UK Deputy Prime Minister speaks on environment and economy

Last month the UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke at length to a green-themed conference regarding both the government’s and his party’s approach to the environment. Nick Clegg is leader of the Liberal Democrats, since 2010 in coalition with the Conservatives to form the UK government. Among the many points made by Clegg:

  • Over the years, I’ve heard the green agenda described in a number of ways: vote winner, vote loser; niche interest; minority sport; middle class luxury; Lib Dem obsession, even.
  • And yet these days, across much of the Westminster village at least, the environment is being written off by campaign chiefs on both left and right: too expensive in hard times; a distraction from more pressing debates.
  • Conventional wisdom tells us that the environment must now go on the backburner while we prioritise our economic recovery – but I believe the opposite is true. If there was ever a time to sharpen our focus on our green commitments, it’s now. There is a perfect symmetry between the nature of our economic recovery and our environmental responsibilities.
  • This idea that the British people have suddenly stopped caring about green issues simply isn’t true.
  • A few weeks ago, I announced a 5p charge on throw-away plastic bags. I cannot tell you how many people advised me against it. I was warned that this was the wrong time. It would be presented in the media as a tax on hardworking people. I would look out of touch. Yet every single person I have spoken to about it since has told me they support the move. Even the few who have grumbled to me that they would have preferred government to foot the cost have still agreed: if it reduces the carrier bags blighting our countryside and harming our wildlife – which it will – it’s a small price to pay.
  • My commitment to the green agenda is as strong as it ever was, and it will stay that way – whether fashionable or not.
  • [Energy and Climate Change Minister] Ed Davey’s Energy Bill is going to create the world’s first low carbon electricity market. Over the last year alone, the amount of renewable electricity generated in the UK has grown dramatically. On our watch, the UK has increased its lead as the world’s number one generator of offshore wind. Britain is on track to meet our target of getting 15% of our energy from renewables by 2020.
  • [Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary] Vince Cable’s Green Investment Bank – another world first – is up and running. Its first few projects alone will support a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking over 1 million cars off our roads.
  • 80% of the 85,000 homes which have had a Green Deal [energy efficiency] assessment have told us that they have or intend to install an energy saving measure as a result.
  • We’ve introduced the Local Sustainable Transport Fund – a pot of money for councils to invest specifically in low carbon transport schemes.
  • Over £1 billion is now being invested to make it easier for people to get about on foot and by bike, buses, trains and trams.
  • As we head to the annual UN climate change negotiations in Warsaw, we do so as a leading voice within the EU, where we are pushing, crucially, for agreement to cut the EU’s greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030. This is the most ambitious target proposed by any member state.
  • In our natural environment, we’ve introduced a presumption in favour of sustainable development, and maintained strong protections for the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • We’re on track to plant a million more trees by the end of the parliament – the majority in the most deprived and least green areas.
  • After a comprehensive review, we plan to launch a new National Pollinator strategy next spring to protect the country’s bees and many other pollinating insects.
  • We’re reducing the amount of waste we send to landfill and we’re investing in cleaning up England’s rivers, lakes and waterways.
  • We’ve promoted animal welfare, including ending the practice of keeping laying hens in tiny battery cages and, for the first time, implementing welfare standards for game-birds.
  • We’re seeing encouraging progress on biodiversity – this year’s biodiversity assessment report shows, for example, more land and sea protected and fish stocks better managed.
  • We have also now implemented the Marine and Coastal Access Act, which seeks to improve the management and protection of our marine environment and increase public access to our coastal paths: so more people can access the beauty of Britain’s landscape, and we’re going to be saying more about marine conservation shortly.
  • Protecting the green agenda will, in my view, require leadership on 3 specific fronts:
    • First, we need to aggressively counter the myth that if you are for the environment you must be against the consumer. we need to be much more robust – all of us – in rejecting utterly the idea that being pro-green is somehow anti-consumer. That is a false choice and it warps the public discussion around these issues.
    • Second, we must ensure that, as we continue with our recovery, we make low carbon industry a cornerstone of the new economy.
    • Third, we need a renewed focus on our natural environment. Our efforts to drive UK prosperity will be meaningless if we don’t protect our natural wealth.
  • And we are all better off when British green businesses flourish. We must never, ever talk about consumers as if they are somehow divorced from the wider economy. The UK’s green industry is worth around £128 billion and employs almost a million people. We’re relieved when we hear that the economy is expected to grow this year by 1.4%. Well between 2011 and 2012, the low carbon and renewable sector grew by around 3% and it’s expected to keep on growing. China, India, America, Germany, Brazil – the race is on with our competitors for green global investment. China has committed to invest $286bn in renewables – that’s bigger than the Finnish economy. On energy efficiency, they’re investing $376bn in energy efficiency – that’s bigger than the economy of the United Arab Emirates.
  • If Britain wants to keep up, our green industries need maximum political support.

The entire speech can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/staying-the-course-on-the-environment-nick-clegg-speech

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