by Steve Beasant on 1 July, 2015
Everywhere I go, liberals and our supporters remind me. Climate change is the biggest threat to our values, our way of life, and our very survival. We were the first party to take climate change seriously, and the first to bring forward a comprehensive plan of action to address it. It was one of the main reasons that I joined the party.
I believe that Liberal Democrats have much to be proud of from our time in government. By making sure that ambitious targets were adopted under the fourth carbon budget, putting in place the world’s first low carbon energy market and green investment bank and nearly trebling the share of UK electricity produced from renewable sources, we set the UK on the path to a low carbon economy.
Our work needs to continue. My big fear is that, at a crucial time for action on climate change, greener growth and environmental conservation, the Conservatives will take the country backwards. Already, they are taking away support for onshore wind, the cheapest form of renewable energy and planning to sell a majority stake in the green investment bank, thereby putting investor confidence at risk. And the Queen’s Speech contained no new measures to protect the natural environment. As the Conservatives show their true colours, and Labour is bogged down in its chaos, the Liberal Democrats are needed more than ever.
Let’s be clear, though: the party has missed a trick in not making a more powerful case that investment in low-carbon and resource-efficient industries will give a Britain a stronger economy, more jobs and greater prosperity. The UK’s low carbon business sector grew rapidly in the last parliament and is now five times larger than the aerospace industry and twice as large as the chemicals sector. There’s a massive opportunity to boost low carbon exports and create jobs. This was the main argument of The Green Manifesto, which I launched last year, and The Green Book (2013). I was pleased that some of themes were taken up in party’s election manifesto, but we need to put them across much more strongly.
The top priority in my personal manifesto is active, ambitious, liberal government to create a new economy – low-carbon, high- skill, innovative, enterprising and resource-efficient. That means we must keep pressing for a legally binding decarbonisation target for 2030, which can largely be achieved by expanding renewables, and for a deadline to retire the UK’s most polluting coal stations.
We need to renew our call for an energy efficiency retrofit for existing homes and zero carbon new build to be made a national infrastructure priority. We can show that energy-saving measures are often the most cost-effective way of reducing emissions, save NHS bills and considerably improve the quality of life of those living in fuel poverty – while at the same time generating jobs and prosperity across the country.
We must make the case for a comprehensive waste strategy, more ambitious recycling targets in English and for using taxes and regulations to drive improve reuse and recycling rates and ensure only non-recyclable waste is incinerated. I want to go further, and establish the Liberal Democrats as the party of the circular economy, which will protect Britain’s people and businesses from resource insecurity and price shocks, and unlock billions of pounds worth of resource savings.
And we need to make sure that our policies are equal to the task of tackling climate change and looking after the environment. For instance, I believe we should now support a ban on fracking. The UK should not be pursuing another fossil fuel source, when there is so much potential for renewable generation from tidal and hydro that is still untapped. I would like the party, through the federal policy committee and the conference, to think again about our existing policy on fracking.
There are two other big challenges that we, as Liberal Democrats, are uniquely placed to address. Britain’s natural environment, including its wildlife, animals and plants, is vital for peoples’ well-being, health and happiness — and for a lasting prosperity. We must not fall into the trap of treating action to protect the natural environment as the ‘poor relation’. I was delighted that our manifesto proposed a Nature Act, to put the natural capital committee on a statutory footing, to require it to set targets for natural capital, including?the protections of biodiversity, clean air and water, and to empower it to recommend actions to meet these targets. I will argue in parliament to have our Nature Act passed.
The second challenge is ensuring Britain’s continued membership of the EU, which plays a vital role in protecting the environment and enhancing peoples’ quality of life. EU legislation has, for example, set tough emissions standards for new cars and forced the government to clean up air pollution in our big cities, which currently contributes to an estimated 29,000 deaths a year. The EU’s strong environmental record is one of the best reasons for supporting UK membership, and it should feature strongly in our campaign for staying in Europe.
Through the EU, the UK can have much more influence in international negotiations to address environmental threats and tackle climate change, as we saw when Ed Davey took the lead role in securing the EU commitment to cut emissions by at least 40% by 2030. We need to keep pressing ministers to work with their European partners to secure a new global treaty on climate change, and to back these efforts up with strong action for low carbon economy in the UK. The EU can do better on green growth and the environment, and I am determined that this should be a major theme of our next European election campaign.
The Liberal Democrat vision for a zero carbon Britain, a resource-efficient economy and policies for protecting nature are all based on our deep commitment to environmental sustainability. I am determined that they will be at the forefront of our efforts to re-establish ourselves as a popular and credible force in British politics.
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