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Cameron: Putting environment and quality of life at the heart of politics

Speech to the Renewable Energy Association

"It's a great pleasure to be here with you at the launch of this association.

I hope that over the next few years, we will become close allies with a shared objective…

…putting the environment and the quality of life agenda at the heart of politics in this country…

…rather than the afterthought which it has too often been in the past.


Along with global poverty and terrorism, climate change is one of the three greatest challenges facing mankind today.

I don't need to remind this audience of its importance and its impact.

What we do need to do, together, is persuade the unconverted.

Climate change is still seen by too many people in Britain as a distant concern…

…distant in terms of time, and distant geographically.

But the effects of climate change are being felt right here, right now.

To take just one example, the Thames Barrier, designed to be raised once every six years, is now being raised six times a year.


Our challenge is to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and it will require global solutions.

We will need international cooperation well beyond the existing treaties to reduce emissions over the long term.

I want Britain to show global leadership, but we will only have the authority to do that if we ourselves reduce emissions.


Sadly, our performance in recent years has fallen far short of this Government's rhetorical ambitions.

Our carbon emissions have increased in five of the seven years from 1997 to 2004, with a 1.5% increase between 2003 and 2004.

We're now on a track which, without a significant change of course, will lead to an increase, not a reduction, in carbon emissions in this country.

Even meeting our Kyoto commitment, once seen as a certainty, is now in doubt.

What we need is serious action for the long-term, not the spinning of targets for the short-term.


I've argued that shared responsibility should be a central component of our approach to politics.

We're all in this together, and we will never tackle the great challenges we face unless all of us - government, business, individuals and families - play a part.

This approach is vital if we're to tackle climate change.

Power generation currently accounts for 30% of our carbon emissions. Domestic housing accounts for 27%, and transport for 26%.

So we have a shared responsibility to act.


And that is why the launch of the Renewable Energy Association is so timely.

In the power generating sector, renewable technologies have obvious advantages over conventional, fossil-fuel generation.

Wind, solar-thermal, photo-voltaics, wave and tidal power are all inexhaustible, indigenous and abundant, with zero carbon emissions once installed.

And this country has natural advantages for generation from renewables.

For example, with the exception of Ireland, the UK has the most favourable wind profile in Western Europe, both onshore and offshore.

In the transport sector, using biofuels to supplement normal road fuels can help cut the emissions from our roads.

I welcome the Government's long-awaited announcement on a Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation.

5% of all fuel sold in the UK to come from biofuels is a start, but it is a minimum step: we will need to go further in the future.

In housing, many of the existing regulations on energy efficiency are being flouted, so we are still building large numbers of environmentally unfriendly new homes: that has to change.


But there is much more to recommend renewable energy than just saving carbon.

As production of oil and gas from the North Sea begins to decline, and we become dependent upon imports for our energy needs, security of supply is an increasingly important issue.

The vast majority of renewable energy sources are indigenous and dispersed.

From hydro to biomass, growth in generation from renewable sources adds directly to the security of our energy supplies.

And microgeneration, whether from solar panels on roofs or small windmills on the side of houses, reduces demand for electricity from the national grid…

…and therefore the need to upgrade our generation and transmission assets to cope with rising demand.


But we do the renewables industry a disservice if we are not realistic about the contribution it can make.

Too often in recent years, we have heard exaggerated claims from Government and others that renewables are a 'silver bullet.'

Renewable energy has not proved uncontroversial.

The highly visible contribution of wind energy has proved a double-edged sword…

…inspiring popular support from people who long for a cleaner and greener economy…

…but also arousing anger both from those who fear for our landscapes and from those who worry about the cost.

If the Renewable Energy Association is to be influential, it will not shrink from the whole energy debate.

Large-scale renewables are a part of the solution, but not the only part.

The scale of the challenge is so massive that we will need to look at all the available solutions: energy saving, carbon capture and storage, combined heat and power, and nuclear.

But I believe that renewables must play a much larger role than conventional energy thinking appreciates.


There are a number of things government can do to help.

I want us to set up a cross-party commission to create a long-term statutory framework for energy and the environment…

…with an independent body to monitor year-by-year progress towards our targets - a new Carbon Audit Office.

This new statutory framework, independently monitored, will help establish market incentives that bring forward investment in the least-cost and most environmentally sensitive sources of zero-carbon energy.

I hope this will end the bias towards wind power that is built into the present system, and remedy the under-investment in other forms of renewable energy.

Different incentives will be needed for different energy sources.

To encourage biomass generation we will probably need up-front government grants to kick- start the market.

To encourage domestic micro- generation, we need to change the planning system.

We can encourage local authorities to follow the pro- renewables lead of Woking, Merton and Croydon councils…

…and to multiply the success of community renewables developments like Bedzed.

And of course we can improve the performance of the public sector…

…ensuring that the PFI process requires developers to include zero carbon technologies in all new schools and hospitals.


But we will never tackle climate change just by changing politics.

We need to change lifestyles too.

And that's where you come in.

I would like to see a concerted effort to promote green energy to consumers.

Low carbon living should not be a weird and worthy obligation, but a mainstream, aspirational lifestyle choice.

Microgeneration and local distribution networks have the potential to capture people's imagination.

Many people want to lead more environmentally responsible lives.

But they're only dimly aware of the emerging technology that will allow them to use sunlight to heat their hot water…

…or an affordable wind turbine that can help them sell electricity back to the grid.

Promoting mass markets for these products in homes and businesses may well prove to be one of the most effective ways to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.

That's because it goes with the grain of peoples' natural inclinations and values…

…to save, to conserve and to contribute something which helps society as much as themselves.

We're all in this together, and I hope we can work together over the years to ahead to promote this vital agenda".

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