Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 7) Nick Robinson with Katharine Birbalsingh, Matt Chorley with Alok Sharma

22 Dec

Every fortnight, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: Political Thinking with Nick Robinson
Host: Nick Robinson
Episode: The Katharine Birbalsingh One

Duration: 42:52 minutes
Published: December 17
Link: Here

What’s it about?

Readers of this podcast review may remember that Katharine Birbalsingh, the founder and headmistress of Michaela Community School, and more recently the Government’s new Social Mobility Commissioner, featured in my November round-up, when she was interviewed by Matt Chorley. So compelling is Birbalsingh that I must include a second conversation with her, during which she is interviewed by Nick Robinson. They cover a huge amount of ground, from whether she’s “the strictest head in Britain”, as the media once put it, to her upbringing and small-c conservative values.

Some teaser quotes:
  • On being strict – “It means immersing children in love.”
  • “In 2021, we as a people are letting ourselves down and letting our children down, because we’re not expecting enough of them.”
  • “I knew I was being naughty. I knew I was saying things you’re not meant to say.”
  • “I don’t want the limelight, but I have a duty… Somebody has to say something.”
Verdict

An excellent exchange, in which Robinson is never short on challenging questions for Birbalsingh. The most interesting one is around whether she can create consensus in her new governmental role.

Title: Planet Normal
Hosts: Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan
Episode: Penny Mordaunt on Omicron hysteria, Tory rebels and Brexit

Duration: 58:36 minutes
Published: December 16

What’s it about?

This episode of Planet Normal is split into different segments, with fun and engaging exchanges between its two hosts, Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan, and then an interview with Mordaunt sandwiched in the middle. During the course, Halligan asks Mordaunt about her progress pursuing FTAs with the United States, as well as what she thinks about Omicron and the Government’s “Plan B”.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “We are doing exceptionally well, and we have these huge and deep trading relationships and cross-investment interests… but I think we can do more – and a super deal with America would be fantastic.”
  • “The response we’ve had at state level has been incredible… people want to have obstacles removed from them doing more business with us.”
  • “Brexit is not an event to be mourned by the international community, nor is it an act of self-harm or an act that requires us to be punished in some way. It is a huge opportunity and we need to start to encourage to see people in that light.”
Verdict

An impressive discussion, which will fuel speculation about Mordaunt taking on an even higher role in government one day.

Title: Red Box
Host: Matt Chorley
Episode: Alok Sharma talks about the climate

Duration: 40 minutes
Published: December 16
Linked: Here

What’s it about?

In this interview, Matt Chorley sits down with Alok Sharma, the COP26 President, to find out the ins and outs of how he created one of the most impressive deals in world history. They cover all sorts of interesting territory, from how Covid affected this year’s climate conference, to Sharma’s experience seeing the effects of climate change up close, to why he’ll now be “auditor in chief”, as well as “shepherd in chief”, on environmental progress.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “Just look at what’s happened this year. You’ve seen terrible flooding in China, you’ve seen that in central Europe, you’re seeing wild fires raging in America, in Australia; I mean, even in our own country. Talk to farmers; they will tell you the impact that climate change is having on the yields of their crops.”
  • “Well I can tell you that my nostrils took quite a battering.”
  • On the decision to delay COP26 – “Climate change didn’t take time off during that year.”
  • “We helped delegates in over 70 countries get vaccinated as well.”
  • On ensuring countries didn’t pull out of the COP26 deal – “It literally is like playing Jenga.”
Verdict

A comprehensive interview, which shows the huge amount of work that went on behind the scenes of COP26, as well as showing Sharma’s satisfaction with how it went.

Gerard Lyons: We must rise to the challenge of dealing with China. Here’s a strategy for doing so.

14 Dec

Dr Gerard Lyons is a senior fellow at Policy Exchange. He was Chief Economic Adviser to Boris Johnson during his second term as Mayor of London.

Last week, the Foreign Secretary gave a powerful speech at Chatham House on “Building the Network of Liberty.” One of its central theme was that “now is the time for the free world to fight back, and to use the power of economics and technology to promote freedom not fear.”

It was the prelude to a successful meeting in Liverpool of G7 foreign ministers and those from other democratic countries.  What then is the ‘power of economics’ referred to and its implications?

The UK can have a global influence through its own actions and via global institutions. This can include its hard power, namely defence spending or sanctions; soft power through speeches, wider diplomacy; and participation in global institutions and foreign aid, all of which shape global perceptions of the UK, as well as help it take a leading role in framing the terms of debate on specific issues; and then there is sheer economic clout, particularly in terms of bilateral relationships with other countries or regions.

This is of utmost importance as the UK repositions itself globally post-Brexit, and is of immediate relevance for our relationship with China.

The UK is the fifth biggest economy in the world. The largest seventeen are each more than $1 trillion dollars in size, and of these it is China (second) and Russia (11th) which are most visibly in the G7’s focus, not just in terms of their size, or how free their societies are, but also because of their manoeuvres regarding Taiwan and Ukraine respectively. Others in focus include Saudi Arabia (19th), Turkey (20th), and Iran (26th).

While the Government can’t micro-manage bilateral economic relationships, it can set parameters and incentives that influence behaviour.

Our relationship with China has cooled since President Xi’s state visit in 2015. The UK has rightly opted to highlight human rights abuses, notably with the treatment of the Uyghurs, and has become wary of China’s increasing military might and actions in Hong Kong.

