09 Dec 2014, 00:05
For much of the past four years I have been part of that vanishingly small group of environmental commentators who think the government has not got the credit it deserves for its green efforts. Yes, numerous mistakes have been made, and yes, the government's low carbon policies have rarely been commensurate with the scale of the climate crisis; but on balance I'd argue the coalition has just about honoured David Cameron's pledge to lead the greenest government ever.
The extent to which this is a minority viewpoint was hammered home last week when I chaired the Environmental Industries Commission's Annual Conference. Charles Perry of green consultancy Anthesis Group asked how many people in the room would score the government more than five out of 10 against its stated goal of becoming the "greenest ever". Around 180 green executives sat on their hands - as I raised mine. I gave the government 5.5 out of 10.
The argument, which is not quite as incredible as many environmental campaigners would have you believe, goes something like this: any government of a modern industrial nation in 2014 is by default likely to be the greenest ever, as international climate change commitments, the drastic fall in the cost of clean technologies, and public and scientific pressure to take climate change seriously force ministers to deliver green policies that are ambitious by historic standards. Consequently, the passage of an Energy Act designed to deliver a surge in clean energy investment, the formation of the Green Investment Bank, the launch of an albeit flawed energy efficiency financing scheme, the introduction of the Carbon Reduction Commitment tax, the retention of the fourth carbon budget, and, most importantly, the compliance with the current carbon budget, the record levels of renewables investment and the continued growth of the green economy mean it is possible to argue this government is the greenest ever. It has been consistently greener than Gordon Brown with his Climate Change Act, Margaret Thatcher with her warnings about climate change, or even Clement Attlee and Anthony Eden with their National Parks and Clean Air Acts.
This government has failed to adequately address many environmental challenges and risks leaving the UK lagging far behind the US, Germany, and China in the global clean tech race, but it has also laid some of the foundations necessary for the next phase of decarbonisation.
However, this rose-tinted assessment took an almighty battering this weekend with the publication of Green Alliance's latest analysis of the Treasury's infrastructure pipeline. It showed for the first time since these figures were released in 2012 investment in fossil fuel infrastructure will outstrip clean energy spending this year. For anyone who cares about clean energy (which according to separate government polls constitutes about two thirds of the population), the data makes for depressing reading: the share of expected infrastructure spending on fossil fuel energy this year has increased from the eight per cent that was originally expected to 61 per cent; spending on low carbon energy has been revised down from £24.9bn to £9.8bn; projected spending on renewables for the period from 2015 to 2020 has been revised down by £9.3bn; projected spending on roads for the same period has soared from £1.6bn to £32.7bn, pushing the share of transport spending on roads and airports up from eight per cent to 36 per cent.
As Green Alliance's Matthew Spencer observed yesterday, "a series of short term decisions is unpicking long term plans to modernise our economy". "We find ourselves with an National Infrastructure Plan seriously at odds with our national interest, one that could reverse the modernisation of our economy," he added.
There are still some silver linings to this grey cloud of noxious pollution. The figures suggest that as the government's electricity market reform programme starts to take effect low carbon infrastructure spending will once again start to dominate the pipeline throughout the second half of the decade. Meanwhile, our continued adherence to EU and domestic emissions targets mean clean technology will become ever more dominant through the 2020s. It is also important to remember climate change and decarbonisation are not parochial issues, the harm done to low carbon investment by the changing nature of the UK's infrastructure pipeline is massively outweighed by the benefits arising from Germany's new green strategy and the US-China climate pact, not to mention the growing confidence a global climate agreement could be finalised next year.
However, the drastic recovery in high carbon infrastructure spending orchestrated by the government provides a timely reminder that simply setting carbon budgets does not magically mean they will be met. Instead, faced with the chronic and yet under-reported failure of his growth and deficit reduction plans, Chancellor George Osborne released the high carbon spending tap and through North Sea tax breaks and road building turned a carefully calibrated infrastructure plan that was designed to be compatible with the UK's long term climate change goals into a polluters' bonanza. He didn't have to tear up the Climate Change Act or the government's clean energy plans, and nor would he have wanted to, but a handful of relatively minor infrastructure and tax decisions risk having much the same result.
