Tony Abbott: Not very repealing

11 Jul 2014

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott

There is much wry amusement in environmental circles today, after Tony Abbott, Australia's climate-reckless Prime Minister, saw his plans to repeal the country's carbon tax blocked by the Senate. Any sense of schadenfreude (I know it's an unappealing trait, but sometimes it's very hard to resist) was only amplified when it emerged that the Australian edition of The Spectator had already gone to press with a cover splash celebrating Abbott's "victory" and a borderline onanistic editorial congratulating itself over its role in bringing an end to "global warming alarmism".

Writing as a journalist who has often experienced the surging fear that a story written in preparation of an announcement may have been mistakenly published it is hard not to have a modicum of sympathy for the team at The Spectator – leaving aside, of course, the fact that this is a publication that routinely treats the biggest environmental crisis the world faces with all the maturity and sophistication of the sixth form common room that so many of its columnists seem to wish they had never left. Most journalists will read The Spectator's premature plea to "allow us a little gloating" and think there but for the grace of God go I.

But if the embarrassing timing of The Spectator's publication – not to mention the amusingly hyperbolic self-revelation of its core mission as being to stand "athwart history, yelling stop" – is ultimately of little consequence, the remarkably misguided analysis that has attached itself to Abbott's laughably cack-handed attempts to repeal Australia's carbon tax does matter.

Unfortunately, the likelihood remains that Abbott will eventually find a way to appease the Palmer United Party after it blocked the repeal legislation at the 11th hour. Commentators are predicting Abbott will secure his delayed victory in the coming weeks. But the latest developments contain two important lessons for both policy makers and business leaders around the world.

The first is that if it is difficult to pass environmental legislation, it is even harder to repeal it. It has taken Abbott no end of horse-trading and a huge amount of political capital to get even this far and all he is trying to do is to repeal a relatively modest tax that will deal a major blow to Australia's green economy, but will have a negligible impact on wider energy costs and competitiveness. And this is in a country with a hugely powerful right wing political and media elite and arguably the most well-established climate-sceptic network in the world.

In other countries repealing environmental legislation is even harder. Outside of the Anglosphere polls have shown that climate scepticism has next to no sway, either with the public or in the corridors of power. Meanwhile, in the US, President Obama's climate strategy is based on a Supreme Court ruling that requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Even if the GOP retake the White House, which is a big if given recent polling and demographic trends, the chances of overturning the Supreme Court ruling and rolling back climate legislation is slim.

In the UK, The Spectator and its allies in the right wing press may be doing everything in their power to serve as the media wing of the Conservative right in an attempt to deliver a government that would be more hostile to green policies. But if there is little doubt environmental policies will change following next year's election, it remains almost impossible to see how a majority can be secured in Parliament for the repealing of the Climate Change Act. And even if some green policies are watered down, the fact remains that if the UK stays in the EU and if it wants to play a proactive role in UN climate negotiations then the general direction of travel in favour of decarbonisation will continue.

Secondly, even if Abbott manages to repeal the carbon tax, the Australian government's opposition to ambitious climate policy remains an almost lone international anomaly. The Spectator's assertion that "Mr Abbott reflects the growing consensus on the futility of carbon pricing" is as mistaken as its early declaration of victory is embarrassing.

The are some powerful politicians around the world who oppose bolder action on climate change, but it is notable that when Abbott recently teamed up with Canadian premier Stephen Harper to call for right wing governments to unite in pursuit of a "climate realist" approach they were met with a stony silence. In the meantime, Obama got on with unveiling the latest phase of his climate strategy, US Secretary of State John Kerry continued with his now frequent meetings with his Chinese counterparts to discuss bolder climate change policies, India's newly elected Narendra Modi underlined his commitment to clean energy, the Chinese government continued with its carbon pricing trials, and the EU stepped up efforts to deliver a post-2020 climate strategy. If there is a "growing consensus on the futility of carbon pricing" it has grown from virtually non-existent to tiny, and it does not include the world's three biggest emitters: the US, China, and the EU.