Yet, at the same time, our economic ties with China remain significant and cannot be ignored. It is now one of our biggest trading partners, and has invested heavily in a broad range of UK assets.

Equally, China has a huge presence in the City of London, which the UK should be keen to grow to further cement the capitals’s position as one of the world’s top two global financial centres. Notably, the Chinese continue to rate the UK’s education and university sectors highly.

What then should we do? How to deal with China is not a challenge unique to us. The EU has described the country as a ‘cooperative partner, a negotiating partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival.’ Furthermore, no one doubts the US’s tough stance on China regarding defence and security, but this is not at the expense of US firms doing business with China. Such stances are not contradictory.

The UK needs a fresh, robust template in its relationship with China. The Government should outline its red lines, so that business and finance can continue to operate. Central to this should be a differentiation between strategic and non-strategic areas.

Strategic areas could include those in which we perceive China as a threat to national security, including defence, intelligence and telecommunications. This might require clarity over the scope of the National Security and Investment Act, and a fresh look at the relationship that certain universities have. Non-strategic areas would be those parts of the economy in which firms and the City can interact and compete with China, freed from politics.

China is also viewed as being ahead of the race towards a central bank digital currency, likely to aid its global influence.  As it seeks to grow its economy and move up the value-curve, there will be opportunities for UK business.

For example, there are areas, such as the green agenda, in which we can be partners. China may be building more coal fired stations, but it is a global leader on renewables.

Equally, globalisation has boosted interdependencies with links across countries and regions. Indeed, we should ask ourselves in the West why it is that the technology for giga factories, which many European governments have been subsidising to attract this year, lies with China, South Korea and Japan. The lesson is to focus on research into the next generation of batteries.

Recent developments suggest a shift in strategic thinking across the globe. For instance, as part of its “dual circulation” economic policy, China is seeking to reduce its dependency upon imports of food, fuel and technology. In contrast, recent months have highlighted the EU’s dependency upon imports of Russian gas.

Strategic dependency on other countries has thus become an important consideration to address, without undermining economic growth and future cross-border investment flows.

Working with others at the World Trade Organisation, we should ensure that protection of intellectual property and fair trade.

The West has been somewhat slow to rival China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI), and it will take them to see if the G7 can provide an alternative with enough financial power. Positively, the UK recognises the need to act and has revamped its British finance development institution. For many countries the BRI has triggered significant investment and economic growth but at the same time, it has been dubbed a form of financial colonialism with many countries incurring debts.

Last year, the UK announced a temporary cut to its overseas aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of GDP. While understandable given the fiscal hit from the pandemic, reversing this cut as soon as possible makes sense. Not only will it make a much needed difference on the ground, but it will give weight and credibility to the UK’s rhetoric on the global stage.

Indeed, prior to this, the UK had been the only country in western Europe to meet the two international commitments of spending two per cent of GDP on defence and 0.7 per cent on overseas aid.

We should also continue to cement stronger economic and financial ties across the wider Indo-Pacific region, stretching from India in the West to the US in the East. This region is set to be the dominant driver of future global growth. This shift in the balance of economic power to the Indo Pacific is one of two pre-pandemic trends likely to dominate in the future.

The other is the fourth industrial revolution that is already underway. Both of these featured heavily in the Government’s Integrated Review earlier this year, and leveraging off both will make an important contribution to our future economic and diplomatic success.

Post-pandemic, the world will naturally change. This can be summarised by three G’s: grassroots, green and geopolitics. Grassroots goes to the heart of an ongoing debate about whether globalisation has reached its limit. I don’t think it has, but more firms will onshore some operations closer to home in light of supply-chain disruptions. The green agenda will continue to be at the fore of international fora as countries meet ambitious net-zero targets.

Alongside the need for a sensible future working relationship with the EU and delivering upon a pro-growth economic strategy, the UK has the ability to punch its global weight in strategic and economic terms.

Darren Henry: Driving new growth in the East Midlands

14 Dec

Darren Henry is MP for Broxtowe and Co-Chair of the Midlands Engine APPG.

At the last general election, I was proud to be elected on a manifesto that prioritised two of the biggest challenges facing the UK: tackling the climate crisis and delivering levelling up.

This transformative levelling up agenda sits at the heart of the Government’s ambitions, and stands to galvanise communities that have historically been under-represented and consistently underfunded. As Co-Chair of the Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) I believe nowhere is more in need of this commitment than the Midlands, where 38 per cent of local authorities have been defined as category one: places with the highest levels of identified need for the Government’s Levelling Up Fund.

Levelling up must also actively enable regional collaboration to drive technological advancement and innovation in a range of sectors, by keeping top talent in the region and building on existing expertise.  This exists in our world-leading research institutions, our growing life-sciences and manufacturing sectors, and in our ability to develop and roll-out the technologies which will be key to our transition to a zero-carbon economy, with high-paid, high-skilled green jobs at its heart.

Hydrogen is central to this transition, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) forecasting a need for 5GW of  low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030. This represents a huge transformation to our energy system, with potentially staggering impacts for our transport sector, the way we heat our homes and power our heavy industry.

And it is not just the climate which stands to benefit from these plans – with Government funding into our hydrogen economy having the potential to unlock £90 billion of private investment and support 440,000 well-paid green jobs in 2030.