It is at this point that most environmentalists lay the blame for this reversion to 1980s infrastructure policies solely at the door of Osborne's Treasury, but sadly it is not as simple as boot out the Chancellor and his fracking obsession and watch the infrastructure pipeline revert to the shiny green state of 2012.
Firstly, the fossil fuel investments the government has enabled this year and is planning for the next five years lock in infrastructure that will make it ever harder to decarbonise through the 2020s. Once roads are built, they will be used. Once North Sea oil and gas fields and fracking wells are opened up, the fossil fuels they produce will be burnt.
Secondly, the coalition's quiet U-turn on the content of the infrastructure pipeline is as much the result of structural decision-making in Whitehall as political choices at Conservative HQ.
The most vocal cheerleader for North Sea oil and gas tax breaks in the past year has been not Osborne, but his supposedly green Lib Dem colleague Danny Alexander, who now fully deserves his share of the blame for failing to impose the junior coalition party's green ethos on the UK's infrastructure priorities. For all Labour's increasingly encouraging commitment to decarbonisation and Ed Miliband's prioritising of climate action, does anyone seriously think Ed Balls would not have dusted off the road-building and North Sea tax breaks himself? A Labour government may well create a more encouraging investment climate for renewables and tighten shale gas regulations, but there are few signs Balls would revoke Osborne's oil and gas tax breaks, shelve his new roads, or be any less conflicted about new runways?
The blow to green infrastructure detailed by Green Alliance is as much a function of the political class' default position of reverting to the infrastructure of the 20th century when times are tough as it is a function of Osborne's particular enthusiasm for pollutocrats.
The key question, as always, is what can be done to get the UK's infrastructure plans back on track? The current strategy is not yet catastrophic, but to adopt the Prime Minister's recent turn of phrase, the lights are flashing on the dashboard for the UK's green economy.
The answer is that those modern businesses who want to drive the development of a low carbon economy (and this includes the membership of the CBI) need to join with those politicians and NGOs who are increasingly frustrated by the primacy of short term tactics over long term strategy and decry each and every one of those relatively small policy decisions that run counter to the UK's long term decarbonisation strategy.
That does not mean opposing each and every high carbon project, after all we will still need oil and gas for several decades to come, while not every new road project is inherently unjustified, particularly at a time when low emission vehicles are proving their viability.
However, it is essential these projects fit into a credible infrastructure pipeline that avoids locking in technologies we need to be phasing out and prioritises cleaner alternatives wherever possible. Consequently, it is not credible to dish out tax breaks to North Sea oil and gas or green light fracking projects without a coherent strategy to deliver carbon capture and storage and boost national energy efficiency. It is not credible for Ed Davey to warn about a carbon bubble at a time when his colleague, Danny Alexander, is praising policies to get every drop of oil out of the North Sea and failing to even mention climate change. It is not credible to drastically change the nature of the UK's infrastructure pipeline without having a public debate about why this has been done and what the implications are for decarbonisation efforts throughout the 2020s - decarbonisation efforts, remember, that all three main parties are signed up to and which an international climate change agreement may soon make essential.
This government has been greener than it has been given credit for. But in the final months of its term in office it now risks torching its green credentials through a short term reversion to 1980s infrastructure thinking that threatens to reverse much of the encouraging progress the green economy has made in recent years.
The business community needs to remind all politicians once again that the opportunities presented by clean technology and the challenge presented by climate change means there is now a new way of doing infrastructure. A way of doing infrastructure that still boosts the economy and the UK's productivity, but does it in a way that does not do immense damage to the environment and our clean tech competitiveness. Realise that, and this government will be the greenest ever. And the one that succeeds it will be greener still - just as it should be.
05 Dec 2014, 15:25
Nigel Farage said something ridiculous this week, or rather he said something else ridiculous this week.
