"The greens" are "finished"? I wouldn't count on it

23 Jul 2013

General Electric wind turbine

The "greens" are "finished", declares the headline above Tim Montgomerie's latest attack on environmental policy. They put up a good fight, drawing level at half time thanks to a powerful display down the left flank from Obama and Rudd. But they failed to secure the lead they needed in Copenhagen and since then they've been utterly outplayed by their opponents' pragmatically physical approach. The pre-Copenhagen playmakers are demoralised and exhausted, having been out-muscled by the new lad Shale and outmanoeuvred by the canny new gaffer at Number 11. Referee Montgomerie is preparing to blow his whistle and declare Carbon FC the winner (club motto: "Business as Usual", club logo: a seabird drowned in oil).

Montgomerie's nakedly political attack on "the greens" in The Times yesterday was nothing if not predictable, so much so that it could almost have been written by algorithm. An enterprising intern at a think tank somewhere near Westminster is probably working right now on a labour saving bit of code that automatically selects the most fashionable anti-green canards and presents them in an argument that suggests the failure to tackle grave environmental crises is both inevitable and nothing to get too agitated about.

Such an algorithm would need to include plenty of factual cherry picking; a quote or two from Lord Lawson; some heartfelt praise for fracking; a citation for Bjorn Lomborg and his "brilliant book"; a patrician suggestion "greens" are too naïve to cut it with the big boys of politics; an acknowledgment climate change is happening that also implies we shouldn't worry too much about it; and a pop at "bird-chopping wind turbines".

The code would also have to make sure a few points are excluded from the text. For example, you wouldn't want to mention, let alone engage with, any inconvenient facts that challenge your thesis; you'll want to gloss over the entire cottage industry of scientists and economists dedicated to pointing out the flaws in Lomborg's "brilliant" books; you won't want to mention Lord Lawson's repeated refusal to reveal who funds his Global Warming Policy Foundation; you'll have to ignore the role of volatile fossil fuel prices in pushing up energy bills; and you won't want to offer any more than a throwaway line about what an alternative approach to tackling climate change might look like.

In reality, Montgomerie remains one of the most thoughtful and effective columnists working in the UK today - no matter how tight commissioning budgets get he would have no truck with robot columnists. But yesterday's article is such an effective summation of current attacks on the green economy that it should become a reference point for anyone who cares about the development of both a sustainable economy and a coherent response to climate change.

Thankfully, the declaration of green defeat made in The Times is so easy to refute it would be possible to give the entire article a good "Fisking". But as I've argued in the past a line-by-line deconstruction of an opposing viewpoint is a pretty juvenile way to conduct a debate. Better to focus on a few of the more glaring factual omissions and dubious arguments contained in the article.

First up, Montgomerie's suggestion Barack Obama and Kevin Rudd have pretty much ditched their climate strategies is not one that either man would recognise. Montgomerie reports how Rudd last week "announced that he would ditch the carbon tax". But what he neglects to mention is that Rudd hasn't ditched carbon pricing, he has simply pulled forward plans for a floating carbon price to replace the tax. Yes, it represents a watering down of carbon taxation plans during a tough election year, but it is not a full-blown U-turn and it is easy to envisage Rudd looking to reinvigorate Australian climate policy if he secures re-election.

"All over the world green politicians are presiding over similar climbdowns," states Montgomerie, which is a pretty strange way to characterise President Obama's decision to make climate regulation a centrepiece of his second term agenda. Is Montgomerie unaware of Obama's plan to regulate power plant emissions or has he chosen to ignore it because it doesn't fit with his narrative? The Chinese government introducing carbon trading and rapidly accelerating clean energy investment does not look like a "climbdown" either. Closer to home, the EU debating a significant strengthening of emissions targets for 2030 does not constitute a "climbdown", nor does David Cameron proudly opening the world's largest offshore wind farm and signing off on a transformation of the energy market designed to boost clean energy sources.

All columnists, myself included, are occasionally guilty of selecting examples and statistics that support their argument. But while greens tend to acknowledge that there have been setbacks to their economic vision in recent years that have to be set against their many successes, those who want to undermine the development of a low carbon economy often prefer to wipe from history huge green investments and policies that contradict their argument. It is reminiscent of that old Vietnam-era line about declaring victory and going home.

Secondly, Lord Lawson's claim that "one renewable company after another is going bankrupt" may be backed up by the failure of some unfortunate early stage companies. But to suggest an entire sector is doomed because of the failure of a few individual companies is like arguing the internet failed because Bebo and MySpace saw their valuations collapse. Like I say, we can all cherry pick facts to support our arguments, but if Montgomerie wants to prove that "greens" have been "defeated" he needs to do a much better job of explaining why high profile companies from IKEA to Unilever, BT to IBM, Google to RBS, Nissan to Virgin (to name just eight) are forging ahead with major green investments. He also needs to explain how greens, in their apparent defeat, have managed to convince a clear majority of the public that climate change is a serious issue and clean energy sources are to be favoured.

Montgomerie wants to take on the "green movement" in the narrowest sense, clearly aiming his criticism at a handful of NGOs while ignoring the emergence of a sizable and increasingly influential green business community. If the green movement is finished, then why didn't Bill Gates, Jeremy Grantham, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, and the boards of those multinationals investing in clean technologies get the memo?

Admittedly, the argument that greens can't "defy gravity" and break into the mainstream while clean technologies are seen as being more expensive than their counterparts is more complex. But again the blanket dismissal of clean technologies as too costly fails to make the crucial distinction between upfront capital costs and running costs. There is intriguing evidence now emerging in Germany that once built renewable energy technologies are helping to hold power costs down, while it is increasingly obvious that a raft of clean technologies, such as energy efficiency improvements and electric cars, offer lower total cost of ownership than the incumbents. More important still, Montgomerie's discussion of costs takes no account of environmental costs and the risk attached to our continued reliance on volatile fossil fuel sources. Renewables are already a lot cheaper than fossil fuels when environmental impacts are appropriately priced, and even if we choose to ignore these environmental costs the cost trajectory of many clean technologies is steadily downwards.

Finally, Lomborg's siren argument, endorsed by Montgomerie, that we should focus on tackling global poverty and investing in clean tech R&D in pursuit of low cost carbon power has always struck me as staggeringly naïve on a number of fronts. Firstly, the suggestion money saved from ditching green policies would instantly be diverted to tackling HIV and delivering clean drinking water to impoverished communities is so hopelessly utopian that it is redolent of the criticism often aimed at tie-dye environmentalists. When peacenik campaigners suggest the billions spent in Afghanistan should be used to tackle homelessness instead it is many of the same right wing commentators who now promote using green funds to tackle poverty who are the first to point out that government budgets don't work that way in the real world.

Lomborg has the kernel of a credible argument in saying money spent on green policies could be better spent on the R&D needed to bring down the cost of clean technologies and the development policies needed to tackle poverty, many of which - like replacing unhealthy wood stoves and investing in climate adaptation - would have a large environmental element. A proper carbon pricing mechanism that tackles the polluting externality while raising funds to help the fuel poor, enhance development efforts, and boost clean tech R&D remains the most elegant green policy proposal out there (although you would probably still need some other policy mechanism to help drive initial demand in emerging clean tech markets).

But is there anyone, Montgomerie and Lomborg aside, who really thinks politicians like George Osborne want to ditch current green policies to free up funding for a multi-billion pound clean tech R&D and global development push?

However, for all its faults, Montgomerie's article makes one incontestable point: many green policies have failed on their own terms. It is impossible to conclusively prove the counterfactual and demonstrate whether or not emissions would be higher still without green policies, but we do know greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise. Montgomerie is right on this point. Green policies are yet to deliver on their promise, and some of them, like the more scandalous biofuel policies, may never do so. This failure is categorically not a cause for celebration, just as it is not a sufficient reason for a new fossil fuel boom and the repeal of every regulation that is designed to deliver a green economic transition, as Montgomerie suggests. But we cannot deny the fact that the current approach is not working, or at least is not working quickly enough.

Yesterday's Times was a timely reminder we are still a long way from building the successful policy and technological mix that is needed to ensure fossil fuels are left in the ground. Green NGOs, businesses, and politicians all need to deliver much more focus on R&D, on cost effective clean technologies, on the unerring economic logic of carbon pricing, on the desirability of clean technologies that boast lower health impacts and running costs than the dirty incumbent technologies they replace, and on the grave economic and environmental threats posed by inaction. There also needs to be much more focus on protecting the political consensus on the need to tackle what Rudd, Obama, and countless others have described as a planetary crisis.

Are the greens finished? Not at all, they are three-two up and the second half has barely started. It's all to play for. The vast majority of the crowd will be hoping for a green victory.

Assumptions, damn assumptions, and energy bill projections

17 Jul 2013

Gasometer

The future is a foreign country, they do things differently there, as L. P. Hartley almost said. It is part of human nature to try and predict the future and those who get good at it - whether it is in the boardroom, on the stock exchange, or at the track - tend to reap huge rewards. And yet even the very best tipster will acknowledge that we do not live in a science fiction novel, accurately predicting the future is impossible and any responsible prediction has to come couched in the terms of probability and risk.

The problem for the business leaders, as the latest row over energy cost projections proves, is that detailed projections based on complex assumptions and containing a high degree of risk do not make for good headlines - "The 'green tax con' that is costing families £500" does.

The latest reports on projected energy bill increases neatly serve to highlight the challenge faced by green businesses and energy industry execs alike. Last week's highly controversial report from the Taxpayers Alliance predicting energy bills will rise by over £400 by the end of the decade and npower's slightly more realistic warnings that bills could rise by £240 by the same date are both based on contested assumptions about what will happen to gas prices, energy efficiency schemes, and the cost of renewable energy. The authors themselves acknowledge there is considerable uncertainty, yet much of the reporting on these studies has no truck with such grey areas, focusing on the headline conclusion that energy bills are going to soar and green tariffs are to blame.

The government and green campaigners are engaged in a manful struggle to highlight the dubious nature of some of the assumptions that underpin these reports.

Greenpeace did not take long to point out that the Taxpayers Alliance, an apparently well respected organisation that secures itself a fair amount of time on the nation's airwaves, has no problem with assuming domestic gas prices will increase by the same amount as domestic electricity prices, because the "two commodities are substitutes". That's right, the latest round of debate over energy bills was sparked by an organisation that thinks if electricity bills rise by a couple of hundred quid a year people will switch to gas-lighting and manufacturers will invent a gas-fired fridge, which would in turn mean the government would have to introduce levies to increase gas prices. Taxpayers Alliance may well have some legitimate questions about the effectiveness of green policies (as set out in its various responses to Greenpeace's analysis and a letter from Ed Davey complaining about its calculations) but it has rather undermined its case by clinging to the evidence-free assertion that the government will have to increase levies on gas to match levies on electricity.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey similarly took npower to task over its projections yesterday, accusing it of overestimating the cost of the ECO energy efficiency policy, while failing to acknowledge that the cost of this policy would lead to benefits in the form of lower energy consumption in the future. He also reiterated yet again that the government's modelling and similar projections from the Committee on Climate Change show that when all of the government's energy and climate policies are taken into account energy prices will rise by less than they would otherwise have done so and average energy bills will remain pretty much flat as a result of efficiency improvements.

The problem for the government and green groups is that as soon as you engage in these arguments it invites entirely legitimate questions about why you think your own, more optimistic, projections are accurate. You can argue that the government's modelling is more robust, that evidence suggests gas prices are likely to rise and that energy efficiency policies will prove a runaway success, but you are still dealing with future assumptions that are impossible to verify. You can similarly argue that much of the more pessimistic modelling is politically motivated and based on suspect assumptions, but that does not make the central assertion that the government's projections rely on a belief that energy efficiency policies will significantly curb average consumption. There is risk in the projections put forward by both sides of the debate, even if the balance of probability still lies with the government's modelling being the more accurate.

The question then for businesses is how to navigate this forest of projections and increasingly fractious debate. It would be useful to know what the energy price will be in the coming years, just as it would be useful to know whether the government's energy policies will prove a success - as mentioned at the start those who are best at crystal ball gazing tend to prosper.

The answer has to be to strip out as much of the risk contained in these projections as possible and make decisions based on what we do know. For example, we know the UK has a Climate Change Act that sets legally binding carbon targets that require the decarbonisation of the power sector over the next two decades. And we know the government is about to pass an Energy Bill that will formalise many of the policies that underpin the projected increase in energy bills. Anyone who looks closely at the political debate surrounding these issues also knows there is far more political consensus on this agenda than the media typically suggests. The high profile row between DECC and the Treasury over energy policy is largely focused on what happens to the energy mix after 2020, the various green policies and levies are pretty much finalised for this decade and are unlikely to change significantly, regardless of what happens at the next election.

More broadly, we know investment in energy infrastructure is urgently required to replace aging capacity and we know this investment will have a knock-on impact on bills. We know there is considerable uncertainty over future fossil fuel prices with a combination of a lack of clarity on future shale gas development and the perennial risk of insecurity in the Middle East meaning all gas and oil price predictions come with a truckload of salt. We know that proving the counter factual of what happens if we don't decarbonise is impossibly difficult and is often based on absurdly optimistic projections for those self-same hard-to-predict fossil fuel prices. We also know the public are very concerned about rising energy bills, but are also strongly supportive of the decarbonisation agenda.

For households and business alike these facts add up to a handful of important conclusions. First, it is impossible to be absolutely certain what energy bills will be in 2020 - technological breakthroughs could send them plummeting, just as geopolitical tensions could send them spiraling - but the vast majority of expert opinion suggests they will increase as investment costs filter through and global demand for energy continues to climb.

Second, whether you like it or not we have to decarbonise our energy infrastructure, to fail to do so would be environmentally reckless, economically a huge missed opportunity, and legally in breach of British law. Regardless of noises off in the press it is highly unlikely that this government or the next will shift from this agenda - the technology mix may change, the pace of investment may accelerate or slow down, but decarbonisation will continue.

Third, energy efficiency remains the most cost effective means of cutting carbon emissions and the best way of insulating yourself against future energy price increases.

It is impossible to boil down complex arguments about energy policies and costs to one simple message. There are valid and important debates to be had about green levies or carbon taxes, the financial cost of renewable energy versus the environmental cost of carbon emissions, the impact of green taxes on the fuel poor and the necessity of clean investor certainty, the high capital cost of clean energy against the high and volatile running costs of fossil fuels. But while these debates will no doubt continue, one thing is clear: whether you believe the energy bill projections put forward by the Taxpayers Alliance, npower, or the government is largely irrelevant, energy efficiency is still one of the best investments you can make for your home or business.

We can never know the future, but we do know using less energy is the best way to insulate ourselves against the costs of decarbonisation. It is here that businesses and households should focus their efforts if they want to place a winning bet on future energy prices.

Are we seeing the green shoots of a Green Labour?

09 Jul 2013

Ed Miliband of the Labour party

The lobby hacks have agreed on their narrative and they are doing everything in their power to stick to it - Labour is divided, lacking strong leadership, without policies, and failing to cut through with the public. The right-wing press and much of the coalition will now run this narrative into the ground all the way through to 2015 in a transparent and at times desperate attempt to stop a Miliband premiership. The problem is that this narrative, like all political narratives, may be grounded in a degree of truth, but it is also grossly simplistic and in some cases downright misleading - as Ed Miliband's ambitious proposed reforms of the political system and union link today demonstrated.

Labour's poll lead may not be as impressive as its supporters would hope and it is still a long way from convincing the country it is ready to form the next government. But the opposition appears far more comfortable with its current direction than the media narrative suggests, while it also boasts a growing number of policies that draw clear dividing lines between itself and the coalition. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Labour's fast evolving stance on the green economy.

Let's take each charge in turn. Firstly, Labour may have done a good impression of a party divided over its union links in recent days, but on the question of climate change it is united. From trade union firebrands to New Labour survivors, the Party instinctively understands you can't have social justice without environmental justice. From Miliband down there is an acknowledgement that climate change is a serious threat and an awareness that green growth can help drive economic recovery.

The Lib Dems may remain the party most closely associated with environmentalism, but many of its members are furious at the leadership's failure to deliver more green policy progress while in government. Meanwhile, the green and climate sceptic wings of the Conservative Party are engaged in open warfare, meaning David Cameron is unwilling or unable to drive forward the green agenda that he once proudly supported. In contrast, the only aspect of environmental thinking that divides Labour is whether or not the green economy should represent a central part of the Party's pitch to the country or act as more of a second tier issue.

Secondly, the Labour leadership position on the green agenda is strengthening fast. Having cut his front bench teeth as the UK's first Energy and Climate Change Secretary Miliband fully understands the scale of the environmental threats we face and the urgent need to deliver a greener economy, even if he does not talk about the issues as much as some green groups would like. He appointed a Shadow Energy and Climate Change and Environment Secretaries with genuine political clout in Caroline Flint and Mary Creagh, and backed them with strong teams packed with ambitious MPs. Meanwhile, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has recently stepped up attacks on the government for failing to do enough to accelerate green investment and will tomorrow set out his thinking on the growing importance of low carbon infrastructure in a speech hosted by the Green Alliance. There is optimism both inside and outside the party that the Labour leadership will make the green economy a key part of its proposition.

Which brings us neatly to the third myth - policy. The coalition is right to argue Labour does not have a fully costed manifesto in place just yet, but then again who does two years out from an election? Labour still has lots of work to do explaining how it would accelerate the pace of decarbonisation, but that does not mean there aren't green policy differences between the government and the opposition. Labour has already committed to introducing a decarbonisation target for the power sector if it wins the next election, while Flint has presented plans for a pool system in the energy market in an attempt to increase competition. There have also been strong hints the opposition would like to see more done to promote the Green Deal and other energy efficiency schemes, close the loophole that may allow coal power plants to keep operating deep into the 2020s, and invest more in flood protection and climate adaptation. Flint and others acknowledge there is work still to do, but it is clear the basis of a green economic industrial strategy is being forged.

Finally, critics may be justified in arguing that Labour is struggling to cut through with the public, and the party leadership is well aware that the next election is likely to be nail-bitingly close. But if difficulty getting your message through to the public is a cross that all oppositions have to bear, there is an expanding body of polling work showing that support for the green economy is a vote winner. Significant majorities of people want to see action on climate change, like and support clean technologies such as solar panels, electric cars, and even wind turbines, and most of all want to find ways that they can use less energy and cut their energy bills. Labour is aware the urgent need for new infrastructure makes it near impossible to promise lower energy costs, but serious thinkers near the top of the party are starting to see how a green economy narrative based on job creating investment, energy efficiency, and sweeping reform of the energy market could resonate with voters.

Of course, none of this is to suggest Labour has the green vote sewn up. The Party's green agenda faces two significant challenges, which neatly mirror the broader electoral problems Labour has to overcome - credibility and costs. Both sides of the coalition already have these green attack lines in place. It has been notable how DECC and Defra Ministers now rarely waste an opportunity to point out that the current urgent need for energy infrastructure investment is the direct result of underinvestment during Labour's 13 years in power or ask how Labour would fund a lower interest rate for the Green Deal, for example, without pushing up the deficit. These attack lines will resonate, not least because they raise entirely legitimate questions. 

Moreover, as I have argued before, the government's green track record is in many ways better than it is given credit for. Yes, it is a long way short of what is required, but the Lib Dems and the green wing of the Conservative Party will go to the country in 2015 touting the formation of the Green Investment Bank and if all goes well over the next two years the mobilisation of investment through the Energy Bill, the Green Deal, and the Renewable Heat Incentive.

However, these challenges are anything but insurmountable for Labour. The last Labour government may have let energy policy drift during the first half of its stint in office, but during the second half it delivered the Climate Change Act, launched DECC, and kicked off the feed-in tariff. Equally, there are plenty of clever policies Labour could deliver that would help to boost the green economy without breaking the bank. It is my understanding loan guarantees, better product and building standards, measures to deliver still greater competitiveness in the energy market, and improved targeting of infrastructure spend at green projects are all being looked at closely as a means of driving low carbon investment without increasing the deficit. Throw in green ISAs, green quantative-easing, a major green home building programme, a green apprenticeship push, and a relaxation of borrowing rules for the Green Investment Bank and you'd have a pretty compelling economic strategy that would appeal to Labour's base and reach out to both disaffected Lib Dems and centre ground voters.

Because that is the big attraction of a green economic strategy for Labour - it is a no regrets move. Without being too cynical about the political landscape the only people such a strategy would irritate are never going to vote Labour. Miliband could promise free ice creams for all and a British winner of Wimbledon every year as part of his manifesto and he would still not win over those anti green voices who think climate change is a socialist plot. But in setting out a bolder green agenda he can excite his base, appeal to the centre, and position himself as leader willing to tackle big and important issues. He would also be able to integrate a new green industrial strategy with his "responsible capitalism" and "One Nation" tropes, while simultaneously using it to strengthen Labour's ties with a business community that is increasingly frustrated with the pace of progress on green policy and privately critical of Cameron's failure to stand up to the climate denying dinosaurs on his backbenches. As if that were not reason enough, there is also much political mischief to be had in touting an ambitious climate change strategy that would only serve to highlight the divisions in the Conservative Party on green issues.

Inevitably, none of this is yet guaranteed. Concerns remain that Labour could still duck this particular battle. Fears that the Tories will attack with accusations that Labour supports green technologies that push up energy bills could force the leadership to move climate change back down the agenda. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems, the green wing of the Conservative Party, and, of course, the Green Party are going to fight hard to position themselves as the real green leaders in British politics - and I'd argue each of them will be able to present a compelling case. Labour will have to put a lot more flesh on the bones of its low carbon strategy if it is to deliver a strong play for green business voters.

But my sense is that the party is increasingly willing to make that play. This is a fight Miliband will relish and one that he has long been committed to. I'd be very surprised if Labour does not use its evolving green economic strategy as a dividing line between itself and the Conservatives through to the next election. And regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum business leaders would be advised to keep a close eye on how Labour's green proposition is developing, not least because the polls continue to suggest they could be enacting their policies in less than two years. For that reason alone, Ed Balls addition tomorrow of another chapter in Labour's green economic narrative is worthy of close attention.

In the board room, climate sceptics are nowhere

05 Jul 2013

boardroom

Everyone knows that large swathes of the press fail to reflect the fact that 97 per cent of climate scientists are convinced mankind is impacting the climate in a serious and unprecedented manner, but what is less often commented upon is the way in which certain papers also fail to reflect the thinking of the majority of business leaders on the topic.

The US media monitoring blog has a really good article this week exploring the disconnect between mainstream press coverage of climate change and business press coverage, where titles such as Bloomberg, Reuters, the Financial Times and the Economist tend to reflect the seriousness with which their core readers address climate change and as a result report on the topic in a relatively responsible fashion (with occasional exceptions).

In responding to CNBC's continued use of largely discredited climate sceptic tropes when reporting on climate change, the article pulls together a list of great quotes from some of America's top business correspondents.

"It's past the point of letting ideology shape the dollars-and-cents calculations that businesses are already making, it is not a question of whether business should do this, business is doing this," says Bloomberg BusinessWeek's Paul Barrett of most businesses response to climate threats. "The insurance industry, which is a key barometer of these things, has reached the conclusion that whatever your politics are on this, the costs of extreme weather are so great and the patterns over the last couple of decades are so distinct that the corporate establishment absolutely must recognise these risks."

He is echoed by Los Angeles Times business columnist, Michael Hiltzik, who says: "I accept the evidence of climate change - I don't think I've ever run into a legitimate business leader or business owner in the course of my reporting who doesn't. Keith Johnson of the Wall Street Journal is in the same boat: "Other than some oil companies that are probably less convinced, by and large whether its coal burning utilities or energy storage companies, or the US Navy, pretty much everyone I talk to is on the same page," observes .

For what it is worth, in over 10 years as a business reporter and six years as an environmental business reporter I've similarly never come across a business executive who thinks climate change is a hoax or a phenomenon we can just ignore indefinitely. It's hardly scientific, but most of the business journalists I know have a similar experience. There are a handful exceptions on the wilder fringes of the fossil fuel industry, but the vast majority of businesses accept manmade climate change is happening, are worried about the potential impact, and want to see action taken to tackle it and mitigate the risks. Inevitably, there is significant and important disagreement on how best to respond, but in most boardrooms there is an acknowledgement that an ambitious and wide-ranging response is needed.

Of course, climate sceptics will counter that they don't dismiss climate change as a "hoax" that often anymore, they just think that it's not that big a threat, that adaptation measures will save us, and/or that silver bullet technologies are just around the corner. This essentially business-as-usual argument may gain a little traction with some business execs, but again there are entire industries and plenty of big name businesses that are terrified of where the status quo leads and are investing to deliver ambitious climate action. As I've argued before, when a politician or columnist argues that climate change is not happening or not a problem, they are not just disagreeing with 97 per cent of scientists and a majority of the public, they are also disagreeing with GE, Wal-mart, Tesco, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Ford, GM, Apple, Bank of America, RBS, Nike, Sainsbury's, Virgin Atlantic, even BP and Shell, and not to mention virtually the entire global insurance industry.  

The problem is that while much of the business press is starting to reflect this reality by reporting more and more on climate change and environmental issues, business leaders are understandably reluctant to take on the anti-green press and the anti-green politicians they enable. Speaking to several people at the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards this week there was a common complaint that too often business leaders are reluctant to "put their head above the parapet" and publicly criticise those who are promoting a reckless do-nothing approach to climate change that will inevitably jeopardise their commercial prospects.

It is my view that this relative silence cannot last. As climate change impacts bite more business leaders will follow the likes of our BusinessGreen Leaders such as Jeremy Grantham, James Cameron, and Marks and Spencer, as well as other high profile green business advocates such as Richard Branson, Jochem Zeitz, and Bill Gates, by demanding more ambitious action to tackle emissions. They will be willing to use the political capital they possess to implore politicians to take seriously a problem that threatens their business and the wider economy. And if that means entering into an argument with the vested interests and ideologically media mouthpieces who continue to peddle climate misinformation, then so be it.

In the meantime, if you want to read a serious and accurate take on climate change stick to the business press.

BusinessGreen Leaders Awards speech

04 Jul 2013

James Murray

Once a year I get to give a speech. It is just a five to 10 minute effort to welcome everyone to the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards, reflect briefly on the past year, and engage in a little bit of tub-thumping for the green economy - President Obama at Georgetown University it categorically is not.

But in case you missed last night's awards, here are sentiments that kicked off the evening, excluding the few ad libbed parts and including some terribly lame jokes about the venue: 

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the third annual BusinessGreen Leaders Awards - the largest and most prestigious green business awards in the UK.

And welcome to the Brewery. I'm not going to do the obvious joke, but if you are in the mood to celebrate, please feel free to organise yourselves.

Because there is much to celebrate this evening.

The theme of this year's awards is green growth, and, as all of the companies here tonight have proven, this sector is one of the main engines of long-term economic recovery and innovation.

It has been a year that has hammered home this message time and again.

We've seen the UK cut the ribbon on the world's largest offshore wind farm.

We've seen corporate giants from BT to Sainsbury's and IKEA to Apple unveil hugely ambitious new green business strategies.

And we've seen a solar-powered plane - a solar-powered plane of all things - fly across the United States.

Barely a century on from the first manned flight we have an aircraft that can fly through the night, using power from the sun.

On the political front, we've seen the government introduce the Green Investment Bank, launch the Green Deal, and it is about to deliver a landmark Energy Bill.

We've seen the opposition promise ambitious plans to decarbonise the UK's power sector and reform the energy market.

And we've seen the Prime Minister unequivocally state his desire to make Britain a "global showcase for green innovation and energy efficiency".

Although, he has to keep quiet about it, because it makes some of his backbenchers' eyes swivel.

At BusinessGreen, in our own way, we've mirrored some of this progress.

We've seen the launch of our new BusinessGreen Plus subscription service, which I urge you all to sign up to if you haven't done so already.

We've launched new roundtable and lead generation services for our clients.

And we've won our first award in recognition of the exclusives we continue to break and the daily news we continue to provide this most important of sectors.

Right across the green economy we've seen all this progress, all this optimism, all this innovation.

We've seen the green shoots of a New Environmentalism. A pragmatic and optimistic form of environmentalism. An environmentalism that acknowledges the challenges we face, but aggressively pursues the opportunities the green economy offers.

No wonder the climate contrarians and their supporters in the media are so angry all the time. It might not always seem like it - and as a journalist I despair at the cynicism that characterises so much reporting on these issues - but the misleading arguments and the dispiriting pessimism embodied by many critics of the green economy is losing ground.

Serious business leaders know these siren voices have to be ignored and they are doing just that.

Inevitably, it has not all been plain sailing for the green economy and no one wants to gloss over the considerable challenges we still face.

But tonight is not the night to lament the political set-backs, criticise the policy inconsistencies, and bemoan the baleful influence of those who wish to recklessly ignore environmental threats.

Because we know the direction of travel towards a greener and more sustainable way of doing business is the only route available.

We know the only rational response to credible warnings of environmental collapse - the only human response, the only commercially sensible response - is to redouble efforts to find solutions to these myriad challenges.

To those who say alternative sources of energy can never work, we say they are already working. We say we are not going to give up on developing alternative and sustainable sources of energy just because some people are not smart enough or responsible enough to try.

To those who say green technologies rely on subsidies, we say clean tech costs are falling all the time - and if you want to talk about subsidies let's talk about the subsidies handed to fossil fuels, and the covert subsidies that has for too long allowed damaging pollution to be moved off the balance sheet.

To those who say we don't have to worry about climate change, we say the warnings from every science academy in the world could not be clearer - we must act. To fail to do so represents the height of recklessness.

And we are acting.

You are acting.

If this evening's awards are about anything - anything beyond proving that BusinessGreen can organise the proverbial champagne drinks reception in a brewery.

If this evening's awards are about anything, they are about recognising those businesses, NGOs, and executives who are taking action - who are actively building a better and more sustainable economy.

They are also about saying a heartfelt thank you.

Thank you for your support of BusinessGreen.

Thank you for your continued work towards building a greener and more resilient economy.

And thank you for your entries to these awards.

At this point I must say the quality of the entries this year was remarkably high. Fewer than 100 organisations are shortlisted this evening, but we had well over 200 entries for these awards. They really are hugely competitive, and if it is in the nature of awards that some won't finish the evening victorious, I hope it is some consolation that only the leaders of the green economy made it to this stage.

While I'm thanking people I must also thank the rest of the team at BusinessGreen for delivering these awards and continuing to bring you the news and analysis each and every day that the green economy needs.

And of course, a big thank you to our sponsors, without whom this evening would not be possible.

So thank you to Ricoh,

to Innasol,

to our charity partner WWF,

to PwC - who will also be hosting our next BusinessGreen Leaders Forum on October 15th,

and, of course, thank you to our headline sponsor URS.

As a journalist I like to tell stories, so I thought I'd end with a very quick story.

A quick story about beer.

It seemed appropriate, given the venue.

There's a brewery in my East Anglian hinterland called Adnams.

It was established in 1872, but like many firms with a strong connection to its local community it wants to be around in another 100 years.

So this business has looked closely at what it does well, what it does brilliantly, in brewing beer, and has worked out how to do it better.

It has developed a joint venture to deliver an anaerobic digestion plant and is now turning the waste by-products from the brewing process into biogas that it can feed into the grid and use to power its operations.

Its emissions are lower, its energy costs are more predictable, and it is now able to work with other local businesses to provide a sustainable use for food and agricultural waste.

As Plato said, it was a wise man who invented beer.

But it was an even wiser man who worked out how to turn the dregs into clean energy.

The reason I tell this story is not because Adnams are particularly special.

In virtually every industry, in every county in the UK and every country in the world, there are businesses like this.

Businesses that are embracing a more sustainable way of operating, investing in innovative clean technologies, re-connecting with their customers and communities.

Not because they have become tree-hugging campaigners.

But because they know the only way to prosper in the long term is to minimise environmental risks and embrace green opportunities.

Many of those businesses are here to tonight, and if I have one message for you it is for you to start telling your own stories.

Celebrate your successes.

Promote the green progress you are making.

Take every opportunity to emphasise the urgency of this moment.

Tell your customers, your colleagues, and your contemporaries that this is how you do business.

Because if you don't, you leave the stage free for those who wish to wreck the green agenda.

Those luddites and contrarians who want the public to think all businesses are polluting dinosaurs that would happily trash the planet for a quick buck, dodging their taxes as they go.

Those who are terrified of the industrial revolution you are leading, because it threatens their vested interests and their cynical ideology.

It is critical you present an alternative future - a positive future.

It is critical you tell your stories.

Stories of business success and environmental success - going hand-in-hand - each making the other stronger.

But before you rush off to tell those stories, please join me tonight in celebrating your success to date and raise a glass to a cleaner future and the BusinessGreen Leaders who will help us get there.

Thank you.

Enjoy your meal, enjoy the awards, enjoy our host for the evening, Charlie Baker.

And thanks again for your continued support."