When he took office, the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron promised that this Parliament would be the “greenest ever”, but after the reduction in feed in tariffs for green energy, the lack of investment in clean energy and what looks like a ‘Green Investment Bank’ that is no such thing, this claim must be in some doubt – and Mr Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle and proposed changes to planning laws and a U-turn on more capacity at Heathrow seem to put this claim even further in doubt.
The UK’s new Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has previously urged Parliament to end subsidies for green energies such such as wind and solar power, and fast-track shale gas exploitation. He also urged more aviation capacity. As MP for North Shropshire, Paterson has spoken against wind farms and the new pylons needed to carry their power to the national grid. He is also endorsed by Lord Lawson of Blaby, once as Nigel Lawson the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer who is now a leading climate chage denier amd someone who I really haven’t the slightest regard for – quite an appalling person.
Mr Paterson replaces Caroline Spelman who presided over the mad plan to sell of the UK’s publicly owned forests. But also worrying is that the fact that new Energy minister is John Hayes, who also seems distinctly un-green. Former head of the green party as of yesterday, Caroline Lucas tweeted – “OMG New Env sec suggested ending all energy subsidies & fast-tracking shale gas back in May.” Even more worrying is that Lord Taylor, the waste minister who had been in his job for less than a year at Defra, was moved onwards. Labour is exploring the idea of an Office of Resource Efficiency, which would sit in the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and join up policy across government.
But what confused is me is why the Tories, in particular the right wing, think that ‘going green’ doesn’t make economic sense. It does. Its not some sort of economic ‘burden’. The economic future of the UK is not best served burning fossil fuels, building over our countryside, polluting our rivers and over-fishing our seas. It’s about building a green economy and energy security. It’s getting warmer, dangerously warmer, sea ice is melting, and however much the oil companies pay climate change deniers to shout out wildly, its not going to change unless we do something. Honestly! We need to invest in green technologies and move away from importing energy, oil in particular. Surely its better to be economically self sufficient with reliable and secure sources of energy than rely on others? Martin Wright from the Renewable Energy Association said that “There is a tendency to focus on the costs of renewables as opposed to the benefits,” adding “Renewables give us energy independence, they are totally sustainable and over the long term they will provide low cost energy and, above all, price stability. They represent a tremendous business opportunity now.”
Even f0rmer Tory minister John Selwyn Gummer has warned that economic growth would be impossible without more renewable energy, telling Prime Minister David Cameron and and Chancellor George Osbourne not to water down green policies, and Gummer, now Lord Deben, pointed out that whilst the UK had been a World leader with the Climate Change Act, other countries are now over-taking the UK in developing their green economies – China in particular has developed a burgeoning green manufacturing base – to the extent the EU is now investigating its export of cheap solar panels into Europe and the US is looking at restricting imports from China. South East Asian companies are now looking to expand – and expend westwards – China has seen 50% compound growth in wind energy since 2005 but is now taking a pause … There is no doubt that manufacturers of turbines and asset owners wind-farm operators are now looking at international markets for growth. There is also evidence that Chinese and other Asian firms are buying European rivals that have been hit by the credit crunch, the running-down of local subsidies and low-cost competition from abroad: Mitsubishi of Japan has been talking about buying a stake in Danis wind turbine maker Vestas, whose share price has been hit by a series of problems. And financially stricken German solar business Q-Cells, once a world leader, has been rescued from the liquidators by Hanwha Chemical of South Korea. alongside another major German solar business, Solon, which has also in been in financial trouble, which was bought earlier this year by the Indian firm, Microsol. Meanwhile, China’s Guangdong Aiko Solar Energy this summer bought collapsed Dutch business Scheuten Solar, while Ascent Solar – maker of solar-powered iPhone chargers – has fallen under the majority control of Chinese-Singaporean joint venture TFG Radiant.
Whilst we have major and growing problems with climate change – we have also hopefully have the means to find solutions. Paul Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, has called for accelerated research into futuristic geo-engineering and a worldwide nuclear power station “binge” to avoid runaway global warming. Geo-engineering includes plans to ‘whiten’ clouds to reflect more heat and processes to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere. Professor Wadhams told the Guardian that both potential solutions had inherent dangers but were now vital as time was running out saying “It is very, very depressing that politicians and the public are attuned to the threat of climate change even less than they were 20 years ago when Margaret Thatcher sounded the alarm. CO2 levels are rising at a faster than exponential rate, and yet politicians only want to take utterly trivial steps such as banning plastic bags and building a few windfarms,” adding “I am very suspicious of using technology to solve problems created by technology, given that we have messed up so much in the past but having done almost nothing for two decades we need to adopt more desperate measures such as considering geo-engineering techniques as well as conducting a major nuclear programme.”
Chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Chris Smith, recently said: “Whilst current economic circumstances prioritise a focus on profitability, it is essential that businesses strive for growth that is truly sustainable. ‘Green’ and ‘growth’ are both essential elements of economic and social recovery. We cannot opt for either in isolation”. The UK’s green economy grew by £5.4bn in 2011, with many reports identifying a change in attitudes amongst businesses towards sustainable growth.
Green is good. Its good for the planet and its good for our economy.