Prior to suggesting "it isn't too difficult to breastfeed a baby in a way that's not openly ostentatious" the UKIP leader reportedly offered one of his periodic takes on the latest climate science. As you would expect, it was about as well informed as his views on modern parenting, even if the less high profile comments on global warming failed to spark questions as to the precise nature of the experiences that qualify him to judge the correlation between breast-feeding difficulty and ostentation.
Answering questions from young people at a Leaders Live event in London, Farage reportedly responded to a question about whether he believed in climate change with an answer that suggested he had wrestled with one of the most widely reported and closely analysed phenomena of our age and concluded he had no idea what he thought. "Do I believe in global warming? I have no idea," Farage said, an answer which at least had the benefit of honesty even if it runs counter to the old Neil deGrasse Tyson truism that "the good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it".
Farage then went on to offer some utterly bizarre non-sequiturs that suggested he cannot even be bothered to try and properly master the climate sceptic arguments he would obviously like to adhere to. "The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was set up to prove global warming, so it is doing its job," he said. "Since the 1970s temperatures are warmer now than they were. But I remember that in the early 70s the consensus then was we would be going in for a period of global cooling. Be careful of the scientific consensus." What, no spin about a global warming 'pause'? No nuanced argument about how it may be more cost effective to prioritise climate adaptation? Just a garbled recollection that some scientists once thought temperatures may cool, as if all the best scientific inquiry simply ceases once scientists have identified a trend that fits with your ideology.
In fairness, this is not even close to the most ridiculous thing Farage has said about climate change. For that we have to go back to his performance on one of those relatively rare occasions he turned up in the European Parliament, during which he lambasted Commission President José Manuel Barroso for his pushing through green policies at a time when some US scientists were predicting we are "going into a period of between 15 and 30 years of global cooling". To support this claim Farage offered two photos of the Arctic ice cap showing that the more recent year showed more ice than the previous year, as if this was the smoking gun disproving decades of scientific evidence. In fact, for Farage these two data points were so compelling that when Barroso responded by highlighting how the vast majority of scientists are concerned about manmade global warming the UKIP leader thought he would win this particular debate by grinning and ostentatiously holding up his two satellite images in a manner that would make anyone who values the scientific process deeply uncomfortable.
As always with Farage it is tempting to ignore this scientific illiteracy and gloss over the anti-clean tech, Climate Change Act repealing policies it informs, just as it is tempting to ignore the racism and sexism the UKIP leader occasionally spouts (and if you cannot see that sneering "you know what the difference is" about different nationalities is racist or accept that suggesting women attempting to feed their babies should sit in a corner is sexist I can't help you).
But the three main political parties, the business community, and the vast majority of people who would never countenance voting for UKIP have tried ignoring the party's more ridiculous and offensive policies and statements for several years and it hasn't really worked. As a growing number of political commentators have begun to observe, the answer for the mainstream parties lies not in trying to emulate the insurgent UKIP, but in taking it on and arguing long and loud about the many flaws in its policies and the misinformation and divisiveness it peddles. Climate policy is just one of the many, many areas where UKIP's recklessness deserves to be interrogated.
Earlier this week, both the CBI's John Cridland and Green Alliance's Matthew Spencer told an audience of green executives at the Environmental Industries Commission Annual Conference that while most voters do not consider environmental issues directly when putting a cross in a box they tend to regard it as a basic competence issue when assessing political leaders. Climate change may not be a top priority for voters, but numerous polls have shown majorities of the public are concerned about climate risks, place huge value in their environment, and are broadly in favour of clean technologies. Serious political leaders know this and know that a credible position on environmental issues is essential if they want to be taken seriously by both the public and the business community. Farage's position on climate change and complete lack of a position on other environmental issues is one of many policies that demonstrate he is not a serious political leader.
As the mainstream political leaders continue to thrash around for a strategy for tackling UKIP, they should consider the weaknesses inherent in an apparently libertarian party that wants to block renewable energy projects regardless of what local communities may want, as well as the ridiculousness of a leader who reckons two photos of the Arctic can somehow be taken as evidence climate change isn't worth worrying about. They should also declare publicly that if you want to be taken seriously as a politician you need to have a serious response to serious challenges - simply shrugging your shoulders and saying you have "no idea" what you think is not good enough.
01 Dec 2014, 14:22
It is possible to overstate the significance of E.ON's surprise announcement that it is to split itself in two in a bid to refocus the business on renewables, smart grids, and energy efficiency. After all, the company is not about to shutter its coal and gas plants, while the management is at pains to point out that the new 20,000-strong spun out fossil fuel, nuclear and hydro business will still have a crucial role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy. In addition, there are no guarantees that this drastic shake-up of one of Europe's largest utilities will work. And it is the renewables company that will be laden with E.ON's existing debts, granting the new fossil fuel-focused firm with the freedom to invest once again in expansion. It is also worth noting that the energy market remains staggeringly volatile and complex and E.ON is attempting to make its "bold new beginning" from a position of not inconsiderable financial stress.
But those caveats aside, the decision by one of the Big Six to align itself so explicitly with the transition to a low carbon economy still feels like a watershed moment. In one stroke of a pen, E.ON will soon recreate itself as a 40,000-strong green corporate powerhouse focused exclusively on renewables generation, distribution networks, with a particular focus on smart grids, and services for its 33 million customers, which translates as smart meters, energy efficiency upgrades, and microgeneration installation and maintenance.
The reasoning behind this dramatic bet on the primacy of renewables in E.ON's core markets reads like it was written by Greenpeace, rather than the board of one of Europe's largest utilities. "We are convinced that it's necessary to respond to dramatically altered global energy markets, technical innovation, and more diverse customer expectations with a bold new beginning," said chief executive Johannes Teyssen. "E.ON's existing broad business model can no longer properly address these new challenges. Therefore, we want to set up our business significantly different. E.ON will tap the growth potential created by the transformation of the energy world."
E.ON will "place a particular emphasis" on wind energy and "strengthen" its solar business, while making energy distribution networks smarter "so that customers can take advantage of new products and services in areas like energy efficiency and distributed generation", continued the company.
This new vision has numerous implications, almost all of which are encouraging for the green economy. Firstly, it throws some more investment muscle behind Europe's low carbon transition with the company confirming it will increase capex for next year by €500m on top of the €4.3bn already planned for 2015. This, in turn, tilts the Brussels, Berlin and Westminster lobbying battlefields a few degrees in favour of clean energy and away from fossil fuels. One of the many fascinating questions raised by E.ON's new strategy is how long will it remain a member of those industry lobby groups that pay lip service to the idea of decarbonisation while quietly arguing against green policies?
E.ON's bold decision also creates overnight a case study that everyone in the European utility sector will be watching with hawk-like vigilance. In recent years, I've lost count of the number of times executives at Big Six energy companies have explained their desire to see their companies become energy services firms. Now one of them looks set to back up this rhetoric with real action. We are about to find out if a giant energy company can profitably reinvent itself as a green energy services powerhouse.
One of the reasons E.ON is confident it can make this transition is that it will start to give customers what growing numbers say they want. The new renewables-focused E.ON will continue to sell its customers a mix of fossil fuel and renewable energy, but it would stand to reason that this mix will now start to decarbonise at a faster rate. Meanwhile, this greener energy will be offered alongside smart meters, onsite generation technologies, and other services, all of which are designed to give people easier access to the clean energy that a majority of people in the UK and Germany consistently say they want. This transition is also likely to be mirrored in the business market, where E.ON and the rest of the Big Six have spent several years watching large blue chip clients get increasingly frustrated at the inability of mainstream suppliers to give them the green power they want.
Most importantly, however, the new strategy is a massive vote of confidence in the EU's energy and climate change strategy and the general direction of travel for energy policy across the bloc. In splitting the company, E.ON is to an extent hedging its bets and backing both the renewables and the fossil fuel horses. But the balance of the workforces at the revamped E.ON and the new spun off business indicates where the board sees the long term future lying.
For years, many within the energy industry have continued to invest huge sums in fossil fuel infrastructure on the assumption that Europe's politicians were bluffing when they said the bloc would have to rapidly decarbonise. When that bet started to look shaky they spent millions more on lobbying to try and ensure politicians did indeed end up bluffing. E.ON's planned transformation is what happens when a large company recognises that policymakers aren't bluffing, clean technology improvements aren't slowing, and the transition to a low carbon economy is really happening.
It is possible to overstate the significance of E.ON's transformation, but it could yet prove to be an important turning point in Europe's transition to a genuinely low carbon economy.
28 Nov 2014, 16:49
Serious question: Can anyone think of an environmental regulation that has crippled an economy? I don't mean shaved a few per cent off a polluting company's share price or forced the lucrative fly-tipping trade out of business. I mean properly knocked a handful of points off GDP and fatally eroded the competitiveness of a former economic power.
There are no doubt examples of poor environmental regulations. Laws that applied the precautionary principle with a bit too much, y'know, precaution. Legislation that blocks activities that would provide an economic boost without causing too much damage to the environment (supporters of GM and fracking would no doubt argue the current regulatory frameworks for these technologies fall firmly into this category). But are there any environmental regulations that unequivocally damaged the economy to such an extent that the rules were eventually axed?
I know, I know. You can't prove a negative. You can no more conclude that introducing an environmental regulation dealt a three per cent blow to a country's GDP than you can 100 per cent conclusively prove what would have happened if we had managed to start cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the 1980s instead of waiting until the 2030s (hopefully). But still, is there a single piece of environmental regulation where you can construct a credible argument to show the economy is a lot worse off because of its existence? Because, I can't think of one.
The reason I ask is because this week the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the latest move in President Obama's green policy push, unveiling plans to tighten smog standards under the Clean Air Act. The result was a wearingly familiar skirmish between the EPA and green groups on one side and the Republicans and industrial groups on the other. The greens welcomed the regulations as a welcome step that still did not go far enough in tackling a serious environmental problem, and the industrial groups warned it would push up costs and harm the economy.
So far, so predictable. Except this time the industry warnings comprised of a particularly acute form of panicked hyperbole. "This new ozone regulation threatens to be the most expensive ever imposed on industry in America and could jeopardize recent progress in manufacturing by placing massive new costs on manufacturers," thundered Jay Timmons, chief executive officer of the National Association of Manufacturers. A tightening of smog rules would potentially represent "the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public", warned Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute (API).
I'm sorry, but what? In the nation of prohibition and Jim Crow regulations, tightening ground level ozone standards from the current level of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to within a range of 65 to 70 ppb could be the "most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public"? The recent recovery in US manufacturing driven by Silicon Valley innovation and relatively low cost natural gas and renewables is apparently so fragile that businesses can't cope with the cost of deploying proven technologies for tackling smog and keeping their workers and communities healthy? The EPA's extensive modelling showing that improving air quality will deliver net economic benefits counts for nothing, because some bought and paid for lobbyists say so? I'm not sure how US industry groups can expect anyone to buy such exaggerated claims. And then you look at the utter credulity of the modern Republican Party on environmental issues and understand fully who is buying this fatuous analysis.
Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic a similar battle is playing itself out. BusinessEurope has this week continued its tribute act to a pin-striped 1990s industry lobbyist, attacking everything from maternity rights to circular economy proposals and air quality standards, with warnings that the Commission's attempts to enhance resource security and deliver clean air will cause significant harm to the economy. In the UK, the steady drumbeat of criticism aimed at the Climate Change Act from UKIP and the Tory backbenches similarly implies the UK's position as an economic powerhouse would be assured if we just ditched our long term carbon targets.
The problem with each and everyone of these campaigns is not in their opposition to environmental regulation per se. The counter argument to green legislation put forward by responsible industry groups is extremely valuable. Some environmental regulations don't work perfectly and impose more economic cost than is necessary. When it comes to introducing and reforming policy measures, the Hegelian dialectic (there's one for all the philosophy graduates) created by those for and against a new regulation is critical. It is in constantly justifying themselves that green regulations become ever more effective.
