The Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP: the greenest government ever
One year ago, we promised this would be the greenest government ever. It is a promise that we intend to keep. But first, we must understand the idea behind the ambition. What does it mean to be green?
One starting point might be to think about how we can interact with our environment more responsibly. That might mean using a resource more efficiently, replenishing it more rapidly, or cutting consumption of it altogether. Whatever the method, the end result should be the same: a more sustainable use of our natural resources.
This is a broad definition, but a useful one; for it illustrates how green issues cut across Whitehall. From investment in science to promoting sustainable fisheries, from the protection of hedgerows to the promotion of low-carbon vehicles: going green is the archetypal cross-Government challenge.
From the Foreign Office to the Department for Transport, this is something that only the whole of government can do. That is why, last May, the Prime Minister announced that he would be the fourth minister at DECC - and that we would be the greenest government ever.
How will we achieve it? The history is instructive. Modern environmental legislation began half a century ago: passed in response to the deadly smog that shrouded the capital, the Clean Air Act 1956 was the first legislative acknowledgement of the critical links between industrial activity, energy consumption, human health and environmental responsibility.
In recognition of the damage that pollution could do to all, the state was given greater license to intervene in the lives of the individual. Leaving behind open-hearth coal fires was the first instance of private action in defence of a common good. The principle of sustainable development was enshrined in law.
As visible pollution faded and public awareness of green issues grew, so the legislative landscape changed. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 brought emissions standards and waste disposal; the Environment Act 1995 established the Environment Agency. Most recently, the Climate Change Act 2008 was the world’s first long-term legally binding framework to tackle climate change.
Greening the government has been an evolutionary process: a story of successive layers patched together over time to make a more-or-less coherent whole.
Our job is to press fast-forward. With the right blend of regulation, incentives, and financial support, we can make this the greenest government ever.
We have already made a good start. In July, we published the first ever Annual Energy Statement. Its four sections reflect our priorities: saving energy and supporting consumers, delivering secure energy on the way to a low carbon future, managing our energy legacy - and driving ambitious action on climate change at home and abroad.
The government’s position is clear: we must do everything in our power to get a global, legally binding deal to limit carbon emissions and avoid dangerous climate change; and we must cut our own emissions in support of our goal.
At the UNFCCC conference in Durban later this year, we will work toward a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol - including establishing the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries.
We are not waiting idly for a deal. The spending review allocated £2.9 billion for international climate funding. We have established the Capital Markets Climate Initiative to leverage private finance to tackle climate change in developing countries; and the Green Investment Bank, set up with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and capitalised with an initial £3 billion to mobilise investment in low-carbon technology.
I want us to show real leadership on emissions, by aiming low - at home and abroad. In Europe, the government is arguing for the EU’s emissions reduction target to be raised to 30 per cent by 2020, putting Europe at the heart in the global green economy.
In the UK, DECC is responsible for overseeing the government’s progress towards our own emissions targets. Making the case for stronger carbon cuts whilst protecting the economic recovery is an exercise in collective responsibility: our success in setting ambitious carbon budgets will be a marker of the government’s commitment to a greener future.
We must also close the growing gap between energy supply and demand. That means securing affordable, low-carbon energy supplies for the future - and cutting our energy demand now.
Energy efficiency is absolutely central to our policy. Shortly after taking office, we undertook to cut emissions from central government offices by 10 per cent, introducing a new Energy Efficiency Code to help departments cut carbon.
Together with Ofgem, we have published a prospectus for the delivery of electricity and gas smart metering, which will help consumers to use energy more efficiently.
And in December, we introduced the Energy Bill in the House of Lords. The Bill includes our flagship policy, the Green Deal: an innovative financing mechanism to drive a comprehensive programme of energy efficiency improvements in British properties.
We must also look at supply. Over the coming decades we must rebuild the UK’s ageing energy infrastructure - and decarbonise our energy system. The aim is to reduce our dependence on imports and our vulnerability to oil price shocks - while keeping energy costs down.
Greening our energy supply is the focus of our pioneering reform of the electricity market, which will introduce long-term contracts for low-carbon generation, capacity mechanisms, an emissions performance standard, and - together with the Treasury - a carbon price floor.
In the last spending review, we secured £860m for the Renewable Heat Incentive; £1 billion for the world’s first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage power plant; and £200 million for low-carbon technologies, including £60 million for port manufacturing infrastructure to bring offshore wind manufacturing to the UK. And we are continuing support for feed-in tariffs for wind, solar and micro-hydro.
At DECC, we are working to put Britain on a cleaner, greener path. From international negotiations to home insulation, we will do everything we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and cut carbon out of the economy.
In the twelve months since the Coalition came to power, our commitment to these objectives has been tested - and affirmed. From carbon capture and storage to home energy efficiency, we are already delivering.
Despite a difficult financial environment, we are determined to deliver more efficient homes and businesses, a cleaner, more secure energy system, and a stronger international emissions regime.
These are high ambitions. But being the greenest government ever is more than a soundbite: it is a statement of intent.