Businesses must lead the way

James Murray
clock • 8 min read
Credit: Incisive Media
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Credit: Incisive Media

The opening speech at the UK Green Business Awards 2024 - in full

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening, and welcome to the UK Green Business Awards 2024.

More coveted than a reliable exit poll.

More environmentally friendly than an electric campaign battle bus.

More competitive than the government's re-election efforts.

The UK Green Business Awards are the premier celebration of the very best of the green business community.

They are also a brilliant showcase for one of the few parts of the British economy that is genuinely going gangbusters.

This year's awards once again saw record numbers of entries and it's fantastic to see over 500 of you here this evening.

We won't tell the Prime Minister so many of the UK's 'environmental zealots' are gathered in one place. Just think what you could get up to this evening.

As I say every year, you are engaged in a mission of world-historic significance, and you are building something truly extraordinary.

We are honoured to be able to write about you every day and privileged to celebrate with you this evening. 

But before we get into that, we have a slight change to our normal running order.

If you read BusinessGreen, you may have noticed there is an election on.

As a result, politicians' diaries are now even tighter than the UK's carbon budgets.

Ed Davey is currently busy abseiling down a wind turbine. Rishi Sunak is probably in a helicopter somewhere.

So we're absolutely delighted this year's Politician of the Year has been able to carve out the time to join us at the start of proceedings to accept his award.

The UK Green Business Awards Politician of the Year for 2024 has arguably done more than any other frontline politician over the past 18 months to make the case for climate action, and deliver genuinely ambitious policies to catalyse green investment and drive down emissions.

In winning an historic third term as Mayor of London, he showed how green policies can prove successful at the ballot box.

And when he came under fire for delivering the world's largest clean air zone, he demonstrated the value of political leadership in support of green policies that ultimately benefit everyone - something his peers from across the political spectrum would be wise to remember in the coming years.

All that, and he even found time to co-chair the international C40 group of mayors and write a book on how to tackle the global air pollution crisis.

There is lots of work to do to deliver on the hugely ambitious target of making London a net zero city by 2030 and big challenges ahead. But our hugely deserved Politician of the Year for 2024 is… the Mayor of this great city, Sadiq Khan.

*** Mayor of London acceptance speech ***

A huge thank you to the Mayor for joining us, and for all he has done to promote and support the green economy.  

The ambition evident in London's climate plans underscore how we are at an inflection point in the net zero transition - a turning point that means the work of you and your colleagues is becoming even more important.

If the UK is to meet its legally binding emissions targets and maintain its position as a world leader in the green industrial revolution, then whoever wins the election will have a single Parliamentary term to engineer a step change in the UK's decarbonisation efforts.

The good news is they will be elected in a year when global greenhouse gas emissions should finally peak, when clean tech is set to attract double the investment secured by fossil fuels, and when all the world's economic superpowers are racing to turbocharge their green industries.

The bad news is they will also face ever worsening climate impacts, economic growth you would call sluggish except slugs move quite fast by comparison, and a level of geopolitical tension that has people reading up on how nuclear deterrence game theory is meant to work - and let's all hope it does.

It is an in-tray to make you crawl back under the duvet and weep.

We are trapped in the climate theory of everything

Worse still, the past few weeks suggest whoever forms the next government may no longer be able to rely on the political consensus on the urgent need for climate action.

Only a Prime Minister with such appalling political judgement he thinks it sensible to duck out early from D-Day commemorations could decide it is a good idea to undermine his own climate strategy and badmouth one of the few parts of the economy that is growing. But that is precisely what Rishi Sunak is doing.

He is, of course, right that climate policy costs must be minimised.

And the government deserves credit for having helped deliver deeper emissions cuts than any G20 country.  

But the Prime Minister's decision to talk up the costs of climate action without mentioning the benefits;

To scrap green polices without replacing them with credible alternatives;

To casually dismiss the advice of climate scientists.

This is a form of climate scepticism masquerading as pragmatism.

Sunak's message to the electorate in this campaign is we should slow our efforts to get to net zero and drill for more fossil fuels.

And we should do so, despite having signed international accords promising to accelerate efforts to get to net zero and stop drilling for more fossil fuels. The hypocrisy is palpable.

Meanwhile, some of the Prime Minister's colleagues are openly flirting with Nigel Farage's Reform - a Party with an approach to climate change and clean technology that is as scientifically illiterate as it is economically reckless as it is morally bankrupt.

It is all so deeply unserious.

Now, barring an electoral recovery Lazarus would reject as implausible, the public looks set to dismiss Sunak's argument and the next government should have a clear mandate to deliver a hugely ambitious wave of green investment.

But whoever wins, they will still be tasked with putting the UK back on track to deliver a fully decarbonised net zero economy in just 25 summer's time. That's only six more Olympics. Just five more parliaments.

And regardless of whether or not Keir Starmer is measuring the curtains in Number 10 in a month's time, attacks on the net zero transition will not disappear. In fact, they will intensify.

Which is why your role as businesses is more important than ever.

I've often thought the response to the climate crisis is a bit like the three-way stand-off at the end of Reservoir Dogs - only with more swearing and even higher stakes.

The government points at the public and business, and declares it would do the right thing and decarbonise faster if only they would let it get out alive.

Business points at government and the public, and says precisely the same thing.

The public declares 'a plague on both your houses', but keeps on buying fossil fuels.

In case you haven't seen the film, everyone ends up getting shot.

The only way to end this stand-off is for businesses to lead the way.

You need to show how delivering deep decarbonisation can improve living standards, cut costs for homes and businesses, and drive economic recovery.

How government can adopt ambitious climate policies and still command support.

How climate risks can be engaged with, rather than childishly wished away.

You need to demonstrate that Putin and co can keep drilling for as much oil and gas as they like, but the advance in clean technologies will mean the demand for the spoils of their pollutocracy will not be there. As the IEA predicted this morning, oil demand should peak this decade. You need to make sure it starts to rapidly fall.

Basically, you need to make good on the old line that 'the Stone Age came to an end not for a lack of stones, and the Oil Age will end, but not for a lack of oil'. 

And that is why these awards are so much more than a party in a brewery - although they are that too.

Like our Net Zero Festival and new Women in Green Business Awards this autumn - both of which you really must attend - tonight's awards provide a platform for the awe-inspiring projects you are working on, the genuinely sustainable businesses you are building, and the brilliant technologies and campaigns you are developing.

All of tonight's finalists demonstrate this progress in spades. You are driving economic success where so much else has failed. You should all be immensely proud of your efforts.

So, thank you.

Thank you to all our finalists for entering these awards and joining us this evening.

Thank you to the team for all the work that goes into these awards and into keeping BusinessGreen up to date with the latest news and analysis each and every day.

And a huge thank you to our sponsors - Enfinium, Eunomia, Lloyds Banking Group, Osborne Clark, Royal London Asset Management, The Marketing Pod, and Verco. Without your support this evening would not have been possible.

But most of all, thank you all for the work that you do.

I know it can be hard sometimes to dedicate yourself to tackling environmental challenges when every day brings news of record temperatures, threats to food security, and political insanity in the face of one of the gravest threats humanity has ever faced.

But hopefully this evening is evidence the work you are doing is not only valued, it is delivering results.

And if after all that you are unfortunate enough not to emerge as a winner this evening, please remember this shared mission we are all engaged in and, you know, be cool.

Thank you.

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