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Greg Clark: Conservatives and the Environment

It is a great pleasure to have been invited by Francis Davis to speak to the Las Casas Institute here at Blackfriars Hall.  Francis and I know each other from my time as Shadow Charities Minister and particularly from his research into how government could better use policy to unlock the ability of voluntary organisations and faith groups to contribute to public life in Britain.

Francis' report, 'Moral, but no Compass', was an important call to government to better recognise the civic value that faith and other groups add to the life, health and vigour of the country.  This theme of empowering communities and individuals to better participate in public life - be it on social justice issues or on tackling climate change - is highly relevant to what I want to speak to you about this afternoon.

<h2>I: Conservatives and the Environment </h2>

This week, a number of my Shadow Cabinet colleagues have delivered speeches on the environment, a demonstration of the fact that this isn't a narrow issue for one or two Whitehall departments, but a vital concern across the policy spectrum.

There are three themes in particular that were addressed this week and that I want to sum up to you in my remarks today.

The first is that under a Conservative government, Britain will play a part of leadership in international efforts to protect our environment.  At our best, Britain has always been a strong force for progressive change in the world.  We have always been global in outlook and impatient for change for the better, whether in the zeal of Wilberforce or more recent achievements such as Margaret Thatcher's role in securing a global deal to reverse the damage to the earth's ozone layer caused by CFCs. 

In an age in which Britain's power to compel others is not what it was in previous times, the power of our own example must become an ever more important way to influence and persuade, and our facility to make effective use of our networks of influence - such as the EU, the G8 and G20 and the Commonwealth - is critical.  A Conservative Government will prosecute our international responsibilities with idealism and enthusiasm.

The second theme of the week that I believe we have shown is that if we are genuinely to live sustainably we need a richer model than one based narrowly on government action.  Many of the real changes in our economy and our society required by a low carbon world - and almost all of the investment - will be determined by the future choices of individuals, firms or communities. 

Over the last 12 years the Government has too often behaved as though it can organise and direct people and communities from above. Too much government policy has been based on an assumption that people won't do the right thing without being ordered to through rules, penalties and downright hectoring.

We have shown this week that the government has a big role to play in helping people live sustainably - but its most powerful function can be to unlock the possibilities for people themselves to take action because they want to, and because it is in their interest to do so.  For example, most householders would jump at the chance to live in more energy efficient homes, but many often lack access to the upfront capital needed to make the improvements. 

That's where good policy can help - as our plan to allow people to bring forward the savings they will make from upgrading their homes to pay for the costs of the upgrade, and have plenty of savings left having done so.  Similarly, by releasing to people the savings that they unleash by not sending rubbish to landfill, but by recycling instead, everyone can gain. 

And rather than the Government tell people who oppose a wind farm in their community that they should consider themselves immoral (as Ed Miliband has done), why not let communities who do their bit share in the benefits with cheap electricity and the business rates going direct to the community?
 
In the green policies, as in others, the most powerful role the state can play is to empower rather than to direct.

The third theme that runs through this week's speeches is a sense of optimism.  There is a version of green politics that is penitential - mournfully requiring us to give up the things we enjoy and resign ourselves to a more primitive life.

Our approach is different.  We are positively green.  Rather than just stopping doing things, we want to start doing new and different things.

If we can accelerate the development of new technologies, we can generate power without polluting the atmosphere, and then we can use that power abundantly rather than meanly ration it.  If our homes are more energy efficient they can be warmer, cheaper and less damaging to the environment.  If we can be whisked from the centre of London to the centre of Manchester by high speed electric train, why would we want to fly? 

If we can mobilise an international agreement we can make a difference to levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, just as we made a difference to the levels of CFCs, and in earlier times, cleaned the air of our great cities. If we can act quickly to secure in a leading role for Britain in the low carbon economy towards which the world is converting, it can be a motor of job creation. 

<h2>II: International leadership</h2>

Let me say a bit more about international leadership

With only nine days to go to the start of the Copenhagen talks, we were all heartened to see President Obama's announcement on Wednesday that he will be attending the talks and I welcome the significant movement that the Chinese government made yesterday in offering meaningful commitments on energy intensity - the first of its kind for any major developing economy

This adds to the important political momentum that we need to see at Copenhagen - but we must be realistic about the sheer breadth of the issues yet to be agreed upon

While I hope a political deal is highly likely at Copenhagen, it does now appear clear that we will not secure a legally binding Treaty within the coming month.

This raises the prospect of negotiations extending past the due date for the next general election in this country

As a Party that hopes to win that election, I want to make clear that there would be no let up in the British government's drive and ambition to secure a fair, ambitious and binding global agreement.

The British public and everyone at Copenhagen must know that there will be absolute continuity of purpose and position if there is to be a change of government in this country next year.

My colleague, William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, made this commitment clear in his speech on Wednesday, when he stated that under a Conservative government global action against climate change, along with nuclear proliferation, would be the two most important policy priorities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

To underline its centrality, climate change would be one of the focal issues of our planned National Security Council, which will bring together the work of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the Department for International Development and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

William also reiterated the importance that we place, and will continue to place, on acting with and through the European Union on climate change issues

We would not have had a Kyoto Protocol without EU leadership, and it is through the EU that we stand the best chance of securing an effective successor Treaty.

Any such successor deal agreed to at Copenhagen must include the following red-lines if it is to be considered serious:

It must include a binding common commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures to below 2 degrees, and be scientifically capable of doing so

It must ensure that the balance of commitments entered into by the developing and developed world is be a fair reflection of each country's capacity to contribute to the problem

It must find an international mechanism to help people in the world's poorest countries protect themselves against the impacts of climate change in addition to what is needed to help relieve their current poverty.

And, with 15 million hectares of tropical forest lost every year to deforestation - an area greater than the size of England - it must include measures for protecting the world's rainforests, without which any chance of keeping warming under two degrees will be lost

Commensurate with the scale of the challenge we are facing, William argued the case for redefining EU spending priorities more towards climate change and energy security in its next budgetary period, including finding additional and significant financial support for developing countries to halt deforestation rates.

Additional to that, a Conservative government will introduce new criminal offences under UK law for the import and possession of illegal timber and will press at an EU level for further strengthening the current regulations on illegal timber.

Andrew Mitchell, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, also stressed this theme of international leadership in his speech to the Overseas Development Institute on Monday, where he announced that a Conservative government would stop the Export Credit Guarantee Department underwriting polluting fossil fuel power stations in the developing world and focus it instead on supporting clean energy technologies

Just in the same way as many developing countries have gone straight from having no telephones to having mobile phones, so too can they 'leapfrog' centralised energy sources to go off-grid for their power.

Having just returned from a visit to Bangladesh with Christian Aid, I can give first hand evidence of the benefits of this approach: Whilst there I met with a business called Grameen Shakti - you may have heard of their sister business, Grameen Bank, that won the Nobel Prize for their work on micro finance

Grameen Shakti is currently installing over 8,000 domestic solar systems a month and expects to have one million units installed by 2010

They install them for no up front cost - but the benefit of electric lighting boosts the recipient's economic productivity to such an extent that they are able to pay back the cost of the solar system in instalments over the coming years.

Technologies and initiatives like this make clean energy the most economically sensible option for much of the developing world - it is off grid, the fuel is free, it doesn't poison their families like other fuels do, it creates local jobs, brings communities out of poverty and, with the appropriate financing mechanism, is the same price as any other energy that may - or may not - have been available to them.

We now need to help find ways to encourage private companies to help poor countries achieve this leapfrog of carbon-intensive energy production and move directly to low-carbon technologies.

There is much that we can do to help promote low-carbon growth, and to help spread new technologies. But, as Andrew Mitchell said, we should 'first do no harm'.

Unfortunately, under current government policy, taxpayers' money is still being used to subsidise 'dirty' fossil fuel power stations.

Figures from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills reveal the Export Credit Guarantee Department is providing approximately three quarters of a billion pounds worth of support to fossil fuel projects.

We have made clear this has got to change

Which is why Andrew announced on Monday that, under a Conservative government, ECGD would never again support investment in 'dirty' fossil fuel power stations.

This bold, unilateral action will send a message to the rest of the world that Britain is ready to lead from the front on ending environmentally harmful subsidies.

And we can go further.

Our vision is that UK Trade and Industry and the Export Credit Guarantee Department should become champions for British companies that develop and export innovative green technologies around the world.

The potential here is huge: if we take action in the right way, we can help cut carbon emissions while boosting economic growth in developing countries.

<h2>III: A positive future</h2>

As I said earlier, one of the themes of this week's speeches is empowerment.

The idea that Government alone can lead us out of dependency on fossil fuels, and into a low carbon future, is profoundly mistaken.

It is to overlook a very basic difference in the political implications of these two categories.

When it comes to fossil fuels, nature has already done most of the hard work. Millions of years of heat and pressure have converted organic matter into ready-made packages of concentrated energy.

Low carbon energy, however, is all about human ingenuity, about the technologies capable of coaxing useful flows of warmth and power from much more diffuse sources of energy.

This requires the input of millions of people - scientists, engineers, financiers, entrepreneurs, workers, consumers - driving innovation and enterprise on a nationwide scale. 

Though the crudest tyrant can monopolise a mineral resource, unlocking the potential of low carbon energy requires the diverse talents of a free market and a free society.

That is why on Monday, when David Cameron spoke to the CBI about getting the economy growing again, he spoke about the need to do so through "green growth, green investment and green jobs."

"The global market for green goods, products and services," he said, "is already worth hundreds of billions of pounds... yet British companies have only a five percent stake."

"That's less than France, Germany, Spain, the US and Japan."

It is a sign that the Government is failing to unleash the creative potential of British business and the British people - without which we have no chance of achieving our goals on climate change, on energy security or economic recovery.

We are determined to unlock that potential.

In his speech to Imperial College on Tuesday, George Osborne announced plans for a Green Investment Bank - which will invest in the next generation of green British businesses.

Instead of the current system of multiple sources of government funding for low carbon energy projects, the Green Investment Bank would roll these up into a single fund which could be deployed strategically to secure much higher levels of public sector investment.

It is an approach which many energy experts believe is long overdue.

Among them is Professor Dieter Helm of Oxford University, who provides this description of what the Bank would do:

"The prize," he says, "is an institution which facilitates the introduction of private sector capital without crowding it out, finances itself with a government guarantee and aims to break even with any dividends reinvested."

Similar institutions already operate successfully in countries like Germany, Australia, France and Spain.

In his speech the Shadow Chancellor was clear the Britain must not be left behind:

If we're to compete in the technologies of the future, and come out of this recession with a more balanced economy, then Britain needs to play catch up.

Our Green Investment Bank will help us do precisely that.

It will help deliver the green finance we need for new growth and new jobs in every region of the country.

And it will help us to decarbonise our economy and compete for business around the world.

<h2>IV: Empowering people</h2>

I've already made the point that climate change isn't just about government.

But I'd also like to say that it isn't just about business either.

Climate change is about all of us

And that, as well as promoting enterprise and innovation, government also needs to empower communities, families and individuals to play their part too.

Of course, government could just force people to behave in a certain way.

After all, the state has many weapons at its disposal - regulation, surveillance, prosecution.

But the example of recycling household waste provides an object lesson in how the coercive approach can backfire, alienating the public instead of building trust.

We believe there is a better way.

George Osborne cited the example of RecycleBank - a scheme that rewards people for recycling, rather than penalising them for not doing so:

What companies like RecycleBank do is say to councils and city administrations: "if we reduce your landfill tax bill by pushing up recycling rates, then how about we split the savings?"

Recyclebank then use this money to pay households up to £20 a month for their recycling.

And the more they recycle, the greater their share of the savings

A RecycleBank scheme is already and running in Windsor and Maidenhead and is already delivering results:

Leading companies like Marks and Spencer have signed up as partners.

Over half of all eligible households have chosen to participate.

And recycling rates have increased by an incredible 30%

Treating the public as the friends, rather than the enemies, of the Earth not only builds trust - but also presents environmental action as an opportunity, not a threat.

A recurring theme in our attitude to tackling climate change is that we must move beyond the perception that 'going green' is all about sacrifice and unlock the opportunities and benefits it can bring.

My vision of a green future is a good future for Britain; where people live in warmer homes that are heated for less, where we travel in more efficient and cleaner modes of transport that don't pollute our city air, where our energy comes from sources closer to home and are secure in both supply and price.

This was the sort of positive message that my colleague, Grant Shapps, the Shadow Housing Minister set out yesterday.

27% of the UK's carbon emissions comes from housing - a huge tranche - and reducing it can only be a positive thing for reducing people's energy bills, cutting fuel poverty, growing our economy and reducing our fossil fuel dependence

80% of the houses we will be living in 2050 are already built today - so while we welcome and endorse the building of all new homes as zero carbon homes - we need to see a significant step change in the energy efficiency standards of our existing stock.

Under our Green Deal, households will be able to access energy efficiency improvements of up to £6,500 that directly reduce fuel bills and save CO2 emissions. These can be undertaken immediately at no cost to the householder because repayments are met over the long-term from the energy savings thus made.
This is how it works:

First, householders will get an independent assessment of what energy efficiency improvements could best be made to their homes

They then get an entitlement to have these improvements carried out immediately by a kite-marked installer at no upfront cost

The costs are repaid over 25 years via the regular electricity bill.

Trusted retailers like Marks & Spencer and Tesco, as well as energy suppliers, social enterprises, housing associations, local authorities and local businesses, would be entitled to provide energy efficiency improvements to people's homes using this new allowance and other grants.

Any measures that improve the energy efficiency of the fabric of the home and can demonstrate a positive payback over a 20 year period will be eligible for funding under the scheme, with the money provided not from public funds, but privately financed by banks and investment funds.

We estimate that a typical household will save £240 a year, while opening up a £2.5 billion new market that would create 70,000 jobs, warm over 23 million homes and save 9.4 million tonnes of CO2. A win win win for consumers, for the economy and for the environment.

This is how we see acting on climate change: Not through a prism of sacrifice, but of positive benefits.

The Green Deal will empower the public to save energy, but what about enabling families and communities to generate their own energy?

Microgeneration technologies include solar panels, heat pumps, biomass boilers and CHP.  They can be deployed at a variety of scales - from individual houses to community buildings, commercial property and entire neighbourhoods.

They represent an alternative to the established model of centralised energy generation and distribution controlled by a small number of market players and big government.

Though government has always intervened in energy markets to achieve social, environmental, economic and security objectives, state support has always been directed exclusively towards the major players.

That has to change, so that support is also accessible to individuals, community groups and local enterprises seeking to take control of their own energy needs.

That's why we are committed to a system of feed in tariffs that would effectively enable members of the public to export energy to the grid - even from their own homes - and be paid for it.

The aim is to create a virtuous circle in which the market for microgeneration grows, driving the development of better and cheaper energy technologies, increasing consumer uptake and further growing the market.

A consumer-driven energy market would of course present a challenge to the centralised energy model. It is a prospect that might frighten some governments, but we would actively encourage it.

But, perhaps, no other technology can do more to empower the public than the smart grid.

I believe that smart grid technology will have as dramatic an effect on the way we use and produce energy, as the internet had on the way we use and produce information.

Appropriately, knowledge is at the heart of what the smart grid can do for consumers. By providing householders with real time information on their gas and electricity consumption, they can take control of their energy use.

And that's just the basic version. Other applications would give householders access to building control systems currently only used in state-of-the-art commercial and public buildings. They would also be able to programme energy hungry appliances, like dishwashers, to automatically switch on in response to the lower electricity prices.

Not only would this provide new ways of saving money and energy, it would also be a powerful tool for managing supply and demand across the grid. But not a tool in the hands of an elite, but rather an energy services market where millions of ordinary people could contribute and be rewarded for it.

Again there is a challenge here to the established order. And there are vested interests who would prefer the roll out of the smart grid to be delayed - or at least arranged to the benefit of the big energy suppliers.

We will resist any such attempt to deny information, power and choice to consumers. We will accelerate the roll-out of smart meters, give householders ownership of their energy information and drive through open standards that maximise competition and innovation.

There is one final issue on which I want to demonstrate our commitment to action on climate change through community empowerment.

First, let me be clear that we believe it is absolutely right to create a fast-track planning process for large infrastructure projects
We also believe it is right to have a dedicated secretariat and time-limited planning decisions

But where we do take issue with the IPC is in the lack of democratic legitimacy of its ultimate decisions

If we are to meet the stretching deadlines required for new nuclear plant and other key low carbon infrastructure we believe it is vital to entrench such decisions against future judicial review and uncertainty by confirming the National Policy Statements by a full vote of the House of Commons

But the overwhelming majority of renewable energy developments are not big enough to be relevant to the Independent Planning Commission

Which brings me to the issue of onshore wind

It is often a divisive subject, driven by bitter planning disputes - which are bad for climate change policy, bad for the wind power industry and bad for local communities.

But there is a positive way forward.

Of course we must use our planning system to ensure that our most precious wildlife sites and landscapes are appropriately protected. 

Of course we must make sure that communities have their say in the location of new developments.

And we must also ensure that those communities genuinely and directly benefit

It is in this space that we find a clear division between the two main parties.

Labour's only solution to complications over onshore wind is to demonise anyone who has the temerity to object. As well as being wrong, this is obviously counter productive.

What the government should be doing is finding ways to solve some of the problems that lead to stalemate.

I would argue that wind farm applications are often bogged down because there is no clear benefit to local communities in hosting them.

Wind developments in countries like Denmark are far less controversial because local residents are often co-owners of the developments and share in the benefits

But, in its characteristically centralising mindset, this government has made little effort to try and unlock any such benefits to local communities for hosting wind farms - instead seeking to demonise people when communities have objected.

Ed Miliband has said he thinks it should be considered as socially unacceptable to be against wind turbines in your areas as it is to drive over a zebra crossing without stopping

Conservatives are determined to find ways to allow communities who participate in renewable energy projects to share in the rewards that comes from doing their bit

That is why a Conservative government will allow communities to keep all of the increase in business rates from any wind development for the first six years.

To put this into context, a 10 megawatt wind farm - about five large turbines - would pay around £72,000 a year in rates back into the local community

We are also in discussion with the wind industry about other ways in which we can allow communities to benefit, including the possibility of having discounted electricity rates for local residents for the duration of the wind farm's life and empowering communities to take part ownership of a local wind farm, so that some of the development's revenues stay in the local area.

Our Green Investment Bank, announced by George Osborne on Tuesday, will assist communities in raising finance for these investments.

<h2>Conclusion</h2>

Leadership by example through diplomacy

Commitment to using the power of government to empower citizens

The determination that a green world will be a better world

Our speeches this week have shown that for Conservatives under David Cameron, strong, vigorous action on the environment runs through our entire policy programme for government. 

It is central to the vision we have of a good future for Britain and the world.

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