As the GLOBE network of legislators chaired by the UK's Lord Deben – bizarrely dismissed by The Spectator as "thermomaniac climate-change Cassandra from England" – 64 of the world's 66 largest economies are making progress on climate and clean energy legislation. In recent years almost 500 climate laws have been passed around the world; that is the true context in which the still as yet unrepealed Australian carbon tax sits. 

Moreover, confidence is mounting that a new international agreement to tackle emissions can be delivered next year by both the UN and the World Trade Organisation. The Spectator declares that "prospects for a binding and enforceable global post-Kyoto deal in Paris next year are about as likely as England winning the soccer World Cup in 2018". Well, England may deserve to be long shots for the World Cup (albeit they represent just as good a bet as Australia), but there are plenty of serious observers who think the odds on a more ambitious climate agreement are shortening. Any deal is unlikely to go far enough, but a dispassionate assessment tells you that the chances of encouraging progress are looking better than they have done in years.

Abbott's war on climate policies is undoubtedly a blow to Australia's green economy and international efforts to tackle climate change. But its impact should not be overstated. Business leaders and investors need to be aware that the general direction of both global climate legislation and technology development remains broadly in favour of decarbonisation. There is no value for businesses in using a single setback to justify ignoring the wide-ranging green policy and clean technology progress that has been achieved over the past few years. Jumping the gun will only lead to poor decisions and embarrassing mistakes. Just ask The Spectator.

Why innovation isn't always the answer

08 Jul 2014

Israel's first photovoltaic power plant Ketura Sun installed by Siemens

Like most people, I love the idea of innovation. Innovation is new, it's exciting, it's cutting-edge, and it's vital – even if no one can agree on precisely what it is.

In green business and environmental circles innovation is self-evidently of huge importance. Our current economic models are at the root of the environmental crises we face, so we need to develop innovative new technologies and business models to resolve those crises. Without technical innovation to bring down the cost of clean energy and transport we will never decarbonise the economy, without innovative new ways of doing business we will never tackle the resource crunches that loom over so many industries. That is what makes the sheer quantity and quality of clean tech innovation on display at last week's BusinessGreen Leaders Awards so inspiring and heartening. We need clean tech innovation, and long may it continue.

However, there is a little-acknowledged caveat to our obsession with innovation that was highlighted last week by the Dutch landscape ecologist Victor Beumer. Sometimes, he told the Global Estuaries Forum in Deauville, you need to stop regarding a solution as innovative and acknowledge that it has become normalised, boring, passé even. In fact, this should be the point you are aiming for – that is when you have made it.

Beumer was speaking of how we can use eco-engineering techniques to tackle flood risks when he said: "People say this is innovative, but it's been being done for over 10 years and if you call it innovative people want the government to pay for it and businesses won't take the risk." But he could have been talking about almost any clean tech innovation.

The key point that too many in the clean tech sector overlook in their rush to celebrate innovation (and I am as guilty of this as anyone) is that not everyone likes innovation. Large swathes of the public don't like innovation. Pension funds and institutional investors really hate innovation, many multinationals, regardless of what they say to the contrary, are wary of innovation. What they want is safe, reliable, bankable technologies, projects and business models that will deliver near-guaranteed returns.

The goal of the clean tech revolution is not innovation for innovation's sake, it is innovation to reach and then pass the point where greener alternatives become safer and more effective propositions than the polluting incumbents they are designed to replace. We need a clean tech industry that can innovate, but we also need one that can roll out its innovations at global scale in the matter of a few years. There are other skills that matter besides innovation (and yes I appreciate the contradiction of writing this just days after our BusinessGreen Leaders Awards celebrated the best in green business innovation).

The most encouraging aspect of the decision by retail giants such as Walmart, Sainsbury's and Tesco to invest so heavily in deploying solar panels and LED lights at their stores is that these firms are not traditionally that innovative when it comes to this aspect of their operations. They are not deploying these technologies to prove that they are cutting-edge, they've done the return on investment calculations, tested the technology and deemed it to be the best and most cost effective, not necessarily the most innovative, option. Similarly, it has to be asked if wind and solar energy should still be seen as innovative in those parts of the world where the technology has been around for more than 20 years and can now compete with fossil fuels on cost without subsidy.

Of course, innovation remains crucial, it is the lifeblood of the clean tech sector and will remain so for years to come. Green industries secure huge benefits from their being regarded as unimpeachably modern and technologically bleeding edge.

But there will come a point, and for some parts of the green economy it has already come, when clean tech firms will have to realise innovation can only get you so far. Sometimes you have to focus on deployment, and it is at that point that being regarded as innovative can become a curse as well as a blessing. It is almost always good to be seen as innovative, but if clean tech firms are to ever achieve their goals they also have to be regarded as boringly mainstream.

We are living through a slow motion global energy crisis - and only clean tech can save us

20 Jun 2014

bp-web

Followers on Twitter will already be aware that I spent much of Tuesday angry and bemused at BP's latest annual Statistical Review of World Energy and the quite frankly terrifying data contained therein. Although in fairness it wasn't the report that prompted my anguished response, more the staggeringly insouciant interpretation of its findings offered by BP and the selective blindness of the world's media when it comes to the long term risks the oil industry's data so explicitly exposes. As Mat Hope of Carbon Brief observed: "If only @BusinessGreen was print, i'm pretty sure we'd see @James_BG tears of frustration smudged across the page". There were no smudged tears, but I'd challenge anyone who cares about the planet and the global economy not to look at our collective willingness to ignore the challenges BP's report makes plain and not get a bit upset.

For those of you who missed BP's report - and you'd be forgiven for doing so, given that despite its explosive findings relating directly to the headline grabbing events of recent weeks, it was never going to dominate the business pages in a week in which Iraq continued to implode and Russia upped the ante in its stand-off with Ukraine - it offered a snapshot of the current global energy market, confirming that the scary long term trends the oil industry declines to talk about in public are still very much present and correct.

As I argued on Tuesday, those trends can be divided into two overarching risks - climate change and energy security - both of which BP's statistics suggest are bad and getting worse.

On the climate change front the report confirmed that following a modest slowdown caused by the financial crisis annual increases in energy use and emissions are almost back up to their 10 year average. Meanwhile, the rapid and disruptive expansion in clean energy globally is barely putting a dent in the continued dominance of fossil fuels, which was further aided by a three per cent jump in coal use last year. Clean energy may be making impressive strides, but there is no reason as yet to update BP's similarly under-reported admission earlier this year that it expects greenhouse gas emissions to rise 29 per cent by 2035, essentially condemning the world to temperature increases well in excess of 2C.

On the energy security front, the BP report is, if anything, even more of a cause for concern, at least in the short term. In a speech that sought to redefine the concept of irony, BP chief executive Bob Dudley told his audience at the World Petroleum Congress that "energy can act as a bridge" between nations. This was on the same day as Moscow turned off the taps on gas to Ukraine and Islamist militants laid siege to Iraqi oil refineries.

Dudley's central argument was that the disruptions to supplies - that he acknowledged were becoming a way of life for the oil industry - were being compensated for by increased production, primarily from the US, leading to a historically benign period of stable oil prices. As Dudley observed, the report, and its identification of stable oil prices, "demonstrates the strength of the flexible global energy system in adapting to a changing world".

But what BP failed to highlight was that those stable prices have now stayed above $100 a barrel for three consecutive years. The most important graph in the entire report shows that oil prices, adjusted for inflation, have never been higher since the Pennsylvanian oil boom of the 1860s. For three consecutive years prices have been higher than during the 1970s oil crisis and the pre-2008 boom, and all this during a period that Dudley describes as being characterised by a "stagnant global economy". If anyone ever doubted the wisdom of billionaire investor Jeremy Grantham's assertion that the days of abundant resources are over they should take a look at BP's graph on historic oil prices and the concentration of record spikes over the past 10 years.

What BP and Dudley are effectively saying is that a "strong" and "flexible" global energy market capable of "adapting to a changing world" cannot currently deliver oil at under $100 a barrel. Just imagine where a weak and inflexible market would leave us. Want to know why the global economic recovery has been so slow and fragile? There is one of your answers right there.

Of course, the trillion dollar question is what happens next? BP's press office explained its review was neither forward looking, nor included models of how it would like the world to be. But as BP's chief economist, Christof Rühl, explained the balancing act being performed by supply disruptions in the Middle East and increased production in the US is "a sheer coincidence" that cannot last indefinitely. Something has to give at some point.

There is of course the possibility that US production will continue to surge, new fields will be opened up in new regions, and the Sunnis, the Shias, and the Kurds will agree to chill out and talk about their differences. However, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest tensions in the Middle East will continue, new fields, many of which require ever higher capital costs to exploit, will struggle to keep pace with booming Asian demand, and the US shale oil boom will start to plateau. As those who warn of a potential peak oil scenario have long warned, the risk is not the oil running out, rather the flow rates failing to keep up with demand - this is basically the scenario we've seen in the last three years as prices have stayed stubbornly above $100 a barrel. It could continue for a good while yet.

Prices will no doubt fluctuate in the future, but certain market characteristics are incontestable. Traditional powerhouse regions like the North Sea are maturing fast, capital costs across the industry are soaring, demand is showing no signs of slowing, those new supplies that are coming online - the Arctic, tar sands, shale oil - are increasingly costly and high risk from both a technical and environmental perspective, and the oil industry keeps telling us it is extremely relaxed about these facts. Oh, and even if we could find a way to boost oil supplies it would only make the longer term climate risks we face even worst.

We are facing an appalling double bind. Solve the energy security crisis by boosting oil and gas supplies to such a level where we can return to the business-as-usual, low cost energy scenario that held sway throughout much of the 20th century and we might get a short term boost to growth, but we would then only serve to escalate the unfolding climate crisis.

What can be done? Faced with these realities it becomes slightly easier to understand why some in the energy industry get so animated about gas and the potential for it to provide the oil majors with the get out of jail card that some executives privately admit that they desperately need. But this fixation on gas as a saviour only makes sense if you either ignore the warnings of climate scientists or are confident you can deliver workable CCS worldwide within 10 to 15 years. To ignore climate warnings is deeply reckless and to bet everything on a CCS industry the oil and gas sector has done little to advance is the height of wishful thinking. 

Dudley's response to the various challenges the industry so clearly faces is to gloss over the energy security risks, ignore the climate risks, and offer a more of the same approach with a slight shift in focus towards gas. As he said earlier this week: "supply will need to grow to keep pace with [rising demand]. And that is why the industry is still going to new frontiers to provide the energy that the world needs - as capital discipline allows. That includes shale oil and gas, tight oil and gas and deeper offshore wells and working in the Arctic."

Or, in other words, screw the climate and trust the oil industry to do its best to keep up with rising demand, even though the last few years have shown that we're really, really struggling on that front.

Thankfully, there is an alternative response that might just work - and if you ignore the entrenched thinking and oil industry spin that accompanies the barely concealed warnings contained in BP's latest report it quickly becomes apparent that it is the only rational response. We need a global effort that curbs fossil fuel demand by replacing oil, coal and gas, with renewables, nuclear, and energy efficiency. We need much more ambitious action to bring down the upfront cost of clean energy, mobilise energy saving technologies, and accelerate the already exponential growth in clean energy deployment.

We have the technologies to achieve this and we simply need to deploy them at scale, right now. Not just because it will tackle climate change risks and deliver inordinate environmental and health benefits. But also because without it we will almost certainly have to get used to a world where oil priced at over $100 a barrel becomes less of an historical anomaly and more a depressing reality. A world where economic growth is only sustained through unsustainable exploitation of ever more expensive and destructive oil reserves in the Arctic and beneath the deep ocean. A world where control over ever more scarce energy reserves is held by the same regimes that are currently doing their best to orchestrate a 30 year sectarian war.

Fail to get ourselves off the oil hook and there will be a lot more to cry about than just BP's recklessly relaxed response to the crisis it has uncovered.

Tortured World Cup-climate change analogy alert

11 Jun 2014

joseph-blatter-world-cup-2014

I like international sporting tournaments as much as the next moderately unreconstructed, occasionally juvenile man. But unlike the true fan, World Cups, Ashes series, and Olympics tend to creep up on me, suddenly materialising like a summer storm to deliver a month-long blitz of world class athletic distraction. For me there is no season-long sense of building anticipation, my diary is not cleared, and my holiday plans are not strategically placed to ensure I will have access to a TV for the key game, having already optimistically assumed England finish second in their group and make the quarter finals. I instead enjoy what games I can, and, when I am stuck on a train as sporting history is made, make a mental note to be more organised next time – a mental note I duly forget in the intervening years.

One of the pleasures of this haphazard approach to sporting enjoyment is the freedom it gives you to marvel at how smoothly everything seems to run. Over 10 years of planning, investment, and trial runs, on the part of both the organisers and the teams, comes together for a few weeks to deliver a spectacle to hold the world's attention. It is, and here comes the tortured analogy trailed in the headline, the perfect example of the value of long term planning being harnessed in the communal interest.

And yet this year, and potentially for years to come, we have been denied that pleasant sense of surprise. In Brazil, FIFA's festival of football is overshadowed by tear gas, protests, and riots as a clear majority of the public deplore the billions of dollars ploughed into the stadia and hotel necessary to keep football's pampered plutocrats in the style to which they have become accustomed. Meanwhile, the prospects for the next two World Cups are, if anything worse.

Judging by the geopolitics that surrounded the Beijing Olympics and this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, the most important question that surrounds the 2018 Russian World Cup is which country will Putin invade to mark the closing ceremony? If there were any justice, the death toll at the construction sites for the Qatari World Cup would be regarded as a far greater global scandal than the increasingly compelling evidence of corruption that appears to have secured a tiny country with no football history the world's most prestigious sporting tournament.

This – and here comes part two of our tortured World Cup-climate change analogy – is what happens when you lock yourself into a long term plan without thinking about the wider consequences. You start with a well-intentioned goal – to spread the reach of the World Cup or increase energy capacity, say. You believe the arguments and enjoy the hospitality put forward by vested interest and enthusiastically sign on to their investment plans. And then, when it emerges that these investment plans are loaded with risks – with allegations of corruption, rising death tolls, human rights abuses, and extreme weather impacts – you have no choice but to double down on your original decision because you are legally and financially locked into it. You have to spend billions more than expected to keep the show on the road, you have to cover up anything that goes wrong, you have to smear your critics (accusing them of western imperialism and racism is a useful canard) – and all the while you have to stick with the original plan, no matter how flawed, unsustainable, or immoral it has become.

The similarities between FIFA's ongoing descent down the rabbit hole and the Carbon Bubble hypothesis might not be immediately obvious, but one thing is clear. If you are going to make decisions where success or failure will only be determined in 10 or 15 years' time then you really have to do your homework. The temptation is always there to discount the future; to assume everything will be fine because it has been fine in the past, or because the world is unlikely to change that much over the coming decades. The temptation may even be there to take advantage of the hospitality on offer now and let the repercussions from your decision look after themselves. After all, you'll no doubt be retired by then, your involvement in the original decision nothing more than a footnote in history.

But the world does change. An increasingly educated and empowered public will not sit quietly by as crucial funds that could have been spent on health and transport are funnelled into bread and circuses, no matter how inspiring the resulting sporting circus. A public that is increasingly engaged with environmental issues will not indefinitely accept that there is no viable alternative to destructive fossil fuel extraction. Sponsors will not appreciate their brand being tainted by association with tyrants, homophobia, and allegations of corruption, just as customers will not continue to demand fossil fuels once alternatives are readily available.

Making long-term decisions without properly assessing future risk is a sure-fire way to deliver infrastructure lock-in and stranded assets. No matter what the context the likelihood is that it will leave you trying to defend the indefensible, just as surely as it will leave you trying to play football in the desert in the middle of summer.

European Election: Who deserves the green business vote?

21 May 2014

ballot box

First things first. They may be surging in the polls and dominating the headlines, but green business executives are about as likely to vote for UKIP in tomorrow's European and council elections as Nigel Farage is to make it onto the Romanian ambassador's Christmas card list.

The bulk of UKIP's hostility and contempt may be reserved for Brussels bureaucrats and eastern European immigrants, but the party keeps a healthy chunk of disdain in reserve for environmentalists and the green economy. This apparently non-racist party that just happens to include a sizeable number of candidates who keep saying racist things, may not have anything as coherent as an environmental strategy, but its aggressive dismissal of climate science, criticism of renewable energy, and opposition to effective European environmental regulations is a matter of record. As Greenpeace's John Sauven recently observed, "if you want to swim in sewage, vote UKIP". It is hard to imagine how anyone who regards themselves as an environmentalist can seriously vote UKIP this week.

That does not mean, however, that all environmentalists should be pro-European. It is entirely possible to be a staunch supporter of the green economy and fiercely Eurosceptic. Norway has shown you can be a pioneer in green investment while operating outside the confines of the EU. It may be fair to say the majority of UK environmentalists are pro-European and in favour of the bloc's relatively demanding green regulations, but there are a number of Conservatives who are simultaneously committed to the creation of a low carbon economy and a British exit from the EU. It is legitimate to argue that freedom from Brussels' red tape could help green businesses and clean tech firms innovate and grow, just as it is possible to despair of the environmental damage done by policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy.

However, if you accept these anti-EU arguments it is a reason to vote for an increasingly Eurosceptic Conservative Party led by a Prime Minister who is committed to the long term decarbonisation of the UK. It is not a reason to vote for a party that denies the need to decarbonise at all. You cannot be a serious politician and refuse to take climate change seriously, which is just one of the many reasons why Nigel Farage is not a serious politician.

But if we can safely assume that green business execs and environmental campaigners won't be voting for UKIP, who will you be voting for?

The first point to make is that you really should vote. All the polls suggest turnout will once again be depressingly low, but the fact is these elections matter for a lot of reasons, many of which relate to the environment and the health of the green economy.

On the narrow domestic front, the results of tomorrow's vote will have a major impact on the main parties' strategy in the run up to next year's general election. Will a disappointing Conservative performance convince David Cameron to tack back towards his pro-green modernisation strategy or, as appears more likely, force him to lurch even more dramatically to the right? Might a strong showing from the Green Party (currently enjoying some of its strongest poll scores in years) force Labour and the Lib Dems to try and shore up support to their left by putting forward a more compelling green offer? The final result of these elections will help answer all these questions.

More importantly though, the 73 MEPs who are this week elected to represent the UK in Brussels will have a major influence over the bloc's long term inter-locking energy, environment and economic strategies. The new in-take will have crucial decisions to make on a raft of environmental issues, and most importantly will have to soon vote on the EU's overarching energy and climate strategy for 2030. With polls across the bloc suggesting anti-European parties, many of which oppose environmental policies, are poised for a strong showing, it is critical those who want to see the EU take a more ambitious stance on climate change elect MEPs to represent them.

The question for those green business types mulling their ballot paper tomorrow is which party will best provide that representation.

As the Carbon Brief blog makes clear in an excellent recent summary of the main parties' green policy positions, the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens (not to mention the nationalist parties of the SNP and Plaid Cymru) each boast a package of proposals that could win over green business voters. There is near universal support for an ambitious climate change and energy package for 2030, for the EU to play a lead role in international climate talks, and for the bloc to enhance its energy security through energy efficiency measures and a transition towards domestic low carbon energy.

Those voters who classify themselves as "green Tories" will be heartened to see the Party's EU manifesto state that its MEPs acknowledge the "need to secure energy at an affordable price, cut carbon in order to help prevent dangerous climate change, and reduce our reliance on any one technology or source of supply".

It remains to be seen if these welcome commitments prove sufficient at winning over prospective green voters, particularly when relations between some parts of the Conservative Party and the UK environmental movement are at a decidedly low ebb. The commitment to emission cuts coupled with the party's "long term economic" plan may be enough to secure some green business voters. But others will point to the recent attacks on wind farms, the willingness to work with Poland to boost European fracking, and the various domestic policy rows over energy efficiency and flood protection, and conclude the days of "vote blue, go green" are well and truly over. Add in the fact that a number of Conservative MEPs have a track record of voting against progressive environmental policies, sometimes even defying their party leadership to do so, and the green case for voting blue looks decidedly shaky.

In contrast, Labour appears to be edging towards offering an increasingly green proposition to the electorate. The party's European election manifesto does not provide huge amounts of detail on its decarbonisation strategy, but taken with its other recent policy pledges it is clear the opposition wants to see an ambitious EU climate strategy backed by increased low carbon investment in the UK. We will have to wait until next year to see precisely how compelling an offer Labour will put forward to the green economy, but with the party committed to a 2030 decarbonisation target, preparing plans for a new domestic energy efficiency strategy, and promising to crack down on unabated coal power there are reasons to be optimistic. Whether or not these progressive policies manage to offset on-going concerns within parts of the business community over the viability of Labour's high profile energy price freeze (and its wider economic strategy) remains to be seen, but it is clear Labour MEPs would be broadly supportive of the green business community.

The same can be said of Liberal Democrat MEPs, many of whom have a strong track record of championing environmental issues in the corridors of Brussels. However, judging by the polls it seems unlikely that their impressive green voting record and ambitious green manifesto will save them from a historically poor performance. As with next year's election, the Liberal Democrat leadership will argue, with some justification, that it has been a driving force behind the successful green policies the coalition has introduced. But sadly for Lib Dem supporters nothing seems to be able to stop the junior coalition party getting badly squeezed.

All of which leaves us with the Green Party. It may still be something of a stretch to describe the Greens as "pro-business", but the party is certainly nowhere near as anti-business as it used to be and has put together a manifesto that, while heavy on nationalisation of railways and classic tax-and-spend left wing thinking, also contains plenty of proposals on energy efficiency and clean technologies that would hugely benefit green businesses.

Of course, the party remains a long way from delivering on these proposals (a reality that would make plenty of business leaders breathe a sigh of relief), but under the EU electoral system it has the potential to send MEPs to Brussels who would push climate change up the agenda and argue for more ambitious environmental policies. It could be claimed that at times this approach has proven counter-productive, with the Green grouping at the parliament occasionally opposing compromise agreements that could have delivered progressive, if imperfect, green policies. But at a time when a number of climate sceptic parties are on the up and mainstream parties are often guilty of letting environmental issues slip down the agenda, there is a strong case for ensuring a vocal green presence in Brussels. Growing numbers of voters evidently agree with this assessment, with the most recent polls suggesting the Greens could beat the Lib Dems into fifth place.

As with any election, it is impossible to find a party that fits perfectly with your views. You could support the Greens' commitment to making climate change a national priority, but be wary of their anti-nuclear stance. Just as you could want to reward green Tory plans to focus on affordable clean technologies, and deplore the climate scepticism and anti-wind farm stance of some Conservatives. Much of the recent rhetoric from Conservative politicians may be deeply worrying for those of us who care about the green economy, but the Party, on paper at least, remains fully committed to tackling climate change.

Thankfully, despite numerous reports to the contrary, the political consensus on the green economy is still robust enough that four of the top five parties have a credible pitch for green business voters. And what is particularly encouraging about this election, is that you can vote for any of these four parties - the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, Labour, and, yes, the Green Party - without worrying that your vote is wasted.