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The Environmental Revolution; How Green Politics can Renew Labour
March 20th, 2007
Speech to SERA.
It’s now a week since we published the Climate Change Bill.
I don’t know how many of you followed all the newspaper coverage. But just in case you missed it:
Now that’s what I call a good day for a Labour government. And more importantly, it shows just how serious, and how global, environmental politics has become.
This year the world woke up to what you in SERA and the wider environmental movement have always known: that the environment must be at the heart of everything we do.
You have always known that to be truly Labour you must also be green.
So let me say this straight away: thank you for your hard work on environmental issues, day in day out. Because without your efforts, it’s hard to imagine us having got this far.
But what we did last week should be just the start.
Now, I know a lot of people in the Labour movement are concerned by David Cameron’s early success in this area.
We look at opinion polls which say that one in five Britons now think the environment is one of the most important challenges facing the country - and that it will more important for how people
vote at the next election than the economy.
We look at polls that show the Tories had a two point lead on the environment in January.
And we wonder how Labour should respond.
My argument today is that Labour will win on the environment, because we are the only party that can be credible on the environment.
So today I want to talk about what we do next.
So let me start by saying why Labour politics must be environmental politics.
Climate change. That’s one utterly compelling reason among many others. It’s now obvious to all of us, to anyone who believes in science or evidence that climate change is happening, that it’s serious, and that it’s our responsibility.
A lot has been said about this over the past few weeks and months, so I won’t repeat what the science tells us. I’ll just say I believe it, as I’m sure you do. I don’t agree with John Redwood,
who heads the Tories’ tax commission, who calls the science a “swindle”.
We now know that climate change is the most serious problem facing the world, that it will kill millions of people, most of them in the developing world, and most of them children who have yet to be born. In fact the World Health organisation estimates that 150,000 people are already dying each year from climate change. That’s enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 38 times over. And millions more will have their lives ruined by climate change.
I had first hand experience of this a few weeks ago.
I was visiting a village in Malawi, when some local women offered to take me to the water pump. On the way back, I carried a half-full bucket of water. By the end of the fifteen minute journey,
my neck was aching. These women do that journey every single day, five times a day.
Climate change will mean that thousands like them have to walk further and carry water for longer. It means their daughters won’t be able to go to school. It will limit their chances of a better life. And there is nothing they can do about it apart from put their hope in us.
We know that we can do something about it. And that we have to act now.
Here’s something we say less often. As the country that gave birth to the industrial revolution, in some ways Britain has more of a moral responsibility for climate change than any other. We have been pumping out carbon for longer than anyone else.
So this is fundamentally about justice. And that’s why it must be at the heart of our politics.
And as the country with a Labour government that believes in progress and the fight for a better world, and in leading by example, we have a moral obligation to lead the world in solving this problem.
But that’s not the only reason we must put the environment at the heart of Labour politics. It’s also a deeply practical thing to do.
If Britain and the developed world needed less oil, we would be less dependent on the Middle East. We would be more secure. And the benefits for peace in the world are obvious.
And...the environment is not just about climate change.
If Britain’s skies were less polluted, there would be less respiratory disease. Our towns would be cleaner and nicer places to live in. And we could spend more money in the NHS on treating other diseases.
Or if Britain recycled more, we would need less space for landfill, and would have more space for social housing.
So just as we started the industrial revolution, we should lead the world in an environmental revolution. I wouldn’t like to bet on which will turn out to be more important in the end.
So what will the environmental revolution we need look like?
In 1997, we stood on a manifesto that said that social justice and economic growth go hand in hand; that you cannot have one without the other.
Ten years later, we need to stand on a manifesto that looks to the future once more. The Tories have caught up with where we were in 1997 but they haven’t gone further.
That’s why we must now show how far we have moved on since then: that Labour has a clear vision for Britain in the decade beyond 2007.
I think we need a new trinity of objectives. Our next manifesto must be founded on the idea that social justice, economic growth and environmental sustainability go hand in hand; that you cannot have one without the other.
I think that’s a manifesto for an environmental revolution.
