Meg Hillier: Trust in the future – how Labour will tackle climate change
In her speech, Meg outlined Labour’s commitment to a green economy and green jobs, reducing energy dependence and helping people with rising energy prices. She advocated renewables especially on-shore wind and, above all, the role that co-ops, mutuals, local government and communities can play in making it all happen.
Meg’s speech is reproduced in full below:
Let me start by thanking Business Green, and its editor James Murray, for hosting this evening’s speech. You are fast-becoming the essential read for anyone with a concern for environmentalism – a perfect example of successful on-line publishing. No shadow minister – or minister – can ignore you.
On this day in 1789, King Louis Sixteenth of France wrote in his personal journal the famous entry ‘rien’ – ‘nothing’. Yet on this day 222 years ago the French Revolution had been sparked by the storming of the Bastille. It was more symbolic than anything: there were only seven inmates at the time, some of whom didn’t want to be liberated. But the storming of the Bastille, and the King’s lack of awareness, echo down the centuries.
What I’ve always taken from the story of the King’s diary is that the people supposedly in charge of events are often the last to know what’s going on, the people least likely to be shaping events.
For decades, a coalition of campaigners, scientists, NGOs and pressure groups have been warning politicians about the dangers of climate change. Consumers have been choosing green products and demanding ethical business. Politics has often struggled to keep up with the people.
In this speech I want to address head-on this historic failure, and explore the extent to which governments, and specifically the next Labour government, can lead, not follow, the campaign against the greatest threat to our future.
The past twelve months have reminded us of the limitations of governments in meeting this threat. Global talks are not working. President Obama’s policies are beset with lawsuits and hobbled by corporate prevarication. The latest figures suggest record emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.
In the UK, the Energy Bill, with its flagship ‘green deal’ for domestic energy saving, has been shelved until the Autumn, by a government unable, if I am being charitable, but perhaps more worryingly unwilling, to find the time in the schedule.
Labour’s idea of a green investment bank has been watered down and this Government has delayed it until after the next election.
The government’s centre-piece Green Economy Roadmap, promised by April, has yet to appear, with no publication date even pencilled in.
Schemes for electric vehicle charging stations, for research into biofuels, and for zero carbon new homes, have been dropped altogether.
We’ve see dither when we need leadership, drift when we need momentum, delay when we need to forge forward.
Most of all, we’ve seen the hyperbole soar, but the actions disappoint.
My contention to you this evening is not that the government’s programme is floundering because individual ministers are ineffectual, but because the ideological underpinnings of the Coalition are too weak to support the action we need on climate change.
What do I mean by that?
The Coalition is an amalgam of traditional Conservatism and Orange Book Liberalism. Its roots and traditions are in laissez-faire, in free trade, and in a critique of the state which almost always blames it for society’s ills.
Yet if the politics of the environment has taught us anything over the past 30 years, it is that the perils of pollution, climate change, trade injustice and global poverty cannot be solved by the free market alone.
To tackle these grave threats to our well-being, and to eradicate these great stains on our civilisation, we need strong governments, with binding alliances and treaties, working to shape markets and lead public opinion. Market mechanisms of course have a vital role in changing patterns of production and consumption.
But states, working in concert across borders, remain the only force strong enough to meet the challenge.
British social democracy is a rich tapestry of many influences: the trade unions, the co-operative movement, faith groups, feminism, and municipalism. Within these influences can be seen the seeds of a politics for the environment.
The Co-op demanded food and drink free from contamination and adulteration.
The gas-and-water socialists campaigned for towns and cities free from pollution and infection.
The trade unions fought for safe, healthy workplaces.
The early socialists demanded slum clearance, open spaces and parks, houses with bathrooms and gardens for children. They were animated by John Ruskin, Edward Carpenter and William Morris, who dreamed of cities full of beauty, a River Thames clean enough for salmon, and air sweet enough to breathe.
This is the essence of the socialist case – that the individual can only prosper in a strong society of others – or to put it another way, to be ourselves, we need other people.
These values and this approach to politics uniquely equips the political left with the capacity to stem global warming and create fairer, greener world, in a way that political conservatives simply cannot.
Ed Miliband has talked about the ‘promise of Britain’, and the idea that what motivates each generation is the idea that the future for the next generation will be better. Like Ed, I am a parent, and I know that is what concerns me most of all.
But we both know that the future has to be shaped by our actions now, not left to chance. Crossed fingers is not a viable strategy. We need a workable political strategy.
At the birth of New Labour, nearly 20 years ago, a simple idea was forged. It said that for decades a false dichotomy had been allowed to grow between social justice and economic efficiency. You could have one or the other, but not both. So we created a political programme based on the marriage of the two – social justice hand in hand with economic efficiency. The national minimum wage, apprenticeships, investment in skills and R&D – all proof that governments can help businesses to make profits and succeed.
As we forge the transition to a low carbon economy, we need to renew the marriage vows of social justice and economic efficiency.
The green industrial revolution is an opportunity to achieve both. From the ashes of old smoke-stack industries must rise new, clean, hi-tech businesses, such as carbon capture and storage, which has the potential to be a multi-billion pound industry. I see so many of the innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs with us here tonight who will lead the green industrial revolution.
Recently I visited Cammell Laird, the shipbuilders on Merseyside. A proud tradition of shipbuilding. Now diversifying into turbines for wind energy. That’s the way to rebuild our manufacturing base, and rebalance our economy away from over-reliance on services and finance, important though those sectors are.
But what I hear from the industrialists and entrepreneurs is that the government is not giving our low-carbon firms the support they need.
The delays to the green investment bank are crippling businesses. The decisions over the feed-in tariffs are costing jobs and losing clients.
The scrapping of the RDAs is a block on regional support.
The cuts to research and development will hold us back in the medium to long-term. We risk falling behind when we should be sprinting ahead.
So this afternoon I can announce that the Labour Party will be launching a Green Jobs Campaign to press for a proper platform on which green businesses can stand. My colleague the shadow business secretary John Denham and I will continue to ask business leaders what they need, and as Labour reviews its policies, ensure that the next manifesto has a clear, coherent and comprehensive set of policies for green businesses after 2015.
We will look at the balance of tax and incentives, the role of co-ops and mutuals, and how to create jobs and wealth in every part of the UK, not just London and the South East. We will work with anyone and everyone who shares our aims, and not expect everyone backing our Green Jobs campaign to be a Labour supporter.
The recovery must be a green recovery, and by 2020, the time of the election after next Britain’s industrial base must be transformed.
I truly believe we can lead the world in clean, green technology. I have seen such talent and commitment as I’ve toured the UK to meet businesses keen to play their role in a greener future.
The job of government is to ensure that innovation in the UK leads to jobs in the UK, orders and profits for UK firms. The simple truth that you can’t have decent public services without a growing private sector to pay for it.
Let me turn to the immediate steps I believe we should be taking now.
First on energy:
We need to make decisive steps towards a post-oil economy. We cannot stop our reliance on oil and gas tomorrow. They are an essential bridge to our energy future. But the question is whether they are a bridge or a stopping point.
The Conservative-led government’s reckless approach on the deficit means it is not making the right strategic decisions for now or for the next generation.
To create the green economy we have to get past the fundamental short-termism that exists in parts of industry, finance and governments. The truth is that even despite the known risks, and limitations, there is comfort and security about investing in old-fashioned hydrocarbons.
UK pension funds still see investing in BP’s deep water drilling as a lower risk than funding offshore wind farms. It is the worst of short-termism: for the planet and for all our economic futures. Everything we know suggests that there can be no comfort any more in a high-carbon energy policy.
If we pursue this course, we risk finding ourselves unable to meet our climate change commitments. If we don’t then we will face a more difficult and painful transition to low carbon in a world where prices have been pushed up, by both global demand and agreements to put a price on carbon.
And as if that wasn’t enough, we would also miss the huge low-carbon industrial opportunity for Britain. Consumers and business alike will benefit if we plan with a long term view.
We need to pursue the trinity of low-carbon technologies: renewables, nuclear and clean fossil fuels.
Labour has a good track record on renewable. Under the Labour Government the UK became the country with the largest offshore wind generation in the world.
But under this government the UK is dramatically slipping down the global green projects league table. The UK has already slumped from third in 2009 to 13th in 2010 according to the respected Pew Environment Group. This was the largest decline among the G20. Germany came second after China, which was first.
We also believe the electricity market reforms could hamper renewables investment in the UK, both in the short term and post 2020.
We need see a strong growth in renewables and attract the necessary long-term investment. The government needs to send a strong message that renewables will play a key and growing role throughout the 2020s in order to attract that investment.
But if we are to win the prize of low-carbon diversity, we need to look at other technologies too: tidal power, solar and wind power on land as well as at sea.
Of course, wind turbines will change the look of parts of our countryside. It is important that they go through the proper planning process. But the truth is that the biggest threat to our countryside is not the wind turbine, it is climate change. Biodiversity, our coastline, our land – all are under threat.
That is why we need to examine our attitudes to onshore wind. Many local communities are taking a lead, and they should have a stake in local projects.
That is why the government’s confusion on the feed in tariffs is so damaging.
On nuclear we have seen a welcome shift by Chris Huhne as he brings his party’s wishy washy position up to speed with reality. But energy companies, not taxpayers, should pay the costs of clean-up – and that’s now in legislation thanks to Labour. But with safeguards on cost and safety in place, I believe that because of threat of climate change and the need for a solid baseload of low-carbon power, we should support new nuclear energy. We also need clean coal. The problem of coal, the most polluting fuel on the planet, is a global one that needs a solution. That is why the most important technology the world can develop is the technology to capture carbon emissions and store them permanently deep underground.
On Tuesday the Government unveiled its electricity market reform. It is looking at tinkering with the market. But there is a worry that Government departments will continue to pull in opposite directions. That is why Labour is investigating the idea of an independent energy advisory group.
Just as the Committee on Climate Change advises Government about climate targets the independent energy advisory group could recommend the carbon floor price or recommend when and how energy auctions should take place.
The body would help give long term certainty to investors. Its recommendations will be more transparent and developed by experts. This could provide greater confidence to individual consumers and UK businesses that our secure, low-carbon future will be delivered in the most affordable way. We envisage it working in a similar way to the the Committee on Climate Change, which advises ministers.
It would potentially give a degree of certainty to the market as it would need to take a long term view as well as dealing with issues of current supply need.
The group would support consumers by guaranteeing a long term approach to energy policy, to ensure a low carbon policy for future generations, reducing Britain’s vulnerabilities to oil price shocks and the growing costs of high carbon fuels.
There is no alternative to a low carbon future. But Labour believes that energy prices should be fairer. That is why we’re looking at institutional reform and at the potential for creating this new body.
We will be examining this as the EMR proposals develop and welcome people’s thoughts and ideas.
Should it be advisory? Should it have stronger powers? Let’s debate and discuss the concept and the detail.
An independent body would have the potential of giving a degree of certainty to the market and it would need to take a long term view as well as dealing with issues of current supply needs.
The biggest barrier to preventing climate change is no longer denial, but defeatism: the technologies are at our disposal or within our grasp. With international co-operation and political will, we can make the shift to low carbon, protect our energy security and make the world safe from dangerous climate change.
But if we are to build the green economy people need to know there is fairness in the way energy is provided and in who pays. That is why the state has to play a strategic role in guiding change. Otherwise it would be too easy for the costs of tackling climate change to fall disproportionately on the poorest.
We should be making it easier for people to reduce their energy use. The proposed Green Deal risks becoming a lame duck unless the government co-operate with us to improve the incentives designed to encourage participation from households and businesses.
And we now know that this bill won’t even be in Parliament in the first week of September. It’s sailing perilously close to the wind, having already dropped off the agenda once, it now won’t even be in Parliament in the first week of September.
The poorest people live in the poorest quality homes so they get a double whammy when prices increase by such big percentages.
That is why Labour is pushing for greater ambition, local action and a robust delivery plan to ensure the Energy Bill delivers the necessary reductions in demand.
But we also need fair energy prices. People are struggling. Millions of people across the UK are feeling squeezed by falling standards of living, rising prices for fuel and food. They have nowhere to go when another commodity increases in price. Their belts are already as tight as they’ll go.
We need to see greater openness and transparency from ‘the big six’, clarity on people’s bills and new players, innovation and competition in the market.
Labour is laying out some basic principles for reform: consumers need to be at the heart of any changes, both domestic and business; there needs to be greater opportunity for new entrants to the market and there needs to be transparency in where costs fall – particularly for the companies which are producers and retailers.
In the meantime the Competition Commission needs to look into the Big Six energy companies. This can only benefit all parties. Public trust in the energy companies has sunk so low that only an external investigation can hope to restore that. And the Big Six should not fear this – if they are as keen to be open, honest and transparent as they all tell me they are they will surely welcome an outside view.
Second, on the community level. The power of community action is essential to tackling climate change. It can widen the circle of the committed, spur people on, and overcome obstacles in the transition to a low-carbon Britain.
I was a local councillor in a borough which pioneered the delivery of neighbourhood services; and then an elected member of a devolved assembly. I am a localist at heart.
The current government is doing little to persuade individuals to change their energy use and insulate their homes. Free measures are being replaced by the now delayed Green Deal. Signing up to the 4th Carbon Budget at the national level is a good step but a Government action is not going to lead people to change habits on its own.
But between the individual and the state is the community, and at the level of neighbourhoods so much more can be done. I want to see the next Labour Government giving more opportunity to local councils to unleash the green revolution on every street and estate. That might mean community power generation, more allotments, cycle lanes and community transport, and a raft of measures that bring people together. A real Big Society must be a truly Green Society. Cities like Manchester are pioneering this approach.
Third, we need a new approach at the international level. Recent events suggest to me that approaching climate change as a purely technical, scientific issue is the wrong approach. Climate change presents us with the political opportunity to tackle the most fundamental injustices in our world.
It gives us the catalyst to put right centuries of exploitation, injustice, and slavery. It demands new trade deals, new transfers of technology. We have the power to break down the walls of injustice and poverty.
Climate change seen as a political opportunity, as a liberator, as a cause for hope, has the power to bring people together across the continents. At Durban, political leaders must agree a programme which delivers people from poverty, which creates economic growth and opportunities for the poorest nations on earth. An historic political solution, not an esoteric debate amongst experts.
So far we have seen no leadership on this issue from a PM. For him climate change was a photo shoot not a political priority. He has let the issue go down a Lib Dem led cul de sac of Whitehall. Rather than leading from the front and standing up for the poorest in the world he is afraid to stick his neck out on this issue for fear of failure. Political leadership is sometimes about speaking out when no-one else will.
This PM seems more concerned about his PR reputation than about doing the right thing. This week of all weeks he might want to reflect on that.
His own MEPs voted two weeks ago against Europe moving to a 30 per cent reduction in emissions. Hardly a Tory party committed to tackling climate change.
We need to see development that meets the needs of the present and allows future generations to meet their own needs.
That must be our demand today and tomorrow, in our domestic politics and our international negotiations, in our personal consumption and our business activities.
When I tuck my little children into bed at night, they look at me with total trust. As we consider future generations, I want that trust to be deserved.
Ed Miliband has talked about Britain’s Promise, our offer is simple:
Green jobs in new energy; long term and sustainable for the planet as well as for families and communities
A green energy strategy which supports the development of renewable energy
Green homes which will also help to tackle fuel poverty
Overall we will embrace the challenge of creating a green society developed through individuals, households and businesses embracing a culture of green learning.
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