No, the problem with these various anti-regulation campaigns is that they are so exaggerated, so lacking in nuance, that they quickly lose credibility, ensuring that what should be a productive debate descends into a slanging match. (Yes, I am aware some of the more alarmist green groups are guilty of this hyperbole too).
Is there any independent observer who really thinks a tightening of US smog regulations that, remember, will be phased in between 2020 and 2037, represents the most expensive regulation in history? Is there anyone outside the climate sceptic cabal who looks at the performance of the UK economy over the last five years and thinks, 'forget global economic crisis, an economy overly reliant on finance, and woeful productivity, the real cause of our problems is that our power costs fractionally more than some of our European neighbours'? Is there anyone who looks at the recent economic recovery and re-shoring of some manufacturing operations and thinks our GDP growth would be three per cent higher again if we didn't have legislators demanding we deal with the toxic air pollution in our cities? It takes a pretty special leap of ideologically-moulded imagination to suggest the UK economy would be basking in sunlit uplands if we simply gave up on decarbonisation, but that is essentially what some pretty respected commentators appear happy to suggest.
In a speech last year, Obama offered the perfect assessment of how tired these depressingly predictable arguments are becoming, skewering each and every complaint that would be levelled at his climate change regulations. "What you'll hear from the special interests and their allies in Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy, and basically end American free enterprise as we know it," he predicted, with unerring accuracy. "And the reason I know you'll hear those things is because that's what they said every time America sets clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children's health. And every time, they've been wrong."
It is worth quoting Obama's riposte at length:
"For example, in 1970, when we decided through the Clean Air Act to do something about the smog that was choking our cities... some of the same doomsayers were saying new pollution standards will decimate the auto industry. Guess what - it didn't happen. Our air got cleaner. In 1990, when we decided to do something about acid rain, they said our electricity bills would go up, the lights would go off, businesses around the country would suffer - I quote - "a quiet death". None of it happened, except we cut acid rain dramatically.
"See, the problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity. These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can't or they won't do it. They'll just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that's not true. Look at our history.
"When we restricted cancer-causing chemicals in plastics and leaded fuel in our cars, it didn't end the plastics industry or the oil industry. American chemists came up with better substitutes. When we phased out CFCs - the gases that were depleting the ozone layer - it didn't kill off refrigerators or air-conditioners or deodorant. American workers and businesses figured out how to do it better without harming the environment as much."
The recent Grantham Institute report detailing how "green tape" has consistently boosted economic growth by triggering innovation and technology deployment offers a more in-depth analysis of the phenomenon Obama so effectively elucidated.
There are legitimate reasons for challenging environmental regulations and lobbying to ensure they are as effective as possible. But apocalyptic warnings suggesting cleaning up our air and water or stabilising our climate will bring economic collapse and eye-watering costs aren't just inaccurate scaremongering, they are staggeringly defeatist as well.
If a government ever tried to ban fossil fuels overnight or block all cars from entering a smog-choked city then, yes, the short term damage on the economy would be immense. But that is not how environmental regulations work. They tend to be measured, phased in over time, based on the best available science, and designed to keep short term costs to a minimum while maximising long term benefits. That is not to say policymakers always get it right, but crying wolf all the time about excessive economic impacts that never materialise helps no one, least of all those polluting businesses who have to adapt to changing environmental realities.
So, I ask again: Can anyone think of an environmental regulation that has crippled an economy? Because I can't.
25 Nov 2014, 14:27
The green Twittersphere is abuzz today with DECC's first tweetathon to promote climate action and encourage an already surprisingly engaged public to recognise the climate risks they face and take steps to tackle them.
Leaving aside the legitimate questions about why it has taken until the fag end of the parliament for the government to attempt any sort of co-ordinated climate change engagement initiative, this is a welcome, and judging by the way #backclimateaction is trending, popular initiative. However, it sparks one obvious (and intended question), what climate action are we being asked to back?
The tweetathon is being managed by environmental engagement charity Hubbub (full disclosure: I am a trustee of Hubbub) and, as founder Trewin Restorick explained on BusinessGreen today, the aim is to spark a debate, not set out a prescriptive set of actions. "We are encouraging organisations to share what they are doing, specifically highlighting how this will impact upon daily lives," he writes.
So far it appears to be working, with Mayor Boris Johnson tweeting about how London's CO2 emissions are down 12 per cent since May 2008 while the "green economy alone [is] worth over £25bn", Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey praising how "renewables now provide 15% of Britain's electricity and 35% of our electricity is low carbon", and a host of green businesses touting their environmental achievements.
But, if the goal is public engagement, what are the climate actions that everyone from Emily Thornberry to Dan the White Van Man should consider? I'd argue that despite the tendency amongst some environmentalists to downplay the contribution any one individual can make to tackling climate change there are four simple steps people could actively consider as part of #backclimateaction. Here they are, starting with the easiest to achieve and ending with those actions that should be simple, but can prove harder than you think to deliver:
One of the biggest steps you can take to encourage climate action in the UK is to simply exercise your democratic right. An election is not a referendum on a single issue, but equally if you are one of the three quarters of Brits who want to see more co-ordinated climate action then it makes sense to vote for a party that offers exactly that. The Greens, Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Conservatives will all argue at the next election they are serious about climate action (and UKIP gleefully won't) and it will be up to green-minded voters to decide which argument they find the most credible. If you want to back climate action, you need to back the politicians who are committed to delivering it.
Voting as a form of climate action is also the first step towards a more general political engagement on climate change. As any environmental campaigner will tell you, it is possible to drive climate action step-by-step by making a nuisance of yourself, asking MPs, councils, and businesses what they are doing to tackle climate change and why more is not being done. It requires a willingness to invest time and energy, but it can and does work.
2. Embrace green "gestures"
A lot of criticism is aimed at the small steps we can each take to help tackle climate change, but while some measures can be dismissed as gestures most help to both curb emissions and create markets for cleaner technologies. So, turn the lights off, don't leave the TV on stand-by if you can avoid it, use public transport when possible, walk, cycle, recycle. All the steps we can individually take to curb emissions make a difference and serve to normalise environmentally responsible behaviours that were anathema to many of us just a few short years ago.
And then there are the bigger gestures that help cut emissions and leave you with more money in your pocket at the end of the month. Improving the energy efficiency of your house may be a sizeable undertaking, but it adds value to your property, cuts bills, and can now be achieved at no upfront cost. Similarly, if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford it and it is right for you, solar panels, electric cars, and heat pumps are all now mature technologies that deliver proven benefits. Climate action on this level is now possible, effective, and often more affordable than people think.
As a typically financially lazy/illiterate Brit, this is the climate action I procrastinate around the most, but it is also one of the easiest means of delivering emissions cuts. The emergence of credible green crowd-funding offers and ethical bank accounts makes it possible for people who care about climate action to ensure their money is compatible with their values. It would be a whole lot easier if George Osborne delivered on the Green ISAs he promised, but it is possible to invest as little £5 relatively safely in renewable energy projects. If you want climate action, it really is worth putting at least some of your money where your mouth is.
4. Don't leave your green ambitions at the office door
As I've argued before, I'm all for greater public engagement on climate change and the need for climate action, but to deliver real decarbonisation it needs to be married with structural change at an economic and business level. However, every member of the public is also a participant in the economy and most work for the private and public sector organisations that can deliver the structural change that is urgently needed. Talk to the businesses that are pioneering green investments and technologies and all too often the initial spark for a world-leading sustainability initiative is provided by one or two people within the company requesting action. If you want to deliver climate action ask what your employer is doing and propose some of the simple yet effective steps it could take. You would be amazed how many green business transformations start this way.
These are the four climate actions I would recommend everyone to consider. I'll reluctantly admit I struggle to live up to all of them all of the time, but they represent tangible and achievable actions that aren't too daunting, yet can still make a genuinely positive contribution to the fight against climate change. You'll have your own ideas, and if you want to share them #backclimateaction is the place - there's only a few hours left.
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Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray