12 Nov 2014, 00:05
Tonight, BusinessGreen is hosting its seventh birthday party. Digital publishing is such a fast moving sphere and such an unforgiving environment in which to achieve commercial viability that website birthdays really should be regarded like dog years - seven years puts us comfortably into middle age territory. And yet, it feels like BusinessGreen is still in its teenage years, trying new things (not all of which work), facing challenges and opportunities, and maintaining a passionate (and some might say unrealistic) optimism about the future.
Tonight's party (there are a few spaces left, so if you happen to be in the Covent Garden area come along) is actually about a month late. BusinessGreen was officially launched on October 15th 2007, although you could argue it was truly founded in August 2006 (I forget the exact date) as a small blog on the website of the magazine I was working on at the time, IT Week.
It was around the time that Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth was providing climate change with one of its periodic spells in the political and cultural spotlight. I was writing for an IT trade magazine and had picked up the ‘green beat', largely because I was intrigued by the extent to which the leading IT behemoths, the IBMs, Microsofts, and Googles of this world were talking seriously about environmental issues and investing pretty heavily in developing greener kit. Having realised long before that my future did not lie as a technology reporter (a confession: I struggle to connect a printer to a laptop, comprehending the complexities of mainframes and business applications was always going to be a stretch), I grabbed the opportunity to put together a proposal that was blindingly obvious and, looking back, remarkably ambitious.
The idea was simple: there was growing interest from our readers in the green IT sector and the likelihood was that interest would be replicated in numerous other sectors; I worked for a business to business publisher, so why not launch a business to business publication focused on green issues?
The rationale was the same then as it is now. The mainstream press (with some admirable exceptions) too often ignores or underplays environmental issues, and where it does tackle them it commonly regards businesses as the source of all the world's green woes. In contrast, the business press (again, with some admirable exceptions) too often greets the concept of green business with a dismissive sneer, and a suggestion it is alright for marketing campaigns and reputational management, but is not a core business issue. BusinessGreen has always sought to address the gap between those two extremes, to demonstrate there is a powerful and growing business constituency that understands environmental threats and opportunities and is serious about addressing them. The continued expansion of our audience suggests our analysis was, and remains, correct.
Thankfully, back in 2006 I had an editor in Lem Bingley and a publisher in Robin Booth who recognised there was a gap in the market we could tap into and decided to test whether we could launch a website for the still nascent green economy. One of the advantages of digital publishing is that you can pilot new ideas quickly and at relatively low cost, so we launched a blog to see if there was an audience out there. I remember the day Lem told me the blog had become one of the most read on the IT Week site with 11,000 hits a month (we now frequently get that many hits in a day). Confident there was an audience out there and emboldened by the fact some of our core IT clients were planning green-focused advertising campaign we decided to launch the full BusinessGreen website.
The launch was delayed slightly as IT Week's publisher was in the process of getting acquired by Incisive Media, but in autumn 2007, with the backing of our new owners, BusinessGreen was launched - straight into the teeth of the worst economic recession in over 100 years.
There is no way to spin this, the first half of BusinessGreen's existence was about building the audience and the brand, and surviving. Luckily, the first task was achieved and made the second task that bit easier. Our publishing and sales teams were chopped and changed a few times and there were some decidedly challenging months, but the combination of low overheads, an expanding audience, and a gradual commercial recovery meant we were allowed to persevere.
The three and half years that followed have been far more rewarding. My publisher back in 2010, Tim Webb, made the case that if we were going to really fulfil BusinessGreen's potential we needed to invest. Incisive Media again backed the new strategy and the site was redesigned, the editorial team was trebled with the appointment of Jessica Shankleman and Will Nichols, and a dedicated sales team was appointed to give us a renewed commercial focus (it is now ably headed up by Matthew Oliver).
Since then we've had the resources to try different things and, while the development has not always been smooth, we've been able to grow the brand. The BusinessGreen Leaders Awards (now approaching their fifth year and firmly established as the UK's biggest green awards), BusinessGreen Plus, our Twitter and social media presence, and the various events we have hosted have all served to drastically expand what we can offer readers. This development has been accompanied by new commercial opportunities for clients - online advertising with some of the best click rates in the sector, our Industry Voice blog, lead generation, sponsored events, and so on - that complement rather than compromise our core editorial mission. We have become what we always wanted to be, a commercially viable (if still smaller than I'd like) online media brand serving the green economy. We are not funded through philanthropic grants or cross subsidised by other titles. We are demonstrating that commercial publishing can still work if you can provide high value content to an engaged audience.
That said, digital publishing remains a precarious pursuit and there is a long way still to go to fully realise our ambition of becoming the leading media brand in the fast maturing green economy. Next year we want to expand our events programmes, better help our readers connect with one another, continue to improve our reporting and our BusinessGreen Plus service, and play an even more proactive role in contributing to the debates that shape the green economy.
Most of all though we want to continue to strive to keep the green economy as well informed as possible about the massive clean tech opportunities and dread-inducing environmental risks we face. Like many environmentalists we are lucky enough to love what we do, and kind of hate that we have to do it. It's a cognitive dissonance many of you who work on environmental issues will be all too familiar with.
If there is one difference between the green economy we set out to cover in 2007 and the green economy of 2014 it is in the extent to which this cognitive dissonance has intensified. The warnings associated with environmental risks have become ever more compelling and urgent, and yet, at the same time the causes for optimism provided by clean technologies and the green economy have similarly become ever more convincing. The conventional wisdom dictated it was not supposed to be this way; global economic crisis was meant to push environmental concerns right down the political and business agenda and thwart attempts to decarbonise. But while there have been numerous setbacks the green economy has continued to grow rapidly, driven by a combination of emerging market investment and the established clean tech hubs of the US and Europe.
The policy and technology progress seen over the past seven years indicates that the arguments in favour of a greener and more sustainable economy are continuing to cut through. Those reckless voices arguing against a green economic transition look ever more isolated and desperate, even as they tout the interventions of sacked cabinet ministers and dyspeptic newspaper editors as some kind of turning point in their steady and inevitable retreat to the margins of political and business thinking. The green economy's next phase - when it will be required to deliver on its promise and achieve net global emissions reductions - may be its biggest challenge yet, but it is starting from a position of strength.
As we celebrate BusinessGreen's seventh birthday we hope the site can continue to keep you all up-to-date with this exciting new chapter and the huge challenges and opportunities it presents the global economy.
11 Nov 2014, 17:35
It is a case of better late than never, I suppose. Several decades after Norway channelled the country's oil and gas wealth towards a sovereign wealth fund that transformed a relatively impoverished northern European nation into one of the world's richest and most developed countries, the UK has indicated that it might have finally learnt the importance of finding a productive long term use for a lucky windfall. Set against the context of the UK's scandalous decision to burn through its North Sea oil and gas wealth twice over - once to release climate changing gases and a second time by diverting the proceeds into Thatcher's election buying housing booms and tax cuts (for an explanation of how Norwegians became millionaires while the UK continued its post imperial decline, this article from the Guardian's Aditya Chakrabortty is essential reading) - this week's announcement Ministers are planning a shale gas sovereign wealth fund is to be welcomed.
And yet, the vague and conflicting messages coming from government about how the proposed wealth fund will be utilised suggests that we are still yet to fully learn the lessons from Norway, nor fully accept the urgent need to decarbonise our economy.
In fairness to Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey, he did hint that the new fund was about "storing the financial benefits of shale production and putting it towards a low-carbon energy future". But details about how shale gas tax receipts would be put towards this low carbon energy future were not forthcoming. Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne suggested a fund that was apparently meant to benefit the whole country's low carbon transition could be "invested in the long-term economic health of the north to create jobs and investment there". In the Chancellor's view, the focus on boosting our "low-carbon energy future" appears to have been relegated to the sidelines in favour of a nod and a wink towards new roads and rail lines across the north.
The failure to provide a firmer commitment to ensuring this new sovereign wealth fund will be a green sovereign wealth fund, even as the country that pioneered the long term investment of oil and gas wealth is considering divesting its entire $840bn fund from fossil fuels, means Ministers will now attempt to spend the putative new shale gas fund countless times over on which ever project promises the biggest electoral boost.
We will be left with confusion where there should be absolute clarity. The reality is that if we are to make continued fossil fuel exploration compatible with long term carbon targets we need carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as a matter of urgency. Why then is the government sketching out plans for a shale gas sovereign wealth fund and not stating explicitly, right from the start, that it will be used to help decarbonise the gas industry, primarily through CCS, but also through energy efficiency measures that would help ensure we burn as little gas as possible to heat our homes. If shale gas cheerleaders really are confident this nascent industry can deliver billions of pounds to the Exchequer they should also welcome this money being used to make CCS in the UK a reality.
Personally, I remain unconvinced that shale gas exploration in the UK can be justified at a time when falling oil prices make the economics increasingly challenging and climate science necessitates leaving a huge chunk of global fossil fuel reserves in the ground. These fears are further amplified by the shale gas industry's woeful communications efforts and the current government's failure to impose a power sector decarbonisation target that would necessitate CCS at gas-fired power stations.
But if we have to have a domestic shale gas industry and if our government is willing to buy the argument that gas can act as a "bridge" to a low carbon economy, then it needs clear long term policies to demonstrate that it is a "bridge" to a sub 2C, not a 4C, world. To that end, we need confirmation the power sector will really be decarbonised by 2030; a shale gas tax regime that recognises the environmental costs associated with fossil fuel exploration, not one built around tax breaks some within the shale gas industry privately admit they don't need; and a commitment to use any shale gas tax windfall (and remember the UK is still yet to extract any shale gas, geology and economics mean this promised boom could yet be a whimper) to develop the infrastructure that would give gas a future in a carbon-constrained world. I suspect that is precisely what Norway would do were it to uncover a shale gas windfall, although its current review of its wealth fund suggests it may go further still and just divest from fossil fuels altogether.
Until the UK government offers a clearer vision of how it plans to spend the promised shale gas billions, environmentalists will be forgiven for fearing a repeat of Thatcher's North Sea fuelled electioneering, in the form of a transparent attempt to bribe communities to support fracking projects with the latest infrastructure boondoggles.
05 Nov 2014, 00:05
A blight is spreading across the UK, eating up valuable agricultural land and scarring the landscape with ugly developments that are pushing production of meat and other traditional British produce overseas. It is a blight that Conservative Environment Secretary Liz Truss, brave opponent of rural solar farms, must surely recognise and now act urgently to address. I am talking, of course, about golf courses.
Now, I am not against golf courses per se. They are fine on unproductive sand dunes or even on commercial roofs (I'm thinking of those Tokyo-inspired driving ranges with their endless banks of tees). But food and farming is our number one manufacturing industry, the whole food chain represents £100bn in our economy, and it is a real problem if we are using productive agricultural land for golf courses.
And we are. Extensively. I was tempted not to bother to research precisely how big an impact golf courses are having on the UK's green and pleasant land. After all, instinctively I know there are a lot of them and they must therefore have a big impact on the UK's food production. I've seen them. With my own eyes. There are loads of golf courses and they look horrible.
But I'm not that lazy and I am aware that if you are going to call for a moratorium on something that many people cherish you need some evidence. So I did some research (turned to Google) and apparently there are over 2,000 full 18 hole golf courses in England and hundreds of smaller courses. Combined, their approximately 270,000 hectares is equivalent to two per cent of the country's land area. In the midst of what politicians are apt to describe, when it suits them, as a food security and housing crisis that is a lot of massively unproductive land. And no, I do not regard Rupert from accounts getting his handicap down to 23 as a productive use of such a high value asset.
Of course, some people will argue that golf courses are strangely beautiful, that they are a marvel of modern landscaping, adding to the UK's vistas. To which I say, have these people ever seen a wildflower meadow? And if they still think these abominations of fertilizer, pesticide, and thwarted imagination are beautiful, do they want the UK to become an agricultural powerhouse? Would they like their children to have somewhere to live? Enough is enough, these ugly excuses for the countryside need to be halted.
Others will claim that golf boosts our economy, creating much needed jobs and revenues. But these are jobs that could just as easily be created by putting the same land to more productive use. And imagine the productivity boost for the UK's world-leading banking and legal industries if our financiers and lawyers spent less time wrestling with the heartache caused by their inability to master a tricky par four on the back nine. Not to mention, envisage the benefits to the NHS of bringing an end to the drink-related injuries associated with the 19th hole.
Inevitably, a moratorium on new golf courses will not be easy for government to deliver, particularly when they will have to battle the well-connected vested interests that make up the golf blob. But it is time for Ministers to stand up to this all-powerful lobby and instruct planning officials to bring an end to this blight. If local authorities refuse to act and continue to work under the misguided assumption that local planning officers are best placed to make decisions that affect local environments the Communities Secretary should use his powers to personally review any and all golf-related planning applications. The tax system and every other policy lever in the government's arsenal should then be used to roll back the seemingly never-ending march of the golf course.
Now, to paraphrase the peerless Stewart Lee, I do not really think golf courses should be banned. Some of my best friends are golfers. I am using an exaggerated form of the rhetoric and implied values of Liz Truss, Eric Pickles and some of their Conservative colleagues to satirise the rhetoric and implied values of Liz Truss, Eric Pickles and some of their Conservative colleagues that are deployed when they discuss solar farms and other forms of renewable energy. And yes, it is a shame to have to break character to explain that.
However, while I absolutely do not wish to see new golf courses banned and existing golf courses returned to agricultural production or sold to housing developers, I will make this point. There are over 2,000 18 hole golf courses in England alone, some may be located on recovered quarries or disused airfields, but many are on previously productive agricultural land or on the edge of towns where housing stock is in short supply. I would wager each and every one of these golf courses is larger than the UK's biggest solar farms.
Meanwhile, Truss and co are getting agitated because there are around 250 solar farms in the UK and we may end up with 1,000 by the end of the decade. Many of these new solar farms will be specifically targeted at genuinely ugly, disused and unproductive land. Many others will be co-located so that livestock grazing or support for local wildlife habitats can continue alongside the solar panels that generate the clean and increasingly cost-competitive power the UK desperately needs. These solar farms will not be targeted at beautiful rural landscapes so that executives on a Golf Day jolly get a nice view from the seventh tee. Moreover, if solar developers do seek to impose projects on an unsuitable landscape local planning officers can and do block them.
I don't think golf courses should be banned, but when it comes to food production and landscape impacts perhaps there is a case for ministers dealing with the non-issue that is excessive golf development before addressing the separate non-issue that is solar farms' impact on our food security.
29 Oct 2014, 16:17
The race for the most confusing climate sceptic article of 2014 is a crowded field, but as the nights draw in a new front-runner has emerged with former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe's latest effort in the Daily Express. It really does have everything: allusions to Nazis, dismissal of scientific inquiry, misinterpretation of policies.
Challenging the myths perpetuated by climate sceptics is an onerous task and given the extent to which these arguments are marginalised in boardrooms and government departments around the world it is rarely worth the effort. However, in recent weeks it has been clear a concerted campaign is under way to try and make the repeal of the Climate Change Act an issue at the next election, putting billions of pounds of much-needed investment and the UK's international credibility at risk, not to mention hopes of building a greener, cleaner, healthier and more prosperous economy.
Widdecombe's article is, to date, the nadir of this campaign in so much as it crams virtually every climate sceptic canard going into 330 words and ties them all together with a storm of contentious opinion presented as fact, or "holy writ" as the former Conservative MP might put it.
There are quasi-legitimate arguments against the Climate Change Act. You could credibly argue targets are not the best way of driving decarbonisation, you could even just about argue that we would be better off crossing our fingers and hoping for the best when it comes to climate risk, although you need a pretty reckless assessment of said risks to do so.
Widdecombe does none of these things. So, in the grand tradition of journalistic rows, what follows is a Fisking of the myths, omissions, and spin that defines the ex-Strictly contestant's attack on the Climate Change Act.
"Six years ago Parliament passed the Climate Change Act with a mere five MPs, all Conservatives, voting against it."
Widdecombe starts on firm ground. The Climate Change Act did indeed pass with an overwhelming majority. This means that either almost every Member of Parliament has been hoodwinked and voted against the UK's interests, as Widdecombe and her allies suggest, or our parliamentarians considered the evidence and thought this was a good bill.
"This week I returned to the House of Commons to join the other four for an anniversary dinner. Andrew Tyrie, Peter Lilley, Christopher Chope and Philip Davies are still there fighting the nonsense but I have simply joined the ranks of the long-suffering British public who view the increasing 'lights will go out' stories with grim foreboding."
And you thought it was the "Green Blob" that enjoyed cosy Westminster dinners to reflect on their successes. As to the reasons for the British public's "long suffering", I'd hazard that if you asked them they would list numerous iniquities before they settled on climate change policy. They may well be fearful the lights will go out, but this is most likely because newspapers like the Daily Express keep telling them we face blackouts, even when the people who actually operate the grid tell us we don't.
"Support for the then Labour Government's bill was all part of Cameron's campaign to 'modernise' the Tory Party. It was the same campaign which saw him driving huskies and putting a ridiculous wind turbine on his roof so he was pretty displeased with the five of us but we were right. Oh, so right."
In fairness, Cameron's rooftop wind turbine was "ridiculous" and no doubt he was furious with the Climate Change Rebels, just as he is now furious with those MPs who have given up on even the vaguest pretence of party loyalty in favour of ideologically obsessive campaigns to destabilise their own government. Widdecombe is perfectly entitled to suggest she was "right" about the Climate Change Act, but if she is going to do so it may be worth offering some tangible evidence.
"The wretched Bill committed us, at huge expense, to reduce the UK's carbon emissions by a staggering 80 per cent."
It is true that the Act commits to greenhouse gas emissions of 80 per cent, but Widdecombe is guilty of an important omission. The goal is to cut emissions 80 per cent against 1990 levels by 2050. We have nearly half a century to reach the target and we have already achieved around a quarter of the goal. It is daunting, but it is not as daunting as Widdecombe implies. It is also contestable that the commitment comes "at huge expense". Clean energy costs are falling fast, while the Stern Review and numerous other studies have shown it is more cost effective to tackle climate change risks now than cling to business-as-usual. Finally, the Act provides freedom for governments to respond to economic pressures and ensure decarbonisation is delivered in a way that does not load excessive expense on the economy.
"Yet that was supposed to be part of a global agreement and, as was easily foreseeable, there has been no such agreement but we have soldiered on despite accounting for about two per cent of all the world's emissions."
There have, in fact, been global agreements in which nations have pledged to keep post-industrial temperature increases to 2C and work is continuing on a legally-binding treaty to be signed by 2020. Moreover, over 60 nations now have some form of binding climate change legislation and several economies - Denmark, Mexico, California - have Climate Change Acts similar to the UK. And the EU has just agreed to binding emissions targets through to 2030 that are pretty much in line with the emissions reduction trajectory required by the Climate Change Act.
Yes, the UK does account for two per cent of global emissions, but two per cent is still a hefty chunk for such a small country (it is about the same as the emissions from the entire global aviation industry) and our carbon footprint is higher still when you consider our historical responsibilities and the structure of our import-dependent economy. It is also worth considering we once accounted for a fraction of global trade before the industrial revolution made us a superpower. Being a small part of a big problem is not an excuse for not trying to tackle it. In fact, small nations can trigger economic transformations that the entire world emulates.
"We have shunned the obvious answer of nuclear power in favour of vast, ugly, inefficient, bird-mashing wind farms which benefit none but those who take the subsidies from them."
There is so much wrong with this it is hard to know where to start. The idea the UK has "shunned" nuclear power is just bizarre when the government is planning to approve a heavily subsidised new nuclear power plant for the first time in a generation. In reality, the Climate Change Act and the need to decarbonise our power supplies is one of the main reason why all three main parties are backing plans for a new fleet of reactors. Nuclear development may have taken longer than its advocates hoped, but it has not been "shunned" in any sense of the word - just look at the number of meetings between Ministers and EDF. And wind has not been favoured over nuclear; the past two governments have made it painfully clear they want both.
Wind turbines certainly are "vast", as Widdecome alleges, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder; traffic and cats "mash" more birds than turbines ever will; turbines' efficiency ratings match up pretty well with other energy sources; and if wind energy generators benefit through subsidies, the people who have to breathe less fossil fuel-related air pollution benefit too, as does the country as a whole from enhanced energy security and increased inward investment.
"The phrase 'political correctness gone mad' could have been invented for this stupidity alone."
Personally, I have no idea what "political correctness" even means anymore. But if you take it as a desire to avoid language, policies, and behaviours that needlessly cause offence, especially to those seen to be at a disadvantage, then I cannot even begin to understand what it has to do with the Climate Change Act.
"Meanwhile the science of climate change is robustly disputed where once it was regarded as having all the authority of Holy Writ."
Science has never been regarded as "having all the authority of Holy Writ". Science and religion are very different things, not least because one admits its fallibility and adjusts to the evidence before it. "Robustly disputed" is a relative term, but to date these robust disputes have proven so effective that every single national science academy in the world has continued to warn that climate change presents a serious threat.
"So much was this the case that Nigel Lawson, whose book An Appeal To Reason is still the best refutation of the doom mongers, found it difficult to get published."
Yes, perhaps, but he did get it published in the end, and has spent much of the past five years taking to the pages of newspapers and the airwaves of the BBC to promote its arguments.
"In 1930s Germany they burned books that challenged state orthodoxy: here we just try to bury them."
I hereby invoke Godwin's Law.
"I am proud to have been one of those five MPs and I wonder how many others would join us if the vote were happening now."
Widdecombe finishes as she began, on firm ground, which comes as surprise given the intervening paragraphs. The question of how many Conservative MPs would join the five rebels if the Climate Change Act were voted on again is one of the current great unknowns of British politics. The hope is that when push comes to shove the vast majority of MPs would consider the scientific warnings and economic opportunities that underpin the legislation, recognise that decarbonisation is both essential and desirable, and acknowledge that an over-arching Climate Change Act helps deliver a greener and better economy (precisely as they did when the vast majority of MPs voted for the recent Energy Act and its over-riding focus on delivering clean power).
But, as Widdecombe implies, the Tea Party-fication of parts of the British Conservative Party means the campaign to vilify the Climate Change Act is not done yet. There are a number of Tory MPs who are now working hard to undermine the legislation and the UK's wider green economic programme at every turn. Although, in fairness, the many businesses that support decarbonisation can take comfort from the fact that if the best arguments they can muster boil down to comparing the "green blob" with Nazis the Climate Change Act is not in any danger just yet.
28 Oct 2014, 12:01
The reaction to the EU's new energy and climate change package is one of those hugely complex scenarios where almost everyone is right.
Ed Davey was right when he hailed the deal as "historic" and ambitious. Climate scientists were right when they said the 40 per cent emissions reduction target did not go far enough. David Cameron was right when he argued it was logical to avoid binding national clean technology targets and give countries the freedom to meet emissions targets as they saw fit. Caroline Lucas was right when she countered that it would make it a lot easier to mobilise investment in cost effective clean technologies with binding targets. Brussels sources were right when they said the agreement represented a boost to the prospects of an international climate change treaty. Green NGOs were right when they warned we are still a long way from delivering a sufficiently ambitious international agreement. Business groups were right when they counselled that special transitional measures were needed to stop heavy industry quitting the EU. Carbon market experts were right when they warned handing out too many freebies to carbon intensive firms would undermine the credibility of the entire package. Poland and Eastern European states were right to argue they need significant financial help if they are to decarbonise. And Green politicians across the bloc were right when they said the targets would be useless without even more concerted action to transform coal-reliant economies.
In fact, the only analysis of the EU energy and climate change package that it is difficult to construct a compelling argument in support of is the climate sceptic canard that Europe's leaders have embarked on a quasi-treasonous attempt to destroy one of the world's few modern economies.
However, in wading through the huge amount of often conflicting analysis prompted by last week's EU energy and climate change deal - in attempting to work out who, among all the people who are right, is most right - it is vital that business leaders retain some perspective.
The first bit of perspective that is essential to any and all discussions of energy and climate change issues is that climate risks, as explained by the world's most respected scientific authorities, are escalating. The emissions cuts the EU and many other leading economies are working towards give us a small and shrinking chance of keeping average temperature rises to 2C. Businesses and governments everywhere need to stop hiding from this frightening reality and ensure that all long term planning and investment factors in the risks associated with climate change. Climate resilience has to become part of business-as-usual.
It is this reality that feeds into all the entirely justified criticism of the level of ambition contained in the EU package. Set against the scale of the climate risks governments and businesses face, the failure to adopt more ambitious emissions targets and sort out the manifest flaws in the emissions trading scheme is an ongoing travesty.
However, the second piece of perspective it is critical to retain is that the EU energy and climate change package does provide a major boost to decarbonisation efforts across the bloc and as such leaves the door ajar for the 2C goal.
An emissions reduction target of at least 40 per cent by 2030 confirms that even against a backdrop of economic insecurity, geopolitical tensions, national populism, and media misinformation, Europe's leaders are committed to continuing the great clean industrial revolution that they embarked on almost a decade ago. Policies to encourage low carbon investment and gradually shift the economic balance of power away from unabated fossil fuels will continue. The complex arguments that demonstrate how clean technologies improve health, enhance energy security, drive economic growth, and tackle climate risks have won out.
It remains true that this new target would have been easier to meet if the EU's leaders had made more progress in reforming the bloc's emissions trading scheme (although ambitious reforms could yet be finalised). Equally, the blunt instruments that are binding national renewables and energy efficiency targets may well have better served to maximise clean tech investment compared to the current arrangements. However, with renewables' costs falling and the business case for energy efficiency investment more compelling than ever these sectors have to be confident they can still play a massive role in achieving the binding 40 per cent target. The absence of binding targets leaves these industries vulnerable to anti-clean tech politicking in some parts of the bloc, but across the EU as a whole the green energy sector will continue to prosper.
Anyone doubting this fact needs to apply the cui bono test that should be the primary metric for assessing any international treaty. The reality is that in agreeing to the next decade of decarbonisation efforts European leaders have delivered a significant long term boost to the green economy and clean technology firms. Coal investors and unreformed heavy industries may have been celebrating the handful of concessions they wrung from Brussels, but who will be happier, the renewable energy firm with a clear role to play in the march towards decarbonisation or the coal plant that will eventually have to either install commercialised carbon capture and storage technology or shut up shop? The investor planning to build interconnectors to deliver a better functioning European energy market, curbing emissions and costs in the process, or Vladimir Putin watching one of his main gas export markets tap into alternative sources of energy?
It is also worth remembering that the EU is on track to comfortably beat its emissions target for the current decade, in part because of the great recession, but also because of massive gains in clean energy and efficiency. The new binding 40 per cent emissions target is a floor and not a ceiling. It could conceivably be increased to 50 per cent in the event of an agreement in Paris and is highly likely to be exceeded either way if the current pace of improvement in clean technologies continues.
It is the clear signal to businesses, investors and policymakers, the EU has provided in favour of continued decarbonisation that explains the remarkably intemperate media backlash from climate sceptic groups and fossil fuel backed vested interests. Beyond the confines of the wilder extremes of our political class they are losing the argument and are left with few cards left to play, beyond attacking a "green blob" that includes the majority of the public and countless businesses and scaremongering about a European economic catastrophe that they will eventually have to recognise is simply not going to happen (or at least is not going to happen because of environmental policies).
Serious business leaders and investors need to look at the policy signals emanating not just from Brussels but also from European national governments, China with its new carbon markets, the US with its booming clean tech industries, emerging markets with their various renewables strategies, and recognise the risks associated with high carbon infrastructure and business models keep ratcheting upwards at exactly the same time as the risks associated with clean tech are plummeting. The reaction to the EU's energy and climate change package may have seemed contradictory and confusing, but the overarching investment signals are anything but.
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Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray