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5 October 2015

The Conservatives have forgotten the greatest challenge of all: climate change

Those early days - with the promise of being the greenest government ever - feel very far away indeed.

By Lisa Nandy

It is easy to forget that it was only five years ago when David Cameron and George Osborne presented themselves to the country as a green Prime Minister and Chancellor in waiting.

While Cameron famously hugged huskies and promised to lead the ‘greenest government ever’, Osborne told climate campaigners, “if I become Chancellor, the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe.”

Yet within months of taking up residence in Downing Street George Osborne was pledging Britain would no longer lead the world in cutting carbon pollution. Behind the scenes, the Prime Minister was caught telling his advisors to cut the ‘green crap.’

As the results of this are felt at home and abroad, today Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd addresses Conservative Party conference desperately in need of a reset of her party’s agenda.

As clean technology companies turn their back on Britain, the government is almost entirely silent about its role at this year’s crucial climate change summit of world leaders in Paris. This silence represents a dangerous neglect of our national interests and should not pass without challenge. 

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We refuse to believe, as the Chancellor frequently implies, that people in Britain have to choose between a clean, healthy environment and decent jobs and services. This is a false choice that leaves us with neither.

Whilst George Osborne tells us that we cannot afford clean energy, the very countries he points to as our competitors are piling their money and political support into low-carbon technologies. China is investingmore in clean energy than the whole of Europe. President Obama has overseen a doubling of renewable energy generation in the United States. India is planning a five fold increase in clean energy investment over the next five years.

Whilst he is stubbornly silent on the impacts of climate change, economists, health chiefs, and business leaders are lining up to tell us that if we don’t act on pollution, our economy will pay the price. Days ago the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney warned rising temperatures present huge risks to global financial security. Aviva Investors recently concluded that a minimum of $4.2 trillion of assets in the global economy will be put risk if climate change is left unchecked. Modern economists understand that prosperity and environmental sustainability are not trade-offs – they rely fundamentally upon one another. On this subject, we have a Chancellor that has not just got his morals but also his maths terribly wrong.

Britain’s absence from the debate on climate change is a symptom of this government’s flawed reasoning on foreign policy. Whether in the EU or the United Nations, we pursue an isolationist, disengaged approach, in the mistaken belief that by ignoring international problems we can shield ourselves from their consequences. Yet it is global forces – whether financial de-regulation, the displacement of refugees by conflict or natural disasters, or the impacts of accelerating climate change– that now and in the future shape the everyday lives of working people in Britaing

It is because the Labour Party understands this that we are calling on the government to lead from the front at the Paris summit.  We will champion an agreement that signals once and for all the fundamental transformation of the global energy economy that is necessary to protect us from dangerous climate change.  We will also demand international rules that punish free-riders, and give British technology companies the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with those around the world. 

David Cameron was right when he said in 2006, “Tackling climate change is our social responsibility to the next generation.” Today his government must finally remember that protecting the environment is a duty, a legacy, and an economic opportunity that they neglect to all our cost.