies from parts of the press and some of Rudd's own colleagues.
However, these valid concerns are for another day. For now green business leaders will welcome the fact that the new Secretary of State is as committed to tackling the threat presented by climate change as they are. Just as they will welcome the fact the Prime Minister wants an Energy and Climate Change Secretary who takes both topics seriously. The green business community and the Conservative leadership won't always agree on how best to slash emissions, bolster UK climate security and enhance clean tech competitiveness, but Rudd's appointment makes it clear the goal remains a shared one.
Those sighs of relief across the green economy have just turned to cheers with the news Eric Pickles has been replaced as Communities Secretary by Greg Clark, bringing an end to a period in which Pickles sought to undermine pretty much every environmental policy he had a hand in. In contrast, Clark has won plenty of plaudits from green groups in the past and is well regarded for his rational, evidence-based approach to policy-making. Add in confirmation Liz Truss is continuing at Defra and the climate sceptic wing of the party has been well and truly locked out of the main environmental briefs.
As former Climate Change Minister Greg Barker wrote on Twitter this afternoon it is "shaping up to be a v progressive, pro green agenda reshuffle".
For those green business still smarting at the imminent halt to the UK's onshore wind farm industry and the Tory manifesto's limited ambition on energy efficiency the fact these policies will be enacted by Ministers who understand the urgency of the climate crisis may prove cold comfort. But there is little doubt Cameron has today exceeded the green communities' expectations with a reshuffle that puts the party's modernisers in charge of the UK's environmental policy framework.
08 May 2015, 14:41
People will be forgiven for thinking the post of Energy and Climate Change Secretary is cursed. Ed Davey was today one of the most high profile victims in the brutal Lib Dem cull; his predecessor Chris Huhne was forced to fall on his sword and make his way directly to jail; his predecessor, Ed Miliband, has just seen his dreams of Number 10 go down in the most unexpected of flames.
It will be of little comfort to either Ed Davey or Ed Miliband as they reflect today on political careers gone awry, but they did the green economy a significant service over the past five years.
Davey, who less than 24 hours ago may have harboured realistic ambitions of being the next Lib Dem leader, can look back on a record of considerable achievement at DECC. There were inevitable missteps and it remains to be seen how effective the electricity market reform programme ultimately proves, but it cannot be denied Davey helped deliver a trebling in renewable energy capacity, continued improvement in the UK's energy efficiency, and put the Green Investment Bank on a stable footing. Scare stories about blackouts also proved wide of the mark and after a woeful start the Green Deal is finally showing some signs of life.
Most importantly, in his fierce battles with George Osborne's Treasury Davey locked in the decarbonisation path for the rest of the decade and beyond by helping to secure a strong fourth carbon budget and over £7bn of funding for clean energy through to 2020. Davey was also scientifically literate enough to know none of this was enough when set against the scale of the climate challenge and even indicated that he understood the tension between cutting emissions and maximising fossil fuel production - a realisation that is all too rare among politicians. Moreover, like his Tory colleague Greg Barker, he achieved all this while remaining that rarest of things: a frontline politician who very few people have a bad word to say about.
Miliband's gift to the green economy is perhaps less clear cut, but no less significant. He laid the policy foundations for much of the decarbonisation that is now underway during his own stint at DECC and brought a genuine commitment to climate action and the green economy to the Labour leadership, even if he did not talk about it enough in public.
One of the upsides of the environment not featuring heavily in the election campaigns means that as the Lib Dems and Labour rake over the wreckage it is highly unlikely the green aspects of either parties' pitch to the country will cop much of the blame. In fact, I'd expect quite the opposite conclusion to be drawn. In a thoughtful blog post on Labour's disastrous showing, Labour List's Mark Ferguson argues the party's campaigning has become too narrowly focused on the NHS and inequality and needs to take steps to better represent working people. It is a similar analysis to that of the Blue Labour grouping and demonstrates there is a clear opportunity for the old party of heavy industry to harness the job-creating potential of modern, green industry as a core campaign message.
Miliband started this thinking, but never went far enough; it is critical his successor, whoever it may be, builds on it. The green economy and the promise it brings is one part of the Miliband agenda that needs to be strengthened, not ditched. This is not a New Labour or Old Labour issue, it is a highly popular part of the economy that promises good, well-paid jobs through innovation and investment. It should be a crucial part of a centrist Labour pitch to the whole country.
Labour, the few remaining Lib Dems, the SNP and the other opposition parties also need to recognise they now have a crucial role to play in ensuring the green economy builds on the success it has enjoyed in recent years under Davey.
In a gracious acceptance speech, David Cameron vowed to serve as a One Nation prime minister while delivering on the Conservative manifesto, a manifesto that includes the retention of the Climate Change Act but is light on the detail of how to ensure its long term carbon targets are met. The Prime Minister will need all the help he can get to push a credible green economic programme past climate reckless backbenchers and pollutocrat donors who will already be preparing to try and seize the whip hand over Number 10.
It might seem strange to call for cross-party co-operation following the election of a majority government following the most bruising campaign in living memory, but that is precisely what the green economy might yet need, particularly if the mixture of devolved powers to Scotland and Tory backbench hostility to environmental policies combines to create a two-speed green economy in the UK.
Davey, Miliband, and the green Tories they worked with over the past five years, including David Cameron, have helped put the green economy on a stronger footing than many people realise. When the dust settles, their respective parties may need to work together once again to ensure their good work does not go to waste. After all, that is what One Nation politics, be it from the left or right, is all about.
08 May 2015, 10:23
Something truly historic and genuinely shocking has happened in the past few days. That's right, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed the monthly global concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million for the first time in human history.
Meanwhile, on a small archipelago off the coast of Europe, David Cameron pulled off the biggest political shock in a generation and is now odds-on to deliver the first Tory majority government since that last electoral surprise in 1992, albeit with a wafer thin majority that may eventually see him long for the parliamentary stability of the Major years.
For all the immense challenges Cameron now faces - delivering his promised EU renegotiation and referendum, holding the union together when it is pulling apart at the seams, identifying the unfunded spending and tax cuts he promised, navigating ever louder (and entirely justified) calls for electoral and constitutional reform - it is the response to the ongoing global climate crisis that will one day be seen to define his generation of world leaders.
There are plenty of climate scientists who reckon by the end of this parliament global greenhouse gas emissions need to be peaking in readiness for a vertiginous decline.
Cameron knows this and in those quieter moments when he is allowed to present himself as the One Nation Tory Moderniser he instinctively remains - and this morning promised to become once again - he is committed to playing his role in delivering the global green industrial revolution. But green businesses and campaigners will this morning look at the result and wonder how many of those quieter moments he will be granted over the next five years. Cameron's commitment to the Climate Change Act may be solid, but his commitment to the policies required to deliver on it has already been shown to be flaky.
Does he have the nerve, the authority and the political nous to face down climate sceptic backbenchers whose votes could be crucial? That is one of the many unanswered questions of this election for green businesses.
But first, the good news. Even if GDP is not, in the words of Boris Johnson, going gangbusters, there are signs the green economy is. Renewable energy capacity trebled over the past five years and is on track to hit a 20 per cent share by 2020. The electric car market is booming and a host of low carbon infrastructure projects, from new nuclear reactors, to CCS demonstration projects and giant offshore wind farms are in the pipeline.
The Conservatives remain committed to expanding the ultra-low emission vehicle fleet, rolling out rail electrification programmes, delivering smart meters to every building, and enhancing biodiversity protection rules, especially for marine habitats. The Tory manifesto may not have been as overtly green as the Lib Dems or Labour's, but it is not without its strengths. Moreover, the bulk of the energy industry is celebrating this morning (and share prices are jumping) as the prospect of a potentially investment-disrupting energy price 'freeze' is buried with Ed Miliband's political career.
However, if businesses can see investment and policy certainty on a number of fronts, it is tempered by chronic uncertainty on a host of other important issues.
Whoever takes up the reins at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (assuming of course it is not merged back into another department in pursuit of George Osborne's steep Whitehall spending cuts) faces one of the most daunting in-boxes in Westminster.
Within the next 18 months they need to finalise a new carbon budget for the late 2020s, secure a new Levy Control Framework for supporting clean energy projects beyond 2020, tackle the ongoing problems with UK energy efficiency policies and the scandal that is fuel poverty, sort out the future of the Renewable Heat Incentive, clarify the detail of the Tory 'halt' to onshore wind farms, address fracking protests and planning objections, support the reform of the EU emissions trading scheme, ink the long-awaited deal with EDF to deliver a new nuclear power plant, dish out the similarly long-awaited £1bn of CCS demonstration funding, execute a smart meter rollout that has many informed observers worried, weigh in on debates about the UK's illegal air pollution, potential airport expansion, and resource insecurity, and represent the UK at an international summit that plenty of people regard as the most important in the history of human civilisation. No pressure, then.
Each of these policy debates could yet be resolved in favour of a more environmentally sustainable, climate resilient, and technologically competitive economy. But there is little doubt the battle will be intense and there are legitimate fears that if the right wing media continues to position action on climate change as an unjustified cost a Conservative government will throw green policies to the fossil fuel addicted wolves. Will the party focus on a competent programme of cost-effective decarbonisation or a chaotic programme of contradictory policies and climate politicking?
These hard policy choices will be further complicated by three over-arching realities that promise to repeatedly dilute Cameron's best intentions towards the green economy and further undermine investment certainty: Europe, austerity, and the Tory backbenches.
The first two years of the parliament will be dominated by the build-up to an EU referendum and, if the Scottish referendum is anything to go by, the following two years will be dominated by the fallout. Emissions targets, air pollution rules, waste and recycling directives, biodiversity and habitat protections, all face an ambiguous future. The likelihood is the UK will stay in the EU or leave and be forced to keep many of these rules through a trade agreement, but for now uncertainty rules.
Meanwhile, cuts to unprotected departments mean DECC, Defra and related departments such as Transport, Business, and Communities will all face extremely tough decisions over what green initiatives remain and which will be cut. They will all be wary of the backlash that results when cuts to something like flood protection are shown to be ill-conceived.
Finally, every green policy or programme the Conservative government pursues will face vocal opposition from those on its own benches who cling to the idea that anything to do with climate change is a Commie plot. Add in the fact that if Cameron does need additional votes his first port of call is likely to be the DUP and party management becomes as crucial to the Tory green vision as the formation of that vision in the first place. Will the Lib Dems and Labour be responsible enough to work with the Conservative leadership on some of these issues to sideline the few climate sceptic voices in parliament or will they be granted influence that is in complete disproportion to their numbers?
What, if anything, can green businesses do to navigate this uncertainty and deliver the policy victories that will help the low carbon economy build on its recent successes?
As always, more needs to be done to demonstrate that clear majorities of the public support clean technologies and are in favour of decarbonisation. Yesterday may have proven once again that you can form a government with the support of barely a third of voters, but a true One Nation Conservative Party has an obligation to represent the country as a whole on these issues.
Similarly, green businesses need to recognise policy is only part of the story and not get too disheartened if some green policies are shelved. It is a scandal the Conservatives will now scupper a popular, successful and cost-effective industry in the form of the onshore wind energy sector. But the march of clean technologies is a global trend whereby costs are falling and green products are becoming normalised all the time. Divestment, community energy, smart grids, solar cells, these are trends and technologies that continue to go from strength to strength, regardless of the political weather.
Finally, those Conservatives tasked with presenting the party's green policies in recent months have repeatedly declared that their focus is on cost-effective decarbonisation. Green businesses need to take this at face value, reach out to those remaining green Tories (they may seem as rare as a happy badger this morning, but they do exist) and demonstrate how decarbonisation is already being delivered in a cost-effective manner and will only become more cost competitive in a way fossil fuels will not. They could start by pointing out how the Conservatives are missing a trick in failing to take action on energy efficiency much more seriously. The Tory manifesto says they will improve one million homes over the next five years; Labour claimed to have a plan to upgrade 2.5 million homes at negligible extra cost - regardless of the final result, it is worthy of consideration.
Most of all though, green businesses and campaigners need to cling to the hope that the David Cameron who once declared that climate change is one of the most serious challenges the UK faces, who once declared he wanted the UK to be the most energy efficient economy in Europe, who once declared he would lead the greenest government ever, has it in him to tackle the climate challenge that will one day define the history books of this most unpredictable of political eras.
ABOUT JAMES' BLOG
Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray