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Greg Barker: We can meet the challenge of climate change and improve our quality of life

Speaking today at Conservative Party Conference Greg Barker, Shadow Minister for the Environment, said:

"Good morning,

First, a quick question.

Hands up if you came to conference back in 1988…

well if you did, I am sure you remember Mrs Thatcher telling us all of the crucial link between the environment and Conservative values.

For those that weren't here, let me remind you what Mrs Thatcher actually said back then,

"We conservatives are not merely friends of the earth we are its guardians and trustees for generations to come.

The core of Tory philosophy and the case for protecting the environment are the same.

No generation has a freehold on this earth; all we have is a life tenancy. With a full repairing lease".

Incisive, unambiguous, visionary.

Margaret Thatcher at her best.

Mrs Thatcher then followed this up with an epoch making speech to the United Nations. In which she became the first world leader to call for concerted global action against climate change.

Nineteen years later, the debate she started on the science of global warming is over.

Our planet stands on the threshold of momentous change.

But where is Gordon Brown on this great issue?

When it comes to Climate Change, Gordon Brown is the invisible man.

In fact, nothing better illustrates Brown's rigid 1980s mind set, his backward looking programme or his lack of understanding of the new economy, than his total disinterest in the environment.

In fact right across the whole quality of Life Agenda, Gordon Brown has absolutely nothing new to say,

no vision,

no conviction

no solution.

David Cameron by contrast exudes authority and genuine conviction.

It is David Cameron who has driven the environment right to the top of Britain's political agenda.

David Cameron has approached this issue of national importance in a sober and responsible way.

He has argued for a new cross party consensus to tackle the long term challenge of global warming.

Compare that to Brown who has used the debate around climate change solutions, to score petty political points.

Compare Brown's narrow view of the world with the unprecedented breadth and originality of our own Quality of Life commission.

Zac Goldsmith and John Gummer have done a terrific job.

A truly unprecedented piece of joined up political thinking.

Zac and John drew on dozens of independent experts, from Universities, NGOs and business.

We are truly grateful for their pioneering work and challenging, ground breaking ideas.

Sure if you just flick through all 600 pages, you'll be able to pick out something to disagree with

…..but if you sit down and read it…… you will be inspired.

From this great tool box of ideas we are carefully crafting the dynamic and ambitious policies that will drive the changes Britain needs.

This document is the route map to a greener, safer Britain.

But let's be clear.

This is not an austere message of tax and hardship.

On the contrary while it is brutally realistic in its analysis of the problems we face,

it offers an optimistic, ambitious and aspirational way forward.

Whilst Conservatives have argued for honesty in green taxation, with any revenues raised going back in tax cuts to hard working families,

Brown sees Green tax and stealth tax as two sides of the same coin.

Let me reiterate:

any recommendations in this report to tax pollution would be offset with tax cuts elsewhere.

Our program of green government will:

Empower our local communities.

Replace short term gimmicks with long term strategy.

And drive innovation and dynamic industrial change.

The Quality of life report is very clear.

If we are prepared to be bold…

If we are prepared to make the changes Britain needs….

We can become the world's first low carbon economy……

This report is a "can do" agenda.

We can protect and nurture our historic landscape and with it, it's glorious biodiversity……..

And pass on the beauty of the British countryside to future generations.

We can save British agriculture…….

And in a turbulent world preserve our ability to feed ourselves.

We can regenerate rural Britain…….

And restore vibrant communities to our market towns and villages.

We can waste far less.

We can recycle much more…….

We can use our natural resources far more wisely, replacing Labour bureaucracy with Conservative efficiency.

We can have a world class transport network…which meets the demands of business and drives up standards for the travelling public.

We can be responsible and grown up about aviation and airport expansion, recognising that while people want affordable travel, they also need decent alternatives to planes for shorter journeys.

And ultimately…

We can help families find a better balance between the stresses of work…. and the pleasures of home.

Let me take you through a few of the report's key recommendations which have gone to the shadow cabinet for consideration.

Firstly, On Rural life:

- Let local communities have a greater say over local spending priorities and important local issues that affect their area.

- Launch a comprehensive program to rescue our local post offices.

- Support village schools

On Agriculture:

- Reform CAP

- Slash red tape - for farmers

- Reconnect local food with local people.

On The Built Environment:

- Streamline planning to make it easier to improve your home.

- Tax incentives for greener homes.

- More green spaces in Britain's cities.


On Water:

The quality of life report sets out a long term plan to safeguard this most precious of resources.

[water] The report recommends that we

- Integrate water storage with flood defence.

- Offer Rewards to Water efficient homes.

- Usher in a renaissance of our inland waterways.

------- Now what about rubbish?

The best way to tackle our growing waste mountain is to stop the waste being produced in the first place.

Manufacturers and retailers certainly need to shoulder more responsibility for the products they sell us.

But after ten years of Labour, we still lag behind most of Europe on rubbish and recycling.

To end Britain's throw away culture, the report recommends


- Cuts in Council tax to encourage recycling.

- Incentives to reuse packaging.

- Crack down on fly tipping.

On Energy:

The report is particularly ambitious, radical and full of new ideas. It anticipates nothing less than a green energy revolution.

It recommends:

- 21st Century smart meters in every home to give proper information to the consumer to allow them to make real savings on their bills.

- Incentivise communities and small business to generate their own electricity and utilise wasted heat.

- Local powers to flagship zones to drive up energy efficiency and pioneer new technologies.


This report puts clear blue water between us and Gordon Brown.

It is hope versus fear.

The current Prime Minister wants you to fear the future, reign in your aspirations, share his cautious, suspicious view of the world and cling to Nurse Brown for fear of finding something worse!

But that has never been the British Way.

The threats to our planet from Climate Change are unprecedented.

Within our lifetime, the consequences of global warming are potentially catastrophic.

But we do have a choice.

We can be players on the field, looking for solutions…..

Or watch from the sidelines.

With or without us mankind will look for solutions and the global business world will response to beat climate change.

Let's not repeat the mistakes we made after World War 2 when we clung to the old industrial certainties,

we failed to modernise, we let our competitors invest in change and innovation, and by being so cautious…..

We locked a whole generation into economic decline.

As we enter the new low carbon era, let's not make that mistake again.

We must embrace change and seize the economic opportunities those changes will create.

We must grab that first mover advantage for UK plc…

Unleash the innovation and excellence in our universities…

Exploit the vast potential of our wind, tide and wave assets that will give Britain such a huge competitive edge in the low carbon era.

We must make the City of London the world's Green financial capital and unlock the wall of investment that is just waiting for ambitious government leadership.


In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy spoke of the demands of war and peace,

a different global challenge in another era,

but for mankind, a challenge just as profound as the one we now face.

This is what JFK said:

"Our problems are manmade; therefore they can be solved by man.

No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable and we believe they can do it again."

Back in 21st Century Britain,

Only one Party has the imagination and policies to lead a new industrial revolution.

Only one party has grasped that we can meet the challenge of climate change and improve our quality of life.

Only one Party has the vision and ambition to deliver the changes our country needs,

and Conference, that's us!"

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