Rhetoric and rows look set to dominate an important few days for the UK's green business community
It is set to be one of the most important weeks of the year for the UK's green economy, as the government hosts the latest global Clean Energy Ministerial and David Cameron gears up to give his first major speech on the environment since taking office.
But what should green business leaders expect from this three day flurry of activity? Will the government draw a line under recent green controversies such as feed-in tariff cuts and rows over "conservatory taxes" before clearly stepping up its commitment to the green economy? Or will low carbon firms be left disappointed by more spin from Whitehall and sniping from right-wing media?
Here is what I'm expecting/hoping for over the next few days:
1. Lots of green rhetoric
After two years that has seen the coalition too often hide its green light under a bushel expect plenty of cheerleading on the importance of the low carbon economy and the policies the government is pursuing to drive green growth. Expect ministers to use every opportunity to remind people that the green economy is worth nearly £120bn a year to the UK, is growing at five per cent a year, and employs over 900,000 people.
Climate Greg Barker said at the start of the year that the government needed to put its "mouth where its money was" and make more of policies such as the Green Investment Bank, the Green Deal, the Renewable Heat Incentive, and the electricity market reforms. The next few days should see it do just that.
2. Lots of green criticism
After several years of criticising the government for not offering sufficiently pro-green rhetoric environmental groups will offer grudging praise to the coalition for talking up the green economy – before then slamming it for failing to back up warm words with sufficient action.
Expect plenty of highly critical statements from green NGOs and some businesses angry at the government's mishandling of solar feed-in tariff cuts (the coalition's first omnishambles?), caving in to the Daily Mail on rules for the Green Deal, flirtation with airport expansion, tax breaks for oil companies, and failure to slap down Conservative MPs and ministers opposed to the whole green agenda.
3. Plenty of clean tech partnerships
With energy ministers from 23 countries all gathering in London everyone is going to want some tangible progress to take back home. Cue a fair few bilateral technology and research agreements designed to highlight how countries are working together to accelerate the development of clean energy.
The UK has already confirmed it will sign a memorandum of understanding with the US designed to speed up research on floating wind turbines, and DECC has signalled further bilateral agreements will be announced later in the week. Whether we will get any meaningful details on what these partnerships will actually entail is another matter.
4. A genuine showcase for clean tech innovation
Some of the UK's top clean tech entrepreneurs have been invited to play a role in the Ministerial and there will be the opportunity for several leading green start-ups to tout their wares. All ministers like to be associated with cutting-edge technology so expect attendees to come away singing the praises of the kind of breakthrough clean energy technologies that might just deliver the cuts in emissions we need.
5. Some kind of green policy announcement
Cameron will get plenty of entirely justified criticism if he cannot find at least one meaningful green policy commitment to go alongside his speech. He has plenty of options to choose from. The CBI would love to see confirmation mandatory carbon reporting rules will be introduced, the investment and renewable energy community would love to see the Green Investment Bank get up and running, the building industry would love to see some clarification on how the government plans to drive demand for the Green Deal scheme, and ministers from developing countries would love to see further detail on how the UK will meet its long term international climate funding commitments. Expect the Prime Minister to deliver at least one policy commitment, or else face the fury of the green community.
6. Some good news
The government will be desperate to have some kind of good news story to accompany the meeting and demonstrate that all its talk of a burgeoning green economy is not just spin.
Hopefully, there is a significant corporate player out there willing to do the coalition a favour and confirm some form of green job creation investment. Be in no doubt that ministers will have been on the phone trying to convince GE, Siemens, and Vestas that they can safely move forward with their plans for new wind turbine factories, and if they wanted to make an announcement to that effect April 26th would be a great day to do it. Whether the big engineering companies are willing to oblige is another question.
7. Some tense conversations behind closed doors
The Clean Energy Ministerial is meant to about a positive vision for clean technologies and the policies all countries need to drive the transition towards low carbon infrastructure. But despite this focus it will be a miracle if some of the tensions that have marred the long-running UN climate change negotiations are not aired at some point.
Will China, India, Russia and the US be able to resist the temptation to bring up the issue of the EU's aviation emissions trading plan? When the conversation turns to clean tech policy will Europe and the US be able to avoid criticising Chinese policies that they regard as protectionist? Will emerging economies again voice complaints over industrialised nations failure to live up to clean tech funding commitments? And given the topic is cutting edge technologies will industrialised nations raise the always contentious question of copyright and trademark protection?
8. Less media coverage than the meeting deserves
Imagine the torrent of media reports that would result were the world's finance ministers to meet in London to discuss the future of the global economy and the package of policies needed to restore stability. Unfortunately, the Clean Energy Ministerial will enjoy only a fraction of this attention, despite the fact ministers will be discussing both the world's fastest growth industry and, by extension, the future stability of the environmental systems we all rely on. The media is still yet to fully embrace the positive narrative surrounding the green economy and as such there are likely to be relatively few headlines emanating from the summit.
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