The Midlands is perfectly placed to support this target. We have a proud legacy of manufacturing, a history of automotive production, and are placed at the heart of UK freight and logistics.  This proximity to the aviation sector, combined with plans for the East Midlands Development Corporation and the Freeport at East Midlands Airport mean that, as the UK scales up its production of hydrogen, it will be met by demand for the applied technologies that the Midlands leads on, and that have the power to connect hydrogen generators with consumers.

The Midlands also has the existing industry and academic collaboration, convened by the Midlands Engine partnership, to deliver this transformative step towards maximising the environmental and economic benefits of the fuel of the future, while underpinning the security of our nation’s energy supply.

The Midlands Engine partnership this week launches the pan-regional Hydrogen Technologies Strategy, answering the call made from the Business Department this summer in their own strategy – for business and research all over the UK to collaborate in the shared vision of scaling up hydrogen production and demand.

The Midlands Engine Strategy identifies and connects transformational opportunities through the region’s Hydrogen Technologies Valley. With a vision to deliver high quality job creation and economic growth, the strategy provides a framework for the region’s growth in this vital area.

The benefits on offer include the opportunity to generate over 85,000 jobs through the production, storage and supply of hydrogen; over 60,000 jobs through the decarbonising of HGVs and refuelling infrastructure and almost 2,000 jobs supporting the use of hydrogen as an alternative aviation fuel – all with the potential to contribute £10 billion GVA to the Midlands economy.

At the heart of the Midlands Engine’s strategy is a unified vision and desire to collaborate, particularly in the sectors such as manufacturing, energy and transport, which are vital to the low carbon transition. The strategy will see these sectors, which were once responsible for large-scale emissions, become the key components of a hydrogen economy – where the technologies which the Midlands is renowned for become the driving force in the scale up of hydrogen supply and demand.

Pan-regional partnerships like the Midlands Engine are key to driving this agenda. Our sustained work is vital in bringing stakeholders together, liaising with Government to highlight potential areas for growth and delivering on the needs of business and communities.

As we look to recover from the pandemic and level up across the UK, we must encourage these partnerships and existing collaborations to grow and thrive. That is how we will continue to create environments in which industry expertise can directly shape and guide solutions to the challenges we face as a nation, while delivering long-term, transformative change and level up regions across the UK.

Judy Terry: Councils will use the cost of tackling climate change as a justification to put up tax

10 Dec

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Trust in our leaders is being eroded by some politicians and public sector chiefs, including the new NHS England Chief Executive, with policy U-turns, and deploying apocalyptic language, lies, and threats of huge fines, to force ‘ordinary people’ to do their bidding. ‘Climate emergency’, ‘health crisis’, ’14 times the number of people with Covid in hospital than we saw this time last year’… in attempts to generate fear.

Instead of encouraging compliance, people simply switch off in frustration – and growing anger – as it becomes ever more apparent that there is one rule for the ‘elite’ and another for the rest of us. Truth is at the heart of trust.

And what impact are war-torn countries having on the global environment, with bombs destroying people’s lives and homes? Surely there should be a greater focus on the West engaging with these areas to help resolve the misery and restore peace, reducing environmental damage?

Meanwhile, how many of us knew there is potential for mining on our own doorstep?

Cornwall evidently has significant potential for lithium, as well as other metals for ‘clean growth’: tin, copper, cobalt and tungsten, used in batteries. The UK’s new Critical Minerals Expert Committee is a key element of the government’s Net Zero strategy. It advises the government on investment decisions, ensuring it has a reliable supply of critical minerals and metals, with a detailed strategy to be published next year. We can only hope there will be a full evaluation of the environmental impact, and appropriate consultation on any proposals.

Few people can deny that we face serious environmental issues. But, instead of attempting to scare us all, whilst massaging the elite’s and politicians’ egos as they pontificate, and UK taxpayers pick up the (£1 billion?) bill for hosting and policing 30,000 delegates and campaigners, our leaders should tell the truth about the challenges. Not least, where our energy will come from in future; it is not just domestic properties, but industry – including food and brewing – which rely on gas and electricity.

They should also remember that the UK is a democracy, not a dictatorship; the vast majority of people are law abiding, caring and responsible. They are not ignorant – although some of the government’s diktats in the last couple of years appear to overlook their intelligence – and have the right to use that intelligence to make their own decisions, provided this doesn’t compromise other people’s safety.

And what impact are all these changes going to have on pensions? Pensions rely on workers’ contributions and on the performance of their investments, including fossil fuels, although those for public sector employees are heavily subsidised by taxpayers, who will also pay to meet the costs of upgrading public sector housing and offices, as well as vehicles, to comply with the government’s net zero deadlines.

With inflation continuing to rise, and tax at its highest level for 70 years, there is a limit to what ‘ordinary people’ will accept – or can afford.

Grants to the wealthy, who can afford an electric car and have the space to install a recharging point or replace their boiler with something less efficient is not the solution. Demanding that all new housing developments incorporate these facilities, will increase building costs (and house prices) and may even delay delivering much-needed new homes if equipment and skills are unavailable.

There doesn’t appear to be any firm, deliverable, strategies to meet the environmental targets, except to ban everything.

Financial pressures have been exacerbated by shortages and the unexpected rise in energy prices, and petrol, as well as food, but council tax rises next year could bring some people’s budgets to breaking point, so it is essential that they play their part in prioritising how local authorities spend public monies.

According to an audit report, the pandemic cost Conservative-run Suffolk County Council £72 million, with some government grants to support business. So, recognising current financial pressures on ‘ordinary people’ and the value of mutual trust between the council and the county’s taxpayers, it has launched a consultation on prioritising future expenditure. Cllr. Rout, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance & the Environment. says:

“We will have the option to raise council tax by two per cent and the Adult Social Care Precept by two per cent, whilst continuing to respond to the challenges of Covid, global supply chain issues and climate change. We ask residents for their thoughts on helping prioritise funding for services in the coming financial year, alongside meeting the continuing costs of statutory care services.

“With rising costs and increasing service demand year on year, the finances at our disposal have to be carefully planned to continue to achieve a balanced budget in extremely challenging circumstances.

The council’s priorities are:

  • To promote & support health and wellbeing;
  • To strengthen the local economy;
  • To protect and enhance the environment;
  • To provide value for money for local taxpayers

Currently, 75p in every £1 supports Adult Care (costing £271 million each year), Children’s Services and Public Health; the remaining 25p covers other vital services, including Fire & Rescue, road maintenance, waste services, and libraries.

Cllr. Rout added that having saved hundreds of millions of pounds in the last decade through careful financial planning, “we are absolutely committed to providing the best services, so I want to understand what residents want us to focus on with the budget left after covering our statutory care duties”. He said:

“I’m encouraged by the Chancellor’s announcing new grant funding of £4.8 billion for local authorities over the next three years and we wait to see how much comes to Suffolk.”

Honesty is indeed the best policy, because ignorance is not bliss!!

Sam Hall: The Government’s eco efforts are increasingly winning over Tory Party members. Here’s how it can impress voters even more.

9 Dec

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network.

A striking poll was published last month, showing the Conservatives are ahead of Labour on climate change.

According to Ipsos Mori, 35 per cent of the public believe the Conservatives have good policies on climate and the environment, compared to 32 per cent for Labour. While only a small lead, this reflects positively on the Conservatives’ relative performance on climate change in recent weeks.

There are also signs that the Government’s climate change efforts are viewed increasingly positively by Conservative Party members. Notably, Alok Sharma rose up this site’s cabinet minister approval rating rankings this month, from bottom of the table on +6 to twelfth from bottom on +30, perhaps reflecting members’ approval for his determination and success in securing a good deal at COP26.

It certainly seems possible – perhaps likely – that the significant climate policy announcements in the run-up to COP26 has bolstered the government’s standing in this area. Policies such as the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, an end to the financing of overseas fossil fuel projects, and generous grants for heat pumps were all warmly welcomed by environmental groups, many Conservative MPs, and by much of the media. Similarly it was hard to miss Boris Johnson and Sharma’s international leadership on climate change at COP26.

Why does this matter?

There’s been a long standing view among some political strategists on the right that the Conservatives can never win on climate, because it is inherently a left-wing issue which only energises left-wing activists.

Others argue there’s no point making it a core part of the party’s platform: since the Conservatives are ahead on the economy, immigration, and law and order, people argue that it’s better to focus on those issues.

But Conservatives cannot ignore climate change given how salient the issue has become among the general public. Ipsos Mori found last month that four in 10 voters cite climate change as a concern – a record high – while one in five say it’s the biggest issue facing the country, ahead of Covid, the economy, and immigration.

Some of this is undoubtedly related to all the media coverage on climate around COP26. But, with climate change and the environment steadily moving up the public’s priorities for years now, it is increasingly hard to deny that the Conservative Party needs to win on climate change at the next election and beyond if it is to remain competitive. This latest polling demonstrates this is within reach.

How can the party consolidate its lead?

A key challenge for the public’s perception of the Government’s climate record is domestic fossil fuel production. The proposal for a new coal mine in Cumbria is one ‘barnacle’, even though the Government has now called in the decision for a review.

Similarly the Government’s position on UK oil and gas – that it wants to assess new licences against climate targets on a case-by-case basis – leaves them open to attacks from NGOs and activists in the media.

The Government should be clearer that it is working with the industry to transition away from fossil fuel production in line with projected falls in UK demand for oil and gas, due to the uptake of electric vehicles and the decline in gas demand for heating and electricity generation. One potential solution is for the Business Secretary to seek the advice of the respected and independent Climate Change Committee before awarding new oil and gas licences.

Across the country in the 2022 elections, particularly in the ‘Blue Wall’ in the South of England, Conservatives face strong challenges from Lib Dems and Greens on environmental issues. In fact, as I wrote in May on this site, the Conservatives are already losing council seats to the Greens. In response, the Government must address some of these critiques of its climate record.

There’s also a need to demonstrate the employment uplift from net zero in the ‘Red Wall’. Public First research showed that the phrase ‘green jobs’ does not resonate with the public, who might not see those jobs as durable or good quality. To tackle this misconception, there must be a greater emphasis on near-term delivery ahead of the next election, for instance through a new energy efficiency grant scheme for homeowners, which could be rolled out quickly and create jobs.

Finally, there is undoubtedly still a challenge with winning over people who are more sceptical of decarbonisation and worry about the costs. That’s why the Government must continue to emphasise the importance of technology cost reduction and private sector investment in delivering net zero.

And in the immediate term, the Government must help consumers with the rising costs of electricity when the energy price cap is revised in the new year. Despite being driven by high international gas prices, electricity bills could be cut immediately through policies such as eliminating VAT (currently five per cent), or by funding some of the social and environmental levies out of general taxation.

The Ipsos Mori polling proves the Government is making progress in convincing people about its climate credentials. It must maintain the momentum if it wants to capitalise at the ballot box in May and at the next general election.

Joe Porter: Now let’s focus on local action for climate and biodiversity

26 Nov

Cllr Joe Porter is the Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Biodiversity on Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and works in the UK100 Parliamentary Team.

Over the last two years we have seen people connecting with nature on their doorsteps more than ever before. Coronavirus has provided a stark reminder of what happens when humanity’s relationship with nature breaks down. Poll after poll shows that the public want to see bold action to address the climate and biodiversity crises – the greatest threat we face for people and the economy.

At COP26 we heard many world leaders give passionate speeches about how, unless we act swiftly, climate change will become a catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This is all too true. The narrative must shift though. We focus far too much on the negatives when in fact climate action provides us with many opportunities for a Great British Green Industrial Revolution with green jobs and opportunities to level up across our country. If you look at the direction of consumer demand, investment allocation, and regulatory oversight, now is the time to reset. People are buying products based on their climate credentials – and companies are realising that they need to embed that if they want to do well. That is good for business as well as the planet.

More and more evidence shows that local authorities are key to the UK reaching Net Zero. And the Government’s Net Zero strategy states that 82 per cent of all emissions are under the scope of influence of local authorities. At Staffordshire Moorlands District Council we want to play our part.

We need everyone to come together to play their part if we are going to meet the ambitious target of becoming Net Zero. We also need the UK Government to continue to build sustainability into key policies and laws such as the National Planning Policy Framework and Building Control Regulations. We need partners such as Staffordshire County Council, which has responsibility for our roads, transport and education, to take a lead on the areas that they have responsibility for. Importantly, we also need our businesses, residents, community groups, and visitors, to play their part. We will do what we can to encourage a joined-up approach to tackling this vitally important issue that affects us all.

I have seen first-hand how local solutions are amongst the best ways of addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Our community orchards programme has been a great example of harnessing the power of community spirit in action. It has brought communities together behind a common cause to tackle climate change, boost biodiversity, and improve people’s health and wellbeing. The trees we are planting allow local people to take small, tangible actions and will leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

Within the Council we worked with Keele University to train all our service areas and councillors in carbon literacy and help embed our commitment to Net Zero emissions into our policies and strategies across the entire organisation. We commissioned Anthesis to create an emissions baseline, analyse our procurement spend, examine land and rural emissions, produce a pathway analysis and assist us with putting together our Climate Change Action Plan.

We are putting together our EV strategy to deliver a charging point infrastructure across the District in a practical and realistic way that delivers value for money. We are also collaborating with Staffordshire County Council, Air Aware Staffordshire, and local businesses to deliver the Leek Business Travel Network to deliver local-led solutions to air pollution. We are proud to be the best local authority in Staffordshire and in the top 30 in the country for recycling with a recycling rate of 57.8 per cent. The UK saves 18 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year as a result of recycling – the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road.

We have also introduced a new fleet of 18 Euro-6 engine waste collection vehicles – the most low-carbon, energy efficient diesel ones on the market. The latest engine technology has helped the Staffordshire Moorlands save 141 tonnes in carbon emissions – the equivalent of taking three refuse collection vehicles off the roads every year. In addition, we are currently trialling a new fuel mix to drastically reduce emissions. We have participated in the Staffordshire Warmer Homes project and funded Beat the Cold as our key local partner in achieving affordable warmth for local residents. We have also achieved some quick wins by switching to LED lights across all our leisure centres and reviewing all outside lights.

Enshrining the Biodiversity target into the Environment Bill is a big step forward; it is now fundamentally important that adequate resources are allocated to ensure this target can be met. UK100’s research into delivering Rural Net Zero highlighted the importance of ensuring that Net Zero Nature and biodiversity are delivered in parallel and at Staffordshire Moorlands we are striving to deliver these joint objectives through our work programme. One of the most important initiatives is our flagship Green Infrastructure Delivery Plan, helping us to deliver a robust Nature Recovery Network in partnership with the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

Our planning officers have worked with their conservation team to map out our green spaces, identifying existing habitats, and finding opportunities for creating new wildlife corridors. This will be crucial to making our area more climate resilient, long-term. Over the next few years, the plan will result in a range of nature-based projects, such as community orchards, wildflower meadows, peatland restoration, and woodland expansion, to lock in a green recovery and establish a Nature Recovery Network. Nature-based solutions to climate change benefit not only the local environment, but also the local economy. A study by Oxford University has found that supporting a green recovery would produce greater financial returns, in both the short and long-term, than pouring cash into a conventional fossil-fuelled recovery. The UK Government has identified that nature-based solutions make up around a third of all solutions to climate change.

Now that we have released our Climate Change Action Plan, we want to crack on with delivery. We have a once in a lifetime chance to change our behaviour and take climate action. Locally, I am proud of the work we have done so far – but this is work without end and we have much to do. Post-COP26, I am determined that we must not only build back better, but build back greener in every sector. Our journey to Net Zero in the Staffordshire Moorlands will be a science-led, clean, and resilient one. We will address the linked challenges of poor public health, climate change, and biodiversity loss. The actions we take today must ensure that we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it in.

Jack Richardson: Critical minerals. We can and should offer a better model than China’s of extraction at any cost.

25 Nov

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

COP26 consolidated the direction of international political travel towards Net Zero. But for all the hard yards put in by the politicians and negotiators over the document, the market is miles ahead. The global clean energy transition is well underway, but with new technologies, from solar panels to electric vehicles, comes new challenges – including environmental ones.

‘Critical minerals’ (lithium, cobalt, nickel, rare earths, etc) are an essential ingredient to the modern economy. Their rise in the global economy initially came from laptops and smartphones, but the International Energy Agency projects that the Net Zero transition will mean a sixfold increase in demand.

There’s no avoiding that this presents an economic, geopolitical, and environmental challenge. There are some disingenuous arguments relating to it put forward by those who are sceptical of Net Zero because they cannot comprehend the economic or the scientific rationale behind it.

For example, some people point to the process of extracting these minerals and making lithium batteries or wind turbines, claiming clean energy technology is as bad as fossil fuel-based technologies.

But electric cars result in half the lifetime emissions of their petrol and diesel counterparts. Siemens wind turbines pay their whole production CO2 back in less than a year. Costs will come down further through the oncoming clean steel revolution. The fact is that clean energy transition is the only way to mitigate temperature rises and therefore maintain, let alone progress, our standard of living.

Some pundits worry that China is rubbing its hands with glee at the net zero transition because it has dominated many critical mineral supply chains. There is more merit to this concern: the world awoke to this particular threat when a dispute over the Senkaku Islands led China to reduce export quotas of rare earths by 40 per cent, leading to global prices rocketing.

Leaving aside the fact that this argument applies equally to the current fossil fuel based global economy, (OPEC countries provide 80 per cent of the global oil supply; Russia half of Europe’s gas, etc) the cases themselves are not like-for-like.

The world’s critical minerals are spread more evenly. China dominates the supply chain in refining and production – not reserves. It’s a result of decades of outsourcing industry to China; an issue of strategic miscalculation rather than geography.

We can diversify supply chains if we want to, and much of the world has been busy doing so since 2010. Diversification policies are now picking up pace as more countries have signed up to Net Zero. The US, for example, is now seeking to build an end-to-end lithium battery supply chain, while Japan has been working with Vietnam to develop its rare earth reserves.

Nevertheless, the risk is there, which is why William Young and I have written a report on the matter from the Council on Geostrategy. Ahead of the Critical Minerals Strategy which the Government will be publishing next year, we have identified two broad areas the strategy should focus on: resilience and growth.

Building more resilience into global supply chains comes through diversification, which in turn produces growth. Here in the UK, we can build on our progress of onshoring more Net Zero manufacturing as we have done with the new gigafactory in Sunderland, which will create thousands of jobs. Recycling and the circular economy, too, provides a chance for new industries and jobs while also reducing our supply needs from abroad.

Notwithstanding promising projects in Cornish lithium extraction, there is no avoiding the fact that we’ll continue to be importing much of the raw materials we need given the scale of demand. There are opportunities in working with other friendly countries who have massive opportunities for extraction.

Australia provides over 40 per cent of the global lithium supply; Canada has the fourth largest reserves of cobalt; Vietnam, a country the UK must forge closer ties with for other strategic reasons, has the second largest reserves of rare earths in the world.

In our report on critical minerals, we have concluded that trade and investment in diversification will bring both resilience and growth to our supply chains. There are also diplomatic and geostrategic opportunities for Global Britain to lead on developing human and environmental standards. We should seek to offer a better route to development than Beijing’s model of extraction at any cost.

We must walk a tightrope to extract these raw materials that are so vital for addressing climate change without worsening the nature and waste crises. As my colleague James Cullimore wrote on this site last year, human encroachment upon natural habitats risks zoonotic pathogens like Covid breaking loose. A mine has a pollution radius far beyond its boundaries, which risks irreversible damage to some of the Earth’s most important ecosystems. We must find methods of extracting what we need without inflicting unsustainable damage.

Nobody is saying this is going to be easy, but the solutions are there. Through our report we have provided some specific ideas to the Government, but the general direction of travel for critical minerals is clear and consistent with the rest of UK net zero policy: invest, diversify, trade, grow.

John Redwood: How we can get the public – as well as the world’s biggest polluters – on board with the eco revolution

17 Nov

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

Conservatives and greenery go together. We wish to conserve what is best in nature and our environment. Conservatives have often pioneered legislation to improve water quality, clean up our air, protect our countryside and conserve what is best in our landscape and heritage.

Around the country, Conservative Councils are often struggling with the dilemma of people needing affordable homes whilst many others regret the passing of woods and pastures to grow crops of new houses. Many of us share the passion for clean air and water and for the gentle contours of  English rural landscapes.

The levelling up agenda provides a heaven sent opportunity to do something better. There is no reason why planning policies should continue to direct ever more executive homes to the hard pressed South East, when other parts of the country could benefit from the jobs and investment major new housebuilding creates.

Now that in the post-pandemic world more homeworking and remote working is becoming part of our lives, many more people will be freed from the need to live close to London on a commuter pathway. More small businesses and start-up enterprises could be encouraged to establish away from the lure of the capital city. That requires more attractive housing for the investors, managers and entrepreneurs who will help populate the growth and success of areas that are grasping the opportunity to level up.

Levelling up will be a vast series of personal journeys. For everyone in an area that is improving who does set up a business or brings in a new investment, there will be many others who will seize the opportunity to get a better job, to use and develop their talents to advance the new enterprise.

Every major company siting a business premise in a new area represents an opportunity for smaller companies to spring up to supply everything from the lunchtime sandwiches and coffees through to the technology support, the cleaning and components they will need. Every new housing estate creates first round jobs for the building trades to be followed by all the jobs to support new residents in their new homes.

Government’s role is not only to provide better planning policies, but also to help with high quality education and training. Working with business there can be a new can-do approach in places which have been sidelined by investors in recent years. The main thing enterprises need is talented people to work for them and deliver great customer service and product excellence.

Over the last fortnight the UK government has valiantly tried to craft worldwide agreement over the issue of climate change. It was always a difficult task. India, China, and Russia, three of the largest producers of carbon dioxide on the planet, were never going to agree to curb their appetites for burning coal, oil and gas. China accounts for some 30 per cent of the total world creation of additional carbon dioxide, and has decided to mine more coal and build more coal power stations.

The conference was divided on the very issue of whether coal burning should be completely phased out worldwide or not. In the end the assembled countries could only agree to a diluted sentiment that coal would be phased down, without timetables or pledges from the main users of the fuel.

Germany kept a low profile, though it as an advanced country is holding out to burn coal in power stations through to 2038. The Greens are wanting to form part of the new governing coalition after the recent German  election, and are pressing to bring this down to 2030 to bring Germany a bit closer to other advanced countries and the UN approved policy of phasing out coal quickly. It still shows how difficult it is to agree the end of coal when a major advanced industrial country clings to it as a prime source of enegry.

The problems besetting COP26 were not just the divided world over how feasible it is to decarbonise, nor even just the disagreement over how much money rich countries should send to poorer countries to help them change. Central to the whole debate is the question of people’s buy in to what the transition means for their own lifestyle. It is only when there are sufficient affordable and good products available to heat your home, to travel to work and to fill your plate with carbon free food will the green programme take off.

So far the elites who come to summits have lectured the many that we need to change our lifestyles whilst they themselves fly in jet planes to air conditioned hotels to eat meat diets, as if none of their advice applied to themselves. When challenged they might claim that they have spent money on carbon offsets, whilst seeing no choice for their own purposes but to carry on using jet fuel, gas heating, traditional food products and the rest.

The digital revolution sweeps all before it without government requests or demands, without subsidies and taxes to drive it. People want mobile and smartphones, computer pads, entertainment downloads and the other services that the digital giants can offer. For COP26 to succeed it needs to spawn a new generation of products and services that meet the carbon requirements whilst also being affordable and better solutions to the problems of everyday life.

Levelling up can of course help produce the range of new jobs and skills which a popular green revolution could generate. The main thrust is to electrify much more of life and then to generate more power from renewable or carbon neutral sources of energy. As governments bring this about they need to reassure people that there are ways of keeping the lights on when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.

COP26 set up various working groups of countries to explore new technologies to provide better travel, heating and industrial process. The sooner they produce results the better. If there are more breakthroughs with cheaper and better ways of doing these things that cut the carbon, then India, China and Russia will also want to adopt them. If there are not, even the advanced countries will find it difficult to sell the practice of decarbonisation to their own electors.

Sam Hall: COP26 has kept 1.5 degrees alive. But more must be done to keep it well.

15 Nov

Sam Hall is Director of the Conservative Environment Network

After months of media build-up and political focus, COP26 concluded on Saturday with the Glasgow Climate Pact.

The stakes were high, as were expectations. Having agreed high-level goals and a framework for international climate action in Paris six years ago, the Glasgow COP was about action and delivery. But while climate change was never going to be solved at this one conference, the government can justifiably claim that serious, tangible progress has been made on each of their main goals.

Keeping 1.5 degrees alive

Countries were asked to come to this COP with strengthened national commitments to get the world on track for 1.5 degrees – the goal agreed in Paris. Many nations have been publishing new climate plans for well over a year, including, at COP26, India, which committed to getting half its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2070.

As a result of these new commitments, experts believe that we are now on track for between 1.8 and 2.4 degrees’ warming, depending on how effectively countries turn targets into concrete policy. This shows a significant improvement since the UK’s diplomatic efforts began in 2019, when the UN estimated that we were heading for over three degrees’ warming by the end of the century.

Going into Glasgow, the amount by which national pledges would need to have increased was so significant that it was impossible that the gap to 1.5 degrees would be closed completely. China’s refusal to strengthen its 2030 goal of peaking emissions in particular has been a major barrier.

The parts of the final text acknowledging that action this decade needs to be accelerated and committing to reviewing national commitments next year at COP27 are critical, and the UK deserves great credit for leading agreement on this.

Coal and cars 

There has been good progress too on the Prime Minister’s ambitions of ending coal power and the sale of new combustion engines, although these were always going to be difficult areas to achieve complete consensus on.

On coal power, a number of Asian economies, including Vietnam and Indonesia, committed for the first time to stop building new coal plants and phasing out their existing ones. Similarly, South Africa, another major coal polluter, agreed to move away from coal power in return for financial assistance for developing clean energy alternatives and supporting their coal mining communities through the transition.

Impressively, the UK presidency was successful in getting an historic agreement on phasing down unabated coal power in the final agreement, although the language was weakened by India and China at the last minute. Despite China ending its overseas financing of coal plants and India cancelling new coal projects domestically, both countries remain blockers of the global coal phase-out the climate urgently needs.

After COP, car manufacturers responsible for 31 per cent of global car sales have commitments to end petrol and diesel car sales, up from effectively zero at the start of 2021.

In both these areas, the ever improving economics of renewable energy projects and electric cars, which continue to fall in cost and improve in performance, will see the private sector increasingly drive progress rather than governments. New coal projects especially will struggle to attract private investment.

Trees

Probably the highlight of the COP has been the commitment by countries which are home to 85 per cent of the world’s forests, including Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. This was reinforced by agreements to provide almost £14 billion in finance to protect forests, to eliminate illegal deforestation in supply chains (which the UK has led the way with through the Environment Act), and to tackle the financing of illegal deforestation. Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson in particular deserve huge credit for securing this groundbreaking deal.

Cash

While wealthier nations have missed the 2020 deadline for delivering on their commitment to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries, it is now believed that the target will be achieved by 2022 (a year earlier than expected), while the final agreement recommits that an average of $100 billion will be provided each year from 2020-2025.

The failure to follow through on this commitment, which was originally made in 2009, has undoubtedly had significant consequences, given the importance of climate finance to unlocking greater commitments from developing countries.

There’s been a welcome acknowledgement that future COPs will need to deliver much more climate finance beyond the $100 billion a year goal, and that private finance in particular will need to be scaled up. Just as we won’t deliver net zero at home just through state spending, the developing world won’t decarbonise and become more resilient to climate impacts without significantly more private capital.

Conclusion 

It’s easy to be cynical about COPs and their impact, but this one has delivered measurable successes. With over 90 per cent of the world’s GDP now covered by net zero targets (up from 30 per cent in 2019) and financial institutions controlling over $130 trillion dollars’ worth of capital now having climate change commitments, the direction of travel has never been clearer and the momentum behind climate action, particularly from the private sector, has never been greater.

Follow-through will be critical to Glasgow’s legacy. Pledges must be translated into policies and actions. Countries must honour and be held accountable for their commitments. And the private sector must not meet their targets through greenwashing.

While there’s no doubt that we’re closer to a greener, cleaner, safer planet after Glasgow, the real success of COP26 will only be determined in the months and years ahead.

Steve Bell: Brighton and Hove’s council, run by the Green Party, stinks of hypocrisy

15 Nov

Cllr Steve Bell is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council

Cllr Phelim MacCafferty, the Green Party councillor and Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, has been charged with hypocrisy by the national media after deciding to take a jet plane to Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference. He travelled to Glasgow to give a speech to delegates and attend Greta Thunberg’s protest, but copped a backlash after not practicing what he was preaching.

As our Brighton & Hove Conservative Group Environment Spokesperson, Cllr Robert Nemeth, said in response, while we can’t all be perfect environmentalists, issues certainly arise when somebody takes extreme positions on environmental matters, which involves criticising others, and then does not live by those same rules. The council leader has been the first to lecture others on climate change (including residents of Brighton and Hove who organise the city’s historic motoring events), and therefore cannot be surprised at the public reaction to his choice of transport.  Such hypocrisy is not lost on the public at large and ultimately damages environmental causes.

The bigger question here, however, is not the method of travel, but why he was in Glasgow in the first place, given his Green Council’s terrible performance on climate change.

Brighton & Hove City Council has just been given the lowest possible score for its performance on climate change by the Carbon Disclosure Project, an outcome that the Council tried to keep secret and which was only exposed after questioning from Conservative councillors. Friends of the Earth has delivered a similar verdict, ranking Brighton and Hove firmly in the bottom quarter of councils in England and Wales for climate change performance.

Brighton and Hove has one of the worst recycling rates in the country – almost half that of neighbouring Conservative-run West Sussex – and the third most polluted street in England running through its centre, a product of poorly thought through transport policies at the Council level.

The Greens have attracted international condemnation for accidentally chopping down a section of what had been Europe’s longest ‘green wall’ in its rush to install a cycle lane – it had previously been untouched since Victorian times. Then it has recently attracted the ire of the Sussex Wildlife Trust in its decision to build housing on 16 urban fringe sites adjoining the South Downs, with the conservation charity correctly pointing out there was no need to do so given the brownfield sites available.

After two stints in office over the course of the past 10 years, the evidence does not present a pretty picture for the Green-led Council.

So why are the Green party failing so badly at a council level when it comes to climate change?

The crux of the problem is that they are unable to focus on managing the local issues they are responsible for, continually stuck in a pattern of protest politics. At Brighton and Hove City Council the Greens have spent over 76 per cent of their council debating time raising international and national matters which have absolutely nothing to do with the functions of a City Council.

In the past year alone, the council has sat through two debates on nuclear weapons, but none on the recycling rates in the city.

It really is no wonder that the rubbish is not being properly collected and the pavements are not being weeded when the administration is focused on something different altogether.

Secondly, the actions that the Greens do take at Council level tend to be merely symbolic – for example, rushing to become the country’s first council to declare a ‘climate emergency’ or hold a citizens climate assembly – without ever following up. These gestures of virtue signalling achieve little by themselves and as Conservatives Councillors know across the country, it is only by fully engaging in the day-to-day hard work of running a council that incremental progress can be made. The protest politics of the Greens (and increasing the Labour Party as well) does not deliver anything.

The Leader of the Council has a responsibility to run the city, not attend UN climate conferences. He is certainly in no position to lecture the world when his Council’s performance is so poor. He needs to come back to Brighton and Hove and do the job he is paid to do, where he has power to make a difference.  Before you can change the world, make sure your own house is in order.