The Times: Tackling climate change is a moral obligation and an opportunity

This comment piece by Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland, was published in The Times on 11th July 2017

This afternoon Conservative parliamentarians will gather in Westminster Hall to celebrate 25 years of British success in tackling climate change. Since the Rio summit at which John Major and Michael Howard agreed the framework for international co-operation on climate change on Britain’s behalf, our country has achieved both the greatest reduction in emissions and the highest GDP growth per capita in the G7.

This remarkable success story lays to rest the fiction that climate change action and economic growth are at odds with one another — indeed with falling costs of clean technologies and rising political will in emerging economies, the two are increasingly interdependent. It also underlines the success of government energy policy to date, and the importance of continued support for new technologies to secure the jobs of the future.

Take the example of electric vehicles. Last week Volvo announced that they will abandon diesel and petrol-only vehicles by 2019, and across the automotive sector manufacturers recognise that change is just around the corner. This shift to low carbon transportation is a huge opportunity for Britain: we currently build one in four electric vehicles in Europe at Nissan’s factory in the northeast of England. India is aiming for every new car to be electric by 2030, France has said they will ban all internal combustion engines by 2040; these vehicles are in demand across the globe. Brexit gives us the chance to forge new deals with emerging economies, but we also need to continue to support the right conditions for growth at home.

High-tech vehicles require high-tech parts, and the Nissan executive Colin Lawther has made it clear that we need a broader and deeper home-grown supply chain if we want these vehicles to be made in Britain. We also need to boost domestic demand with a much more ambitious rollout of EV charging points. The government’s focus on this issue in the Queen’s Speech is great news, but the example of London shows that there is still much more to do. While TFL have announced plans for 300 rapid chargers in London by 2020, the taxi company Addison Lee has said that for it to consider electrifying their fleet would require ten times that number to be available in the capital.

Or take the example of carbon capture and storage (CCS). My patch of Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland is home to the Teesside Collective, a fantastic CCS initiative that could deliver significant carbon savings and support the chemicals and process industries that contribute £2.5 billion to the UK economy each year. Teesside has long been, and remains, one of the largest emitting areas in the country but now has the potential to become a centre for clean energy. The Teesside Collective should be a key part of the government’s industrial strategy, and the development of a long-term CCS policy and a viable investment mechanism is a must.

This transition to cleaner technology is happening across the economy and is hugely popular. Recent polling by the think tank Bright Blue shows deep support amongst Conservative voters for clean energy and British leadership on climate change. The most popular energy sources for electricity generation among Conservative voters are all renewable, ahead of nuclear and ahead of fossil fuels.

This makes sense — indigenous renewable energy is cheap and getting cheaper, and investing in it makes us less reliant on imported oil and gas from morally dubious regimes. As the Conservative Party seeks to refresh our offer at the next election, we could do a lot worse than looking to policies that support economic growth and build on our proud tradition of stewardship of the environment.

The case for action on climate change was first put forward to the UN by Margaret Thatcher in 1989. She argued that just as we must live within our means so as not to saddle our children with debt, so too we have a duty to pass on the world to our children and grandchildren in a better state than we found it. Conservatives have always understood that as stewards of the planet we have an innate responsibility to future generations, and it is this duty of stewardship that provides the moral impetus for action on climate change. But in this necessity, lies immense economic opportunity.

The private sector is already making the investments that are driving rapid change. If government can continue to provide the right steers and support, then we can build a modern, clean economy that support good jobs, reduces emissions, and preserves our environment for future generations.

Simon Clarke is MP for Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland