John Redwood: Our energy policy should start with keeping the lights on and the factories powered up

20 Sep

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

We are living with a desperate shortage of energy. Successive governments and Ministers have ignored the need to ensure adequate supplies of electricity and primary fuels in their passion to close down and move out of coal, oil and gas as quickly as possible. Now we are caught up in a worldwide gas shortage, with fertiliser factories closed – and a Business Secretary summoning a meeting to ask what can be done to limit the spreading damage.

The Business Secretary knows enough economics to understand that, if gas is in short supply, the last thing that would help the UK procure more of it would be a series of price controls over those who dare to buy it on the world market and could sell it here.

We will not like it, but these now unruly global gas markets are controlled by Russia, the USA, and various Middle Eastern countries that have a surplus to export. They do not currently have a big enough surplus to need to take low bids.

The EU is already complaining that Russia is driving prices higher by restricting her large export supply. Why, then, did Germany make the world gas position worse by deciding to centre their energy policy on a further major addition to their pipeline capacity to import gas from Russia, ensuring their reliance on this source? They were warned by both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as well as other alliesm not to make this obvious mistake.

The UK, too, has made itself far too dependent on energy imports. I have been warning government for years that we need to do more to generate additional power and extract more primary energy at home, endowed as we are with liberal reserves of oil, gas and coal and with access to water power and biomass.

The Business Secretary could do more than pose as concerned at his meeting if he puts in train work to find longer-term solutions to our chronic dependence on unreliable overseas sources of energy. He could ask why the Rough Field gas store was closed down, greatly reducing our stocks of gas which we now need. He should bring in more gas storage. He could review North Sea oil and gas policy, and see how the industry can be encouraged to tap more reserves from our own fields. He should keep the remaining coal power stations available with secure coal supplies for them, until there is sufficient greener power available to replace them on a reliable basis.

He should know that, at exactly the same time as we hit a world gas shortage, the UK electricity supply is under extreme stress. The remaining three coal power stations have been fired up, because there has been a marked shortage of wind for some weeks.

In recent years I have been wearing my keyboard out raising with Ministers and the wider public the issue of our need for more reliable electrical power to keep the lights on. The overriding preference for wind power was bound to leave us vulnerable to periods of calm weather.

If these coincide with cold winter days, the consequences could be disastrous. A modern sophisticated economy needs electrical power for most things. How would food factories keep working, vulnerable people stay warm at home, hospitals look after patients without sufficient power? It is particularly worrying that the current shortage takes place against a background of limited demand thanks to mild weather. The cool summer in the south did not help, as heating thermostats were triggering as late as May and even in August, needing more gas-fired power even then.

The UK’s passion for imported electricity has further weakened our position. The French interconnector in Kent was badly burned this week, taking out a potential imported supply of top up power which we rely too much on. We may discover soon that, if the shortages worsen, overseas suppliers will see exporting to us as an easy cut to make to husband their own limited supplies for domestic use.

When electricity was first privatised, we made security of supply the prime issue in the new system. There was a substantial margin of extra domestic capacity available to bring on stream if one or more of the baseload generating plants had problems. We did not need imports.  We made price the second important issue, with a system which always ensured the next cheapest power was brought on stream as demand picked up. In the early years of privatisation we both had plenty of capacity at home, and experienced falling prices. The dash for gas, with many new combined cycle gas plants going in, took feedstock from a healthy UK North Sea and replaced some older less fuel efficient and dirtier coal capacity, so the policy was also green.

Today, the Business Secretary needs to review the complex mesh of subsidies, regulations, penalty taxes and import arrangements that passes for an energy policy. It is delivering a shortage of power. It is holding up a good industrial strategy, as industrial expansion needs access to plenty of reliable competitively priced anergy. It is now threatening consumers with much higher electricity and gas prices.

He should order changes that will open up more UK primary energy for us to use. He should want an electricity system that has more reliable renewable power which may take the form of hydro, pump storage and battery, but which also has enough back up capacity from biomass or gas, so we can be sure to keep the factories powered up.

Elimination of our dependence on imported electricity and a substantial reduction in our dependence on imported gas should be a minimum objective. The market would do this if it were allowed to function but, because of the comprehensive muddle of government-inspired past interventions, it now needs dramatic government action to put it right for the future.

In the meantime, we rely on the goodwill of the gas and electricity exporters and will have to pay up to secure supplies. It is the perfect storm, with both gas and electricity scarce. At home, an absence of wind leaves us short, and abroad Hurricane Ida closed down some important US gas capacity. Relying on the wind is a dangerous way of living.

Sarah Ingham: “Yes Please” to Nuclear Power

17 Sep

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

“Atomkraft? Nein Danke!” Nuclear Power? No Thanks!

The slogan of the German anti-nuclear movement since the 1970s has finally been heeded. By the end of next year, the country’s last remaining nuclear power stations will be shut down, a process that has been underway for the past decade.

The rejection of nuclear by Europe’s mightiest industrial economy will have been welcomed by many on this side of the North Sea. Among those keen to say their own nein danke to nuclear are Greenpeace, the SNP and the Green Party. The Liberal Democrats, unsurprisingly, witter on about wind, but their website – like their 2019 manifesto – ducks the nuclear issue.

With Atomkraft abolished, what will be powering Germany in the future? Energy is needed to make all those high-performance cars. And with Porsche, Audi, BMW and Mercedes all recently developing electric models, what will be fuelling them along the autobahns? It turns out that, for the time being at least, it’s partly coal. The black stuff, along with other fossil fuels, are generating much of the country’s electricity.

At 10am Berlin-time on Monday, when the eco-ninnies of Insulate Britain were first bringing parts of the M25 to a halt, just over 69,000 megawatt hours of power was cooking in Germany; roughly 25,000 from coal and 8,000 from nuclear. The Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Industry points out that the country is currently transforming its energy system to make it climate friendly and sustainable, but that will take time. Meanwhile, ‘energy from conventional sources is helping us “keep the lights on”’.

A day after the first M25 protest, the initial findings of a Bath University global study on young people and climate change was published. It revealed high levels of anxiety about the issue among the 10,000 respondents aged 16-25, with nearly 60 per cent reporting they felt worried or extremely worried, to the extent that four in ten were hesitant about having children. Even the most hardened climate change sceptic – “it’s called weather” – will surely be concerned about the levels of psychological distress among the world’s youth which have led to more than half of those questioned (56 per cent) believing humanity is doomed. Elles/Ils sont Greta.

As the Government coats itself in greenwash ahead of COP26, it probably wants to play down last week’s return of Old King Coal to Britain’s energy generation. A, er, perfect storm of heatwave and no wind jeopardised the UK’s power supplies. The National Grid turned to the West Burton A coal-fired station to make up the shortfall. The plant is due to close in 12 months. In June, the government announced that from October 2024, coal will no longer be used to generate electricity, with the pre-reshuffle Energy and Climate Change Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, stating that coal with be consigned to the history books and ‘the UK’s net zero future will be powered by renewables.’

With the continual trumpeting of 67 coal-free days in 2020 (which coincided with lockdown BTW), Pithead Revisited seems unlikely in Britain. However, the current faith in renewables rapidly and consistently to deliver our energy needs is idealistic not realistic. The only way the circle of carbon net zero can be squared with reliable, carbon-free and cheap supply is by embracing home-grown nuclear power.

On Wednesday, perhaps around the time the second M25 protest resulted in a serious crash in Surrey, a large fire near Ashford in Kent damaged the IFA1 interconnector, the main cabling bringing electricity from France. Supplies are expected to be reduced until at least March. This will put further pressure on prices, just as householders have been warned to expect increases on 1st October, following a rise in wholesale costs of energy of 50 per cent in the last six months.

For those prone to a meltdown at the prospect of nuclear power plants on British soil, just how do they think much of the electricity imported across La Manche is generated?

Accounting for about one fifth of Britain’s power supply in 2018, down from a quarter in the mid-1990s, nuclear in needed. In June, Dungeness B closed, leaving seven nuclear power plants; five more are expected to be shut in the next few years. Due to open in June 2026, the Hinkley Point C reactor is expected to power some six million homes.

HS2, with its £98 billion official budget, is a politically toxic vanity project, not Critical National Infrastructure. The Government must start understanding the term ‘critical’ and get behind nuclear. Last year’s Energy White Paper was full of the Green Industrial Revolution but gave a somewhat flaccid commitment to ‘aiming to bring at least one large-scale nuclear project to Final Investment Decision by the end of this Parliament, subject to clear value for money and all relevant approvals.’

Backing nuclear also means selling it to a public spooked by its association with weaponry and fearful of accidents. Given the Eastern bloc’s demonstration of technological prowess in the mid-1980s was the Lada and the Trabant, it’s surprising there weren’t more Chernobyls among its power stations. And the Fukushima plant held up pretty well in 2011, considering it was struck by the fourth largest earthquake ever recorded. The generally tsunami-free UK has been enjoying safe nuclear power since 1956.

Back in 2007, when four per cent of the UK’s electricity came from renewables, one survey found that ‘respondents appeared to be largely unaware that nuclear power is a low greenhouse gas emission technology’. The public still seems largely unaware.

Keeping the lights on, as well as the smartphones charged to access Deliveroo, TikTok and even the NHS app, is imperative. This isn’t the 1970s, when voters put up with the Three-Day Week power cuts in the “mustn’t grumble” spirit of the Blitz – which many of them would have experienced. Interruptions to the power supply today would mean that the prospects of Conservatives remaining in government are roughly net zero.

Ja, bitte to nuclear.

Tim Montgomerie: Don’t write off GB News. The channel’s naysayers should put their champagne back in the fridge.

15 Sep

Tim Montgomerie is the founder of ConservativeHome and is a contributor to Reaction.

‘Your beard needs a trim’ (it often does). ‘Are you wearing the same shirt as last week on Sky?’ (yeah, but I do wash it!). ‘Your glasses are a bit small for your head’ (fair comment, but they’re cheap from Poundland).

Normally, I get just one or two texts or WhatsApp messages after a media appearance and – as often as not – they are about my appearance rather than my, er, brilliant commentary. It helps keep me humble.

Last Wednesday, however, I ‘talked pints’ with Nigel Farage on his new prime time show for GB News. I had a lager whilst we discussed God and politics; the centrality of national defence to conservatism; disagreed about the foreign aid budget; worried about Boris Johnson’s increasing opportunism; and wondered whether or not I’m likely to be on the Prime Minister’s Christmas card list. Spoiler alert… I think it unlikely!

But even more interesting than our 15 minute chat (not typical of our soundbite TV age) was the scale of reaction. Over the next day or so, I received about 50 messages. Not only was this way in excess of my normal experience, but the messages were largely about what we actually discussed.

Notably, nearly every person who contacted me was a conservative. They were fellow pundits, a handful of MPs, a few think tank folk, readers of this wonderful site and assorted friends from home in Salisbury.

And this, I’m sure, is the importance and potential of GB News. Its audience may not yet be huge, and it definitely still needs to overcome some considerable teething problems, but there are clear signs that it is already building a considerable following within ‘our big and small ‘C’ conservative family’.

While it needs to become weightier and avoid being Farage-dominated TV (as good as he is at it), it is succeeding in its mission of addressing topics that other broadcasters ignore or marginalise.

So, yes, it is disappointing that Andrew Neil resigned as its Chairman on Monday, and that his 8pm show has been cancelled. But the channel’s many naysayers should put their expensive champagne back in their fridges.

Some shows are really beginning to work, new stars are in the making and the station’s YouTube videos are beginning to go gangbusters. More importantly, GB News’ CEO. Angelos Frangopoulos, is ready to overhaul individual programmes and schedules until he is as successful with this latest venture as he was with Sky News Australia. Like any good businessman, he doesn’t try to cover up failures, he corrects them.

Moreover, the channel’s funders aren’t quitters. I know a few of them well. They will succeed, and the Tory leadership should take note. Many of the Conservative Party’s core activists and voters are consuming GB News in reasonable numbers already. The Party will shape and heed this new kid on the media block, or it’ll become the home for opposition and disgruntlement.

– – –

Talking of Farage and right-of-centre opposition to the government, I interviewed Richard Tice yesterday.

Tice is the leader of the Reform Party – the successor to the Brexit Party. In place of Europe as a defining issue, he is offering a menu of low taxes, NHS reform, lockdown-scepticism, market-orientated environmental policies and – to a much lesser extent than Farage – a tough approach to immigration.

On the face of it, Tice’s Reform is more of a Thatcherite party than a populist one. More orientated to the young than to the old. It’s far from clear to me that it yet has the recipe or personnel to help keep the Conservative Party honest and, well, a bit more Conservative! But Tice intends to field a candidate in every seat at the next general election and if Johnson keeps playing fast and loose with Conservative principles, he could yet make a difference in many marginal seats.

Trudi Harrison and Mark Jenkinson: It’s time for another ‘epoch making moment’ for nuclear power

13 Sep

Trudy Harrison is MP for Copeland and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. Mark Jenkinson is MP for Workington.

Sixty-five years ago, almost to the day, the UK’s first nuclear power station was connected to the grid at Calder Hall on the Cumbrian coast, with the town of Workington the first recipient of that power. It marked a significant moment for British industry and a catalyst for future technological innovation.

Over the years that followed, an expert supply chain was established across the UK. More and more nuclear power stations were built – from Dounreay to Dungeness, Hartlepool to Heysham – and a vibrant industry was built up, supporting jobs, businesses, and communities across the regions.

The heart of the industry has remained here in the North West with nearly half of the 60,000-strong nuclear workforce across the country based here. A breadth of innovation in advanced manufacturing, engineering, and nuclear technology has emerged as a result.

But the future of the industry now hangs in the balance. All but one of the country’s currently operating nuclear plants will have been decommissioned by the end of this decade. There is therefore a need to act.

That is what we – the Conservatives – have been doing. Rather than skirting round the issue, as Labour have done, we have this year embraced new nuclear, looking to capitalise on the construction of Hinkley Point C. The Energy White Paper set out a plan to bring a further large scale nuclear power plant to a final investment decision this Parliament and invest in future technologies such as small and advanced modular reactors.

It demonstrated our willingness to take the tough decisions and set out a long-term vision for the UK. We know what the alternative is with Labour – indecision and delay – and it is little surprise that so many seats turned blue in 2019.

Since the construction of Hinkley Point C began, we have seen an industry that was on its knees revived. Many highly skilled jobs have returned and the social fabric of many communities restored through the opportunities the project has delivered. Over the past five years, a supply chain of 3,600 businesses from across the UK has been supporting the project and over 71,000 job opportunities have been created during construction. The latest projections show that because of the project, around £2 billion will be invested across the North of England alone.

However, as the construction of Hinkley Point C begins to wind down, workers will need a timely transition to another project to ensure the valuable supply chain established in recent years is not diminished. Without a clear plan in place, leading businesses have warned up to 10,000 skilled jobs in the nuclear supply chain could be at risk.

It is therefore contingent on the Government to swiftly deliver on its Energy White Paper commitments and drive forward our vision to level up the regions across the UK by creating highly skilled jobs.

The next clear step in the UK’s nuclear future lies with Sizewell C. Giving the green light – by introducing parliamentary legislation in the autumn – would inject confidence into the UK supply chain, boost levels of investment, and apply the expertise learned at Hinkley Point C, to Sizewell.

Thousands of people here in the North West will benefit as a result – indeed the Sizewell C Consortium last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the north of England committing to £2.5 billion of investment and 13,000 job opportunities in the region were Sizewell C to go ahead. This would be levelling up in action. It would also lay the groundwork for the rollout of other clean technologies here in the North West. Small and advanced modular reactors will have an experienced workforce to turn to, while nuclear will also catalyse industries such as hydrogen and carbon capture. And in future, we may see another large nuclear power plant at Moorside.

All these technologies, working together, are needed for the UK to get to net zero. British projects such as these will also help increase our security of energy supply and weaken our reliance on European imports such as Russian gas. As we strive towards our 2050 goal, this is critical.

In October 1956, a few months after Calder Hall was first connected to the grid, it was officially opened by the Queen before a crowd of thousands. It was described as an ‘epoch making moment’ in British innovation and industry. It would be no exaggeration to say that we are now in need of another.

We therefore urge the Government, as we enter the first ever Nuclear Week in Parliament next week, to commit whole heartedly to British nuclear and British technological advancement, which creates jobs, boosts skills, but above all, saves our communities.

Sally-Ann Hart: We need to turbo-charge Mother Nature’s power

11 Sep

Sally-Ann Hart is the MP for Hastings and Rye, and was a councillor in Rother.

Following this summer’s flooding, drought and fire events across Europe, it is hard to understand why some people remain unconvinced about climate change.

The recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the world is warming faster than previously anticipated, and climate change is already affecting every single region of our planet.

I very much welcome the UK’s lead in tackling climate change; the UK was the first G7 country to legislate to achieve net zero by 2050, and we are decarbonising faster than any other G20 country.

The Government has already made huge strides in policy-making to protect and enhance our environment:

  • The Prime Minister’s 10-point Plan lays the foundations for the UK to lead the Green Industrial Revolution, and accelerate our path to net-zero;
  • The Agriculture Act, which changes the way farmers are supported, centres funding support around incentivising sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and supporting the establishment of ecosystems, such as new woodland;
  • and the landmark Environment Bill, which puts our environment at the heart of all government policymaking.

I wholeheartedly support the Government aims as regards our environment and reducing carbon emissions. Restoring nature is a central theme, with initiatives such as Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund, aimed at driving private investment in nature-based solutions to climate change, or the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which has backed projects which not only boost nature recovery, but also support and create jobs.

But we need to ask whether all these policies will be enough. Nature recovery is being increasingly acknowledged to be fundamental in fighting against climate change, but we need to unleash the full potential of nature as she can do much more; we need to ramp up action in relation to nature-based solutions, especially ahead of COP26 and the publication of the Government’s comprehensive net zero strategy later this year.

Natural habitats in oceans and on land can store vast quantities of carbon. To quote Socrates, ‘He is the richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature’, and nature provides us with a wealth of solutions to combat climate change.

G20 finance ministers have recognised that nature-based solutions are the most cost-effective, and represent more effective and sustainable investment to protect and revive the planet – to store and capture carbon. But it is also recognised that nature-based solutions receive a very small percentage, around 2.5%, of public climate mitigating funding.

As a Conservative Environment Network Nature-Based Solutions Champion, I have been championing the cause of nature-based solutions to reduce our carbon emissions, and whilst the UK Government has already invested in nature-based solutions, including tree planting, there are many ways we can use the natural environments to do this.

Take our humble, traditional English hedgerows as an example, which are some of the most accessible wildlife habitats along roads, footpaths, fields, gardens and railways. Thousands of hedgerows have gone; removed for increasing farming productivity in the mid-20th century. Many remaining hedgerows have been left un-managed, over-trimmed or affected by agricultural chemicals.

Hedgerows are not only important for wildlife, but also for nature recovery and biodiversity. There has been a growing consensus that hedgerows are also vital to the climate in making a real, tangible contribution to reducing carbon emissions by storing carbon.

As a ‘Hedgerow Hero’, I welcome the new CPRE report (‘Hedge Fund: investing in hedgerows for climate, nature and the economy’ September 2021) which reveals how our humble hedgerows could become champions of climate action and nature recovery, while contributing thousands of jobs to local communities.

The Government has set clear targets to increase tree planting, for example, but it has not set a target for hedgerows, which are a vital tool to sequester carbon, aid nature’s recovery and even protect against flooding.

In its May 2019 report, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) advocated increasing our hedgerows by 40% by 2050, alongside other methods of carbon capture.

New research conducted by the Organic Research Centre, on behalf of CPRE, has found that the benefits of setting and achieving this target would not only be for the climate and nature, but also for employment, with 40% more hedgerows resulting in over 25,000 more jobs in hedgerow planting and maintenance in both rural and urban areas. Furthermore, research shows that for every £1 invested in hedgerow planting, as much as £3.92 is generated in the wider economy.

Our Earth has been a very giving, even forgiving planet, providing us with everything that we need to survive and thrive. But now we need to support – turbo-charge – Mother Nature’s power, and allow her to do her job to ensure our survival for future generations.

Christian Wakeford: Why we need a Cabinet Minister for Net Zero

3 Sep

Christian Wakeford is MP for Bury South.

As the MP for Bury South, in the so-called “Red Wall”, I have no doubt about the need to drive down emissions.

I am a supporter of our Conservative manifesto commitment to Net Zero by 2050, and like many of my colleagues in Parliament, my focus is on finding practical and affordable policies which will allow us to live more sustainably.

Some have recently questioned our Net Zero commitments, but poll after poll shows increasing public concern over the environment and a desire for faster action.

85 per cent of the British public are concerned about climate change, while the environment is now the third biggest priority for the public, behind healthcare and the economy, with 33 per cent saying it’s the most important issue.

In my constituency, I held a pre-COP26 “environment forum” for local people. It was a great opportunity to hear their views, concerns and hopes about our efforts to tackle climate change.

However, throughout the forum it was highlighted that government of all levels is notoriously bad at working cross department and this leads to either duplicated working or watered down and overcomplicated projects.

This will only hold back the action they want to see. The suggestion of having someone oversee action on climate change, from a cross-departmental basis, was regarded as efficient and sensible.

My constituents are right. It’s clear that we will need a senior Cabinet Minister for Net Zero to oversee this transition – ​working directly with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Every sector must become more sustainable – and government has a big role to play in setting the right framework.

You only have to look at the example of housing. According to Green Alliance, whose Net Zero Policy Tracker comes out this month, homes account for 16 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and require substantial reductions. We need joined-up policy to ensure home decarbonisation is fair, whether it is on retrofitting old houses or building standards for new homes.

The Future Homes Standard, for example, should be brought forward from 2025 to ensure new homes built today are the greenest they can be. Not only will it be better for the homeowner, it will also save the Treasury and taxpayer money in the long-run, cutting out the need to subsidise expensive retrofitting down the line. A Minister for Net Zero could ensure our transition to a more sustainable economy is as quick and efficient as possible.

Currently, Alok Sharma, who is doing a brilliant job as President Designate of COP26, sits around the decision-making table as a Minister in the Cabinet Office.

This adds extra weight to the Government’s green credentials and demonstrates that we are taking our climate conference hosting responsibilities seriously. But after COP26, he could be out of a job and there is a danger that the impetus generated by hosting the UN climate change conference will be lost.

As part of our COP26 legacy, a Cabinet Minister for Net Zero can show the world how to lead cross-government action on the matter. They can also help knock heads together within government and act as both a convener and an elected spokesperson.

Not only that, they will be answerable to Parliament, providing extra scrutiny and coverage of the most pressing and challenging issue we face as we build back better from the pandemic. My constituents approve – and I hope the Government will too.

Selaine Saxby: Lib Dem-run North Devon Council declared a “climate emergency” in 2019. But has failed to do anything.

20 Aug

Selaine Saxby is MP for North Devon.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “emergency” as “something dangerous or serious, such as an accident, that happens suddenly or unexpectedly and needs fast action in order to avoid harmful results.”

So why have so many local councils declared a Climate Emergency, which amounts to little more than a statement on their website? A Freedom of Information (FOI) request did not get me very far, with my local Liberal Democrat District Council merely saying:

“The Council’s Sustainability and Climate Officer for both North Devon Council and Torridge District Council confirms that they are currently working on a Carbon Action Plan for North Devon, therefore at this time the Council does not have one in place.”

This is the same Liberal Democrat council that declared a Climate Emergency in June 2019. As a councillor since May 2019, I remember the meeting well. I registered my own concerns at the time, and that as a good first step, maybe the air conditioning could be turned down.

Furthermore, our flag-waving Lib Dems have failed to reduce their own carbon emissions, failed to reduce their own energy consumption, failed to provide any incentives for electric cars, and failed to switch any of their fleet vehicles to electric.

I appreciate that our hardworking council officers have been very busy with the pandemic, and the staff have really done a fantastic job, but you would hope that the “Lead Councillor” responsible for the environment could have seen a way to at least install some solar panels.

Emergencies and crises by their very names invoke something of a helplessness in many as it seems to be someone else’s problem. But if we are to address climate change and achieve net zero, there is a need for everyone to feel they can take action now, and not wait for another unhelpful “plan”.

The pandemic taught us the importance of collaboration between local and national government. Devon County Council has also declared a climate emergency, and launched their own plan. But plans need to be actioned if they are to have any effect.

In North Devon, we have already done so much work towards addressing climate change, from increasing electric charging points to introducing the first rural e-scooter trial at our local further education college. However, because these improvements are not in the Liberal Democrat “plan”, they have dropped off the radar of progress.

If we are to encourage individuals that every step they take is important and matters, then we cannot ignore the good steps that people are already making, independent of any local authority “plan”.

There is more we could and should all be doing, and there is no need to wait for further “emergencies” to be declared or “plans” to be published. We can switch to renewables, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, use less electricity at home, recycle more, and all be a part of the solution. We need to share our individual successes so that everyone feels part of the solution.

That is not to say that there is no place for plans. For example, Amber Valley Borough Council has a great plan. We should not let people think they can only make a change if it is part of a plan.

I support Let’s Go Zero and in June wrote with Lord Knight of Weymouth to raise awareness of how tough the pandemic has been for children and for young people. According to NHS Digital, probable mental health disorders nearly doubled after the first lockdown. As we said at the time, the last thing children need is another crisis they feel powerless to change. We must flip the climate emergency into an opportunity for our young people to drive the change to a carbon zero UK.

Time is of the essence, and we need not reinvent the wheel. We should look where solutions currently exist, and work to implement them. UK100 brings together local authorities across the country to devise and, crucially, to implement plans for the transition to clean energy that are ambitious, cost effective, and garner support.

I have spoken at their events and seen how effective their solutions would be. I am a big supporter, and urge others to join. Their Knowledge Hub offers excellent ideas for how local leaders can work to hit net zero, which is available here.

Declaring a “Climate Emergency” suggest that it is someone else’s problem. We need Climate Action, and we must work together in driving this action, rather than waste precious time discussing the misguided and unhelpful Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, something that I regret even my own Conservative county council is doing.

This Conservative Government is a world leader in fighting climate change, and we have introduced the legislative tools to enable and encourage individual leaders and businesses to take action. We as individuals, business leaders, and as councillors need to get on and actually do what we can to make change, rather than producing unhelpful plans that do not in themselves solve the problem.

Selaine is hosting the North Devon Climate Summit on Saturday 18th September, 10am-1pm. Lord Deben, Chair of the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee, is keynote speaker, with three subsequent panels focusing on “The road to COP26 and where to next”, “The role of education”, and “Blue Carbon”. Secure your ticket now.

Voters are suspicious of electric cars because politicians let them down over diesel ones. It’s not just a question of price.

18 Aug

As most people know by now, a large part of the Government’s plans for Net Zero involves convincing the nation to drive electric cars. The UK plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 – so the consumer doesn’t actually have much choice in the matter.

That being said, the Government is having a number of issues selling its vision to voters around the country. None of this was helped over the last two weeks when Allegra Stratton, the spokesperson for COP26, revealed to Times Radio that she drove – shock, horror! – a third-hand diesel Volkswagen Golf.

Soon after Alok Sharma, President of COP26, was asked what he drove – to which he also answered diesel. Despite his assurance that he does not “drive it very much”, this has not impressed the electric car lobby, nor those wondering why they should buy electric if COP26’s most famous faces aren’t on board.

As COP26 draws closer, the Government will have to get better at promoting electric cars, as well as countering objections to them. The most obvious worry consumers have is the expense. Buying a car isn’t cheap, after all, so people will feel anxious about having to switch (especially when there’s been so much talk about people having to replace their gas boilers).

Then there’s the charging issue, which Stratton hit upon in her interview. She said she needed a diesel vehicle to visit elderly relatives “200, 250 miles away”… sometimes with small children in the car. “They’re all journeys that I think would be at least one quite long stop to charge”, were her words – sentiment that many people will relate to.

One underrated concern in all this is whether electric cars are another government fad, as was the case with diesel in 2001. Many will remember the “dash for diesel” in this period, during which Gordon Brown, the then Chancellor, introduced a new system of tax for petrol-powered cars, in the name of environmentalism, and slashed duty on diesel and reduced company car taxes on this type of vehicle

It led to a four-fold increase in the number of diesels, which has since been associated with thousands of premature deaths a year. Confidential Treasury files have since shown that Tony Blair’s government was aware of the damage these cars do to air quality – yet pressed ahead, mainly because the optics would look bad (through penalising diesel drivers).

At the time the files were discovered, Edmund King, president of the AA, said “This will only heighten the sense of injustice felt by millions of people who bought their diesel cars in good faith”. And it’s this sentiment that takes us back to electric cars. A lot is being asked of the consumer, so they need reassurances that electric cars are here to stay.

As James Frayne, who writes for ConservativeHome and has spent a long time researching public attitudes to Net Zero, tells me: “Cars are integral to most workers’ daily lives and they’re expensive to buy and run. People therefore really pay attention to political comment on cars and mistakes have consequences. Politicians’ u-turn on diesels is seared into the public memory and undermined confidence that Governments will see Net Zero policies through.”

So the Government needs to sell electric cars – and their longevity too. 

James Frayne: If ministers want to sell Net Zero to the public, they need to start making sacrifices

17 Aug

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

This autumn’s global summit on the environment – COP26, to be held in Glasgow – will be many British voters’ first introduction to the politics of Net Zero.

When I’ve run focus groups on Net Zero, you might find one person in every three groups who has heard of it. While the environment is a tier one issue for many, the political and policy debates on Net Zero have passed the public by.

But it’s a huge issue that will define politics for two decades. COP26 therefore brings both opportunities and threats for this Conservative Government. I set out some thoughts on these here.

First, the opportunities…

1) The Government can promote green capitalism and green jobs

Boris Johnson is unusual: a centre right leader with a massive majority, who genuinely believes in the free market and protecting the environment. Rishi Sunak is similarly aligned.

As such, with the benefit of playing host, the Government has a chance to move green policy out of the hands of the left, where it has traditionally been held. The Government can chart a path to Net Zero compatible with centre-right politics: emphasising green jobs in a modernised economy and the role of technology in delivering clean growth.

This could be a distinctive role in global politics – particularly on the centre right – but could also help prevent the establishment of a policy link in the public mind between the environment and the hard left politics.

2) It offers an opportunity to do good

To date, Johnson’s Government has been defined by a few extremely divisive issues: Brexit and immigration, most obviously. This summit offers the chance to talk concretely about doing good – not just about protecting this country from the excesses of the weather, but protecting and promoting the environment globally. It also offers the first chance, post-Brexit, to work with international leaders on something positive.

3) It offers the chance to forge new alliances

Related to the above, the whole point of COP26 is to bring political leaders together. The Government has the chance to agree plans with other leaders, such as the US, that will strengthen ties in the same ways that security policy did in the past. After all, the US Democrats arguably now take climate change more seriously than foreign and defence policy. We should expect to see new alliances formed – and old alliances strengthened – over this issue.

(Covid should have facilitated global cooperation; the less said about this debacle the better).

4) Government could justify changes to the post-Covid tax system

Governments like to inject morality into the tax system. It allows them to create narratives that justify new or replacement taxes. This helps on different levels. Not only does it allow the Government to show it’s on the right side of public opinion, it provides a rationale to justify changes to the taxation system over many years.

There are fewer better opportunities than the one provided by COP26. when the Government will be able to craft a narrative that pollution should be paid for by higher taxes. When the country is struggling with massive debt post-Covid, this is a huge help. Net Zero is so large in scale, it seems likely the Government is going to have to shift to “taxing bad things to promote good” (watch out, alcoholic drinks firms).

Now, the threats…

5) There will be huge sticker shock

Successive Governments have been less than candid about the costs associated with Net Zero – both for the country as a whole and for individual families – and about lifestyle changes required. At COP26, all this will start coming out in the wash – and people are likely to be shocked about what they hear.

I have long believed the lack of any meaningful political opposition to Net Zero was a bad thing overall for the Government and the green movement: it has hidden all the negative stories that were going to come out at some point; and it has failed to get over the point that progress on Net Zero is good on balance.

Now people will hear the downsides – and it will look to many voters here that this Government’s policies are to blame. (“Why is Boris saying we need to pay more for x and y?”)

6) It will reveal huge political hypocrisy.

You can’t tell the public “we’re in a climate emergency” as you’re driving by in your diesel car. Sorry, you just can’t. As I wrote in the Sunday Telegraph, Alok Sharma, who’s leading on UK preparations for COP26, should replace his diesel car within a month, or drive it back to his new life in Reading West.

When politicians and policy experts are going to be telling us we’re in a climate emergency, and that everyone should face inconvenience and financial sacrifice, it’s imperative politicians are way ahead of the public in their own lives. It doesn’t look like most Government politicians are anywhere near. Allegations of hypocrisy will damage the Government’s green credentials, but could generally undermine trust in them too.

7) Lifestyle changes proposed will be vast, at the worst possible time

When COP26 is in full swing, the British economy will be struggling. While politicians are talking about future sacrifices, we might be hearing about the prospect of higher interest rates to curb inflation; the possibility of significant bill increases as the energy price cap moves; and about new taxes to pay off Covid debt. Talking about the need for additional green taxes will likely be met with a groan at best.

8) Many provincial towns depend on polluting industries

Derby returned a relatively rare Conservative MP at the last election (Derby North). Derby is one of the few cities in England that has kept a successful manufacturing base – making aero engines at Rolls-Royce, cars at Toyota, and trains at Bombardier. The corridor between Derby and Nottingham is full of SMEs who support these big manufacturers.

At COP26, the people of Derby will likely hear the need to radically tax flying and driving – and the businesses that make it possible. While people that live in these sorts of
towns are often realistic about the long-term prospects of manufacturing – and supportive of cleaner, greener, newer industries – at some point soon, the people of Derby will be asking some pointed questions of their MPs, just as they will across working-class seats around the country.

9) Lack of international agreement means many will ask: why bother?

As Paul wrote recently, there is at least a very good chance that emerging economies will drag their feet on environmental policy. They will likely argue that they’re still playing catch up with the developed West, and it’s not reasonable for the US, EU and UK to demand they slow their rate of growth when they’re only just establishing a mass middle class. And they have a point.

But the British public are already attuned to this problem; they know that Britain’s emissions are a relatively trivial amount of the global total. If one of their first introductions to Net Zero politics confirms their existing fears – that global progress isn’t viable, it’s possible more than a few will think “what’s the point?”

Which way will things go? How can the Government help to maximise the opportunities and mitigate the risks? I fear that the sticker shock borne of a lack of candour, coupled with stories of Ministerial inertia and hypocrisy in their private lives, will make for a difficult summit.

To give them a chance to get through this positively, the Government has got to start managing expectations fast – explaining that Net Zero is going to positive overall and on balance. This breezy assurance that it’s all going to be wonderful has got to end. And they’ve got to make sure that Government ministers can all, with a straight face, explain that they’re personally making the sacrifices they’re telling everyone else to make.

Jack Richardson: Another Biden policy calamity, and one closer to home. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

17 Aug

Jack Richardson is a Climate Programmes Manager at the Conservative Environment Network.

The Biden administration’s foreign policy is under intense scrutiny. And while the focus is rightly on Afghanistan now, it isn’t the President’s first strategic misstep. In Europe, his green light for Nord Stream 2 (NS2), a new gas pipeline from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, to go ahead was unpardonable folly.

Many conservatives in the United States and United Kingdom share the view of Poland and Ukraine that the move is a strategic, economic, and political mistake which risks the stability of the European Union and NATO. And, despite Angela Merkel’s reputation as the ‘Climate Chancellor’, NS2 is catastrophic for the environment and damages our efforts to fight climate change.

A warmer world threatens the economic growth and national security of every country. This summer has seen calamitous flooding in Europe and Asia, droughts and fatal heatwaves in North America, and wildfires in the Sub-Arctic. As the recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained, more frequent extreme weather will hamper our standard of living here in the UK and be costly to rebuild from and adapt to. It will also cause instability and the mass displacement of people abroad, making the world more dangerous.

The politics of a multipolar world combined with grey areas of conflict may yield deadly consequences, as states are forced to compete more fiercely over the earth’s depleting natural resources.

Add a rising global temperature with all its extremities to the mix, and it will be harder to maintain stability in sensitive regions. To mitigate the worst effects of climate change, world leaders agreed in 2015 to limit global warming to well below two degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. This requires the reduction of carbon emissions to ‘net zero’, which in turn means a systematic transition in the technologies and techniques that we use to produce energy, manufacture goods, and manage our land.

The EU is working to establish itself as a leader in the fight against climate change, no doubt partly because of the massive economic gain it can make by specialising in Net Zero industries early. The UK is doing so too, hence the government’s backing of the offshore wind sector and carbon capture and storage in particular. Through NS2, however, Germany is greatly undermining Europe’s energy transition.

Germany’s fear of (zero carbon) nuclear energy, which it lumps in with coal power as a dirty source of energy to discard as part of its Energiewende (energy transition), is partly to blame. It sees gas as a means to ditch these two energy sources because it emits less carbon than coal. This is true, but gas is still a huge part of the climate change problem.

NS2, which costs more than refurbishing the existing Brotherhood Pipeline in Ukraine and Slovakia, is plainly Vladimir Putin’s bid to deprive these countries of their position as a transit country, which serves as their only insurance against Russian aggression. Germany is leaving its Eastern European allies more vulnerable and less well off for its own gain. It’s also undermining its own transition to a net zero economy by making itself and Europe more dependent upon Russian fossil fuels for decades to come.

Russia also has a dreadful environmental record. It is responsible for nearly 15 per cent of global flaring – the controlled burning of natural gas during production. Compare this to its gas-producing neighbour Norway, which banned routine flaring fifty years ago. In 2018, Russia wasted roughly the total annual gas consumption of Poland and Lithuania combined from flaring. Germany is perpetuating this problem by creating more demand with few strings attached, even though it has arguably the most economic capacity in Europe to pursue zero carbon instead.

The Biden administration’s capitulation on the issue is also bad news for climate action. One of his first actions in office was cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline project, continuing Barack Obama’s policy of opposing the oil pipeline due to it undermining Washington’s climate change policy. Biden’s blessing for NS2 undermines his credibility; American politicians are now legitimately asking why Biden appears to support those working in Russian gas more than American oil.

Though supposedly still “opposed” to the deal, the State Department pushed for a deal to “protect” Ukraine by making Russian aggression an automatic trigger for the disconnection of Nord Stream 2 gas. Berlin opposes this, though will contribute to a new $1 billion “Green Fund for Ukraine”, which seeks to compensate the country for leaving it poorer and more threatened, and to make Ukraine more energy independent. It justifiably prioritises maintaining its main protection against Russian invasion over new wind turbines.

A better strategy would be to use combined European and American leadership in zero carbon energy to speed up the European transition from fossil fuels, as well as to push back against China’s strategy of dominating supply chains for future industries. This could be achieved through promoting clean free trade and greater cooperation between democracies, but will require bold domestic action too.

Under the thin veil of Ostpolitik (“Eastern policy”), Germany is not only greatly undermining European security and the political integration project it leads, but European energy transition and global climate action as a whole. After the devastation from flooding caused in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, Merkel should know better.