In 1997, we focused on technology and skills to raise labour productivity. Now we must adapt our technology and skills to raise resource productivity – the amount we produce from one unit of energy or natural resource. Just as we adapted our skills to respond to a globalised world, we need to help people retrain to work in renewable energy and green technology industries.
In 1997, we regulated to protect labour standards through the minimum wage and the social chapter. Now we must regulate to protect the environment, from zero carbon homes to electricity
generation to inefficient appliances and light bulbs.
In 1997, we forged a new relationship with business because we knew that a strong economy was the best way to achieve full employment and social justice. Now we must alter that relationship because we know that in future a strong economy must also be a green economy. That’s why I’m pleased that the Business Council for Sustainable Energy is sponsoring this event.
In 1997, we introduced the “golden rule” to ensure we did not borrow too much in the public sector. Now we must introduce the “green rule” to ensure we don’t borrow too much carbon or other natural resources from our future.
That’s why Labour must put the environment at the heart of our renewal. And to do that we need environmental activists to turn to Labour to help shape what we say and be part of what we do.
Too often, environment campaigners have been on the sidelines of our debates. Too often, green ideas have failed to make it into the political mainstream. Just as Labour had to renew itself before 1997, we can now see that the green movement must renew itself for 2007.
I agree with David Miliband that the fundamental problem has been that the green movement has been seen, rightly or wrongly, as being anti-growth. This gave the movement deep but narrow appeal. It is the “deep green” trap that spells political isolation.
The idea that growth is bad is not only politically unpalatable, it is also immoral because it hurts the world’s poor most. In my three and half years as Development Secretary I have seen first hand how economic growth is the surest way to lift people out of poverty, to provide them with jobs, with healthcare and with the chance to go to school. There is simply no argument about this.
After all, it’s how we did it as a country.
And if we are to convince the developing world, particularly China and India, to take the environment seriously, we need to show how economic growth is compatible with sustainability.
But there are other, deeper reasons too.
I think that a credible response to the environmental challenge we face depends on four things:
Without these four principles, it will be simply impossible to respond to climate change and other environmental problems. All four are deeply Labour values.
And that’s why the importance of the environment at the next election will turn out to be one of our strongest advantages.
Climate change is a global problem that needs a global solution. That’s why we put it at the heart of our presidency of the G8. That’s why we pushed for Europe to adopt a demanding cut in
emissions by 2020 over 1990 – agreed a couple of weeks ago.
And that’s why we are using our influence at every level – Prime Ministerial, Cabinet, Ministerial, Ambassadorial, Civil Service, Cultural, Business, Academic, NGO, personal – to persuade the international community to sign up to a global deal.
It’s not a case of not knowing what we need to do. It’s a case of political will.
We’re making progress on most of these, but there is much more to do.
We need to persuade our friends in the largest emitter in the world to be more serious about climate change. And if they need to talk in terms of energy security to do this, then that’s fine with me. And the same for other countries. That’s why our international strategy on climate change takes each county at face value.
We also need to persuade the international institutions to change. We need the World Bank to increase its investment in clean energy and adaptation. Because this is how we will get the world to invest more in ways to generate electricity that don’t harm the environment – and so I can tell you today that I will press for a demanding new target for the World Bank to increase its investment in renewables when I attend the spring meetings next month.
Because what we want to see is results. And to get results, we need multilateralism. And to be more multilateral you have to be pro-Europe, pro- the biggest existing trading scheme in the
So my question to the Tories is this: how can you be credible on the environment when you are a Eurosceptic party that has links with just one European Party, whose founder, Vaclav Klaus, recently described climate change as a “false myth” and “nonsense”?
Let me move on to the role of the state.
Climate change, as Nick Stern said, is the world’s largest market failure
This is another serious problem for the Tories. Because they are terrified of market failure. They can’t deal with the fact that you sometimes need the state to intervene. That’s why David Cameron keeps talking about “social responsibility” without any ideas about what this really means or how you encourage it.
Deep down, the Tories still believe that markets left to themselves are the answer to everything. Whereas in Labour we believe that markets sometimes need help to get it right.
Take the Climate Change Bill. I know there is still some debate over whether the 60 per cent target is right. I think it is, but I’d like to remind everyone that secondary legislation allows us to make the target more demanding in the light of further scientific evidence and progress, and to extend emissions trading to the airline sector.
But let’s remember that as well as proposing enabling powers to allow regulation, we’re following the bill up with an energy bill, a planning bill and a marine bill, all of which will have
contain practical measures.
How would the Tories meet the carbon targets? They can’t say. In fact, they don’t even think they’d meet the targets. The internal Tory briefing for the Queen’s Speech said – and I quote: “we do not expect the Government to meet the annual targets precisely each year”.
That’s not credible politics.
Now I’m not against markets. I’m in favour of them. I just think they need help to work effectively. A carbon market will only generate a high carbon price if we set the right limits. Road user charging will only work if we set the tariffs in the right way.
And in the meantime, we need more effective green regulation.
Gordon Brown set out a range of policies in his speech last week, on light bulbs, on smart metering, on VAT on energy efficient goods and on household Energy Performance Certificates. I hope these certificates will not only help change the housing market, but also the rental market too – and encourage landlords to improve the sustainability of their properties, because I realise tenants currently have much less power to demand greener accommodation than they should.
But we can go further.
The energy bill should include incentives to encourage micro-generation to encourage far more households to produce energy as well as consume it. And we need to make a major new investment in clean coal and renewables. We have huge further potential for developing wind power and tidal power – after all Britain is an Island.
And I also think we need Nuclear Power if we are to achieve our ambition of being a low carbon economy and if we are going to have diverse sources of energy supply.
We also need to do more to improve public transport. The Transport Bill will be crucial on this. We need to give councils more power to determine bus routes so people have a real alternative to using their cars, because at the moment bus services are too patchy.
And we should develop proposals that completely change the nature of the domestic energy market. Instead of simply selling power, energy companies should become energy efficiency companies,
selling heated homes, internalising the cost of improved energy efficiency. We need to make it more profitable for companies to insulate their customers’ houses than to leave them without
We should also take advantage of the inventiveness of local government in leading on all of this.
Labour councils up and down the country are leading innovation all the time. I recently gave a speech on the environment to the NLGN, and was struck by what many local councillors told me about the action they’re taking in neighbourhoods around the country.
Nottingham council, for example, has led the way by persuading more than 100 other local authorities to adopt the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change – and commit to change policy to reduce emissions. It has established a £1 million “invest to save” fund for energy efficiency schemes in its own buildings. And its work with local developers is reducing emissions in other ways. In Millennium Green in Collingham, for example, all new houses are more energy efficient – producing 70% less CO2 due to high insulation, argon filled low E windows and ventilation with heat recovery.
And talking about local communities, we also need individuals to act.
I think this is one of the most fundamental differences between the Tories and the Lib Dems on one side and Labour on the other. Because we believe in an enabling state that provides a helping hand. That’s what the New Deal, Sure Start, JobCentre Plus, Flexible Working Rights and a thousand other Labour reforms are about.
Whereas the Lib Dems are split down the middle on what they believe. And the Tories believe in “social responsibility” – i.e. leaving people to fend for themselves – and a spending rule that
means £22 billion less for public services.
We believe that people are fundamentally decent and want to do the right thing, a Labour approach should be based on giving people the information, incentives and support they need to change their behaviour. So the measures that Gordon Brown outlined in his speech last week are all about helping people in this way.
It’s incredibly important that we get this right. Because 44 per cent of UK emissions are down to how we behave as individuals, and government can’t do it on its own.
In the long term, I think David Miliband’s proposal for individual carbon budgets is right. This should be in our next manifesto. Another example of where SERA has led the way – after all, you were talking about Domestic Tradeable Quotas four years ago.
But in the short term, we need to help people change their behaviour in other ways.
At DFID, we recently held a climate change week for all civil servants, to help them understand what climate change means for them, and how we can all make a difference, in our private lives and in the work we do.
