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Greg Barker's article in Total Politics magazine

Greenest Government Ever One of David Cameron’s first acts as Prime Minister was to come to the Department of Energy and Climate Change last…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Greenest Government Ever

One of David Cameron’s first acts as Prime Minister was to come to the Department of Energy and Climate Change last May and declare his ambition that this Coalition should be the greenest government ever.

This was no idle promise.

Being green and transforming our economy away from dependence on expensive fossil fuels to one powered by low carbon energy is no ‘tree huggers’ charter.

It’s an essential prerequisite of a modern and successful twenty-first century globally competitive economy.

It’s about warmer homes, quieter and cleaner cars, greater economic and energy security, as well as jobs and business opportunities created by the low-carbon transition.

But words won’t be enough if Britain is to succeed in this transformation. Whether we meet our ‘greenest government ever’ aim will be judged by our actions.

Just over twelve months in, those actions have so far been considerable, with significant progress demonstrated.

Firstly, we are creating the conditions for green growth, investing billions of pounds of public money into low-carbon infrastructure and undertaking reforms designed to attract greater amounts of private investment into the green economy.

This includes £3 billion for the new Green Investment Bank and £1 billion for the world’s largest carbon capture and storage demonstration plant.

We have also launched the world’s first incentive scheme of its kind for renewable heat. Primed by £860 million of Treasury funding, the scheme could increase investment in green heat technologies by a massive £7.5 billion by 2020, transforming the way we heat our homes and businesses.

And to lay the ground for future investment across the power sector, we have announced pioneering reforms to the UK’s electricity market to encourage greater investment into low-carbon electricity plants, while mindful of the need to protect the interests of energy intensive manufacturing industry.

We are very clear that under this new administration ‘decarbonisation’ must not mean ‘deindustrialisation’. On the contrary, we need a revival of high value advanced manufacturing to help rebalance our economy and drive the low-carbon transition.

These add up to changes that will make the UK the destination of choice for global low-carbon investment.

Secondly, we have put energy saving at the heart of our actions - both inside and outside government.

One of the early tests set by the Prime Minister was for Whitehall HQs to show leadership and to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in one year. In just 12 months the Government has delivered on its commitment. David Cameron announced in July that we had not just scraped by, but had cut emissions by 13.8% with some departments, including the Department for Education and my own Department of Energy and Climate Change, cutting emissions by over 20%.

Outside of Whitehall, the Green Deal - the details of which are currently before Parliament in the Energy Bill - will be Britain’s biggest home improvement programme since the Second World War.

Its purpose is simple: to stamp out for good the huge energy wastage that’s afflicting Britain’s homes and businesses. Our buildings are often old and inefficient in how they are heated, which means a massive upgrade is needed.

The Green Deal will establish a framework to enable well known high street names - the likes of B&Q and M&S - to offer consumers energy efficiency improvements and recoup payments through a charge in instalments on the energy bill.

It’s a transformational policy with Green Deal companies offering up to £10,000 upfront - in some cases, even more - to pay for energy efficiency work, repaying the costs through savings on energy bills.

Finally, with the UK responsible for less than 2% of global emissions, action at home is not enough if we’re to tackle climate change and live up to our green promises. We’ve got to use our muscle to spread the message that the whole world needs to go low carbon.

Already, we have made inroads in Europe and have built support to increase the EU’s reduction target to a 30% cut by 2020. And globally, the UK played a leading role at last December’s Cancun Climate Conference, which made real steps forward. The priority is to build on that as we approach the next talks at Durban later this year.

Despite a difficult financial environment, we are determined to make good the Prime Minister’s promise that this is the greenest government ever.

The recent fourth carbon budget announcement that proposed to halve emissions in 15 years’ time illustrated our approach - giving certainty to investors in the low-carbon economy while protecting businesses today.

As the Prime Minister himself recently said: “The transition to a low-carbon economy is necessary, real, and global. By stepping up, showing leadership and competing with the world, the UK can prove that there need not be a tension between green and growth.”

On the contrary, it is our path to genuine prosperity.

Published 7 September 2011