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Action on climate change is a pragmatic strategy and moral imperative

5 min read

Britain is leading the world in cutting carbon emissions to tackle climate change while boosting economic growth, writes Claire Perry

It has been 10 years since parliament came together to pass the Climate Change Act, with strong cross-party support, binding the UK to ambitious reductions in carbon emissions by 2050. For those who followed the debate at the time, amid the warnings from scientists and the strong moral arguments for climate action, there were voices explaining the economic rationale for change, even touting industrial opportunity for the UK if it could lead on climate action.

Now, after one of the hottest summers on record when we have all experienced first-hand the changing climate, the wisdom of those who called us to action a decade ago is sinking in. With this sobering realisation, however, comes the exciting evidence that those who promised economic opportunity were every bit as visionary.

Since 1990, our emissions are down by more than 40% and today there are almost 400,000 people working in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains – from the innovators creating better, more efficient batteries, to the factories putting them in less-polluting cars.

Britain has been the most successful of the G7 nations in growing our economy while cutting emissions, using three times less carbon to produce £1 of GDP compared with 1990 – a world leader in clean growth.

The evidence is staggering. Just weeks ago, the world’s largest offshore windfarm opened off the Cumbrian coast, extending our global lead in this exciting hi-tech sector, and over the summer we generated record levels of solar power. This success means we can confidently commit to a 2025 phase-out date for coal generation, putting us ahead of most of the OECD nations.

We’ll also be able to help other countries plan their own post-coal transition through the Powering Past Coal Alliance which I launched a year ago in partnership with Canada, and which now numbers over 70 signatories with coal phase-out dates – including global businesses, and states and cities like Los Angeles who signed up this summer.

However, the Committee on Climate Change recently reported that while we have made huge strides in decarbonising the power generation and waste sectors, there is still much to do in transport, buildings and agriculture.

Just like those voices of 10 years ago who first saw economic opportunity in the low-carbon economy, I believe in the next decade we will build on our clean growth success by creating the businesses and technologies to decarbonise these sectors.

The low-carbon economy could grow by as much as 11% a year up to 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy. And as other countries follow our lead and embrace our clean growth model, British businesses could be exporting £170bn-worth of low-carbon goods and services.

The City of London already leads the world in green finance and, working with experts through the Green Finance Initiative, we intend to keep it that way – bringing the strength of our great financial hub to bear in mobilising the trillions that will be needed to deliver the global transition.  

Our modern industrial strategy has created the right conditions to ensure businesses can seize emerging opportunities in the hi-tech goods and services increasingly in demand, delivering prosperity and high-quality jobs across the UK.

Our world-leading clean growth strategy sets out how we’re investing more than £2.5bn in low- carbon innovation as part of the largest increase in public spending on science, research and innovation in over three decades, helping us lead the world in new technologies like carbon capture, smart grids and hydrogen fuel cells.

More than three-quarters of the British public are concerned about the climate, but the clean growth story is less well understood. That’s why, from 15 October, we’re hosting the first ever Green GB Week to showcase the opportunities and benefits of taking bold action to tackle climate change. Up and down the country, businesses, academics, civil society groups and the government will join forces to tell the story of clean growth and how acting to tackle climate change is a shared opportunity, as well as a responsibility.

I believe that creating and capturing clean growth in the UK comes not just through the policies that drive innovation and inspire our business leaders. The wisdom of the Climate Change Act in committing us to long-term carbon abatement, and this government’s promise to leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it, provides the overarching certainty and leadership to drive businesses and innovators to action, and helps us to attract investment and talent from around the world.

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