And I’m trying to do my bit. The Department for International Development now offsets all my business travel - and I do rather a lot of it! I have changed my ministerial car for a duel-fuel Toyota Prius.
But I want to make a difference personally too. As a human being, not just as a Minister. I’ve started offsetting my personal flights. And I recently took a screwdriver and turned down the thermostat on the hot water heater at home by 2 degrees. We recycle. I travel to and from my constituency by train.
It’s a very modest start. I need to do more. We all do. But not everyone has the money to make big changes. Condensing boilers are more expensive for example. And this is where I think Labour politics has the most to offer environmental politics.
Because environmental politics has to be fair politics.
The really galling thing about Cameron’s air taxes is that they would do little to cut emissions but they would to a lot to take money from the poor.
Cameron is just hiding behind his green mask to impose old-style Tory policies. Because the Tories want to cut tax for married couples – which wouldn’t make us better parents and is just another way of taking from the poor to give to the rich by stealth - they now say they want to increase taxes on air travel to balance their books. Taxes that penalise the poor but do nothing to alter the behaviour of the rich.
And what has been so refreshing about the media coverage this week is that the media won’t let him get away with this kind of posturing any more.
A Labour response needs to put a commitment to social justice at its heart.
- That’s why personal carbon trading is such a good idea. An equal entitlement that would allow the poor who use less carbon to sell to the rich who use more.
- That’s why the Warm Front is such a good idea. Giving people the chance to properly insulate their homes saves carbon, reduces their gas bills by an average of £160, ends fuel poverty and prevents the tragedy of people dying because they were to scared to spend money properly heating their homes. We need to redouble our efforts on this. We’ve done 2 million homes so far. We should to the next 8 million within a decade.
So it’s clear that Labour politics must be green politics. And it’s clear that green politics must be Labour politics.
I think this is key to renewing our party, winning a fourth term and helping us build a better Britain together.
We are the only party that can be credible on the environment. And I think there’s a real appetite out there for a more straightforward kind of politics that tells it like it is.
And Cameron is beginning to feel the brunt of this changing public mood. People want substance and policy. They want honesty.
The Times editorial said that the Tories “ought to show leadership on rethinking these half-thought ideas” about taxing air travel. The Telegraph said that surely the “Tories can do better than
The reason the Tories are struggling is because they don’t have the values you need to tackle environmental issues credibly. That’s why they are struggling with policies. And their mistake is to think the British people aren’t beginning to be fed up of their posturing. But I don’t think the Tories get it.
Here’s what Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth said recently on BBC Breakfast about their policy development: “We don’t need to have a policy now … It’s over three years until the general election! It doesn’t matter until then does it?”
If you ask me, it does matter.
And this is a huge opportunity for Labour.
But to make the most of it, we need to change. And green politics can help us do so.
We need to open up the party and make membership more attractive. Historically we have recruited a lot of people, only for them to drift away from the party. We all joined the party to change the world and not to change the minutes of the last meeting.
We need to host debates on local issues in venues away from constituency party meeting rooms and offices. We need to be talking about the things that the people we hope to represent are talking about. We need to listen more.
We need to be more active in campaigning and actually getting things done in the community. And that’s something the green movement has always been good at.
So here’s the prize: if we make Labour the party that makes the difference on environmental issues, it will bring more people, and more active people, to the party than anything else. Green politics offers a once in a generation opportunity to renew our movement and membership.
And for the environment movement, joining forces with Labour offers an similar opportunity.
Because the public mood has changed. Climate change has come centre stage. And for all those who care about environmental issues more broadly, now is the time to make them part of the new
political landscape we have in front of us.
We have enacted the right to roam, created Natural England, brought in congestion charging, increased recycling from 8 per cent in 1997 to 27 per cent today and created the Commission for Rural Communities to speak up for the 9.5 million people who live in the countryside.
Let’s use this opportunity to push for change on recycling, on waste, on water, on cleaner communities, on transport, on safe streets for children, on sustainable business and corporate social responsibility.
And I’m here to listen to your ideas about all of these issues. So tell me what you’d like to change and I’ll try and help.
It’s a once in a generation opportunity for all of us.