Secretary of State’s speech at the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders UK event

Secretary of State’s speech at the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders UK event.

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

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman

Times are tough. Across the world, governments and businesses are battling the financial crisis.

The new economy we are working hard to build must be a green economy. Any other colour just isn’t sustainable.

Throughout the twentieth century, demand for products and services swelled; and science and technology advanced to meet demand.

The global economy grew and commodity prices fell.

In industrialised countries standard of living increased exponentially.

But that model of growth, while reliant on the health of the world’s ecosystems, has led to a sixty percent decline in those ecosystems.

In this new century, the strain is becoming evident.

As our population grows, we can see signs of our natural resources beginning to fail us.

There’s been an increase of nearly 150 percent in real commodity prices since the year 2000.

In 2010, 44 million people were driven into poverty by rising food prices. In some parts of the world food and water scarcity is causing civil unrest, even war.

We are reaching a crisis of sustainability. We need a new economic model.

When we took power eighteen months ago our number one priority is economic growth, and by that we mean green economic growth.

We are determined to set the UK on course to a green economy.

This isn’t just about managing the threats that environmental degradation presents.

We want businesses to understand and act on the really exciting opportunities the transition to a green economy presents.

Because going green saves money. And going green makes money.

This is more than just business and government collaboration because we need to engage society more widely in this endeavour with a multi-stakeholder approach.

Across the world, businesses are getting it.

Unilever are taking a leading edge approach - they want to double their size and within ten years halve the carbon footprint of their products and source all agricultural raw materials sustainably.

Rolls-Royce is reducing its carbon emission reductions and saving £26 million a year.__

M&S is making over £70 million a year with its Plan A, through a combination of efficiency savings and new business.__

And our financial services company Aviva boosted its profits last year while cutting its carbon footprint by five percent.__

The UK government is determined to help all businesses get it; and to back those who already do.

Because green growth is the only sustainable way forward.

And because green growth offers significant economic potential for the UK.

Recent research published by my department, Defra, estimates that UK business could save twenty-three billion pounds a year by using raw materials, energy and water more efficiently.

We also know that in 2009/10 the global market for low-carbon and environmental goods and services was estimated at over three trillion pounds. 

This market is forecast to grow at around five percent a year, to the middle of the decade.

We want to help UK businesses seize this opportunity.

You visited the Olympics site yesterday.

You may have learned that over 97 percent of demolition waste at the Olympics site has been recycled or reused.

A surplus oil pipeline was used for construction, saving 2,600 tonnes of new steel - and half a million pounds.

The site will be using recycled water for toilet flushing and for watering plants - saving over half a million litres of pure drinking water a day. Highly relevant for an area of the country that is experiencing water stress.

The 2012 Olympics gives us a fantastic opportunity to showcase the sustainable technologies being developed in the UK.

We want the UK to capitalise on its already strong performance in industries such as recycling and water treatment.

And to exploit opportunities in emerging sectors like wind power, tidal energy and carbon financing. 

We know that this will require unprecedented investment in key green sectors.

So we are setting up the world’s first ever Green Investment Bank.

In this year’s budget we committed £3 billion over the next four years to enable the bank to invest in areas the market currently perceives as too risky - offshore wind, for example.

Last month I launched a business-led Task Force with Kingfisher Chief Executive Ian Cheshire that will look to identify the opportunities for greener technologies, goods and services.

Because our job in Government is to be an enabler. We’ve set up the Green Economy Council, which I chair, together with the Secretaries of State from the department for business, and the department for energy and climate change. The Council brings together 20 leaders from business, ranging from car manufacturer Ford to IBM and Tata as well as key stakeholders like the Trade Unions.

But to green the economy we must instill nature’s value in all our institutions and decision-making, as well as our business activity.

So we are developing a way of measuring our natural capital: of showing how much in the red we are, and monitoring our progress into the black.

To this end we established an independent Natural Capital Committee, reporting to the Chancellor, to put the value of nature at the heart of our economic planning.

International problems need international solutions. We are also working with other countries to set conditions for a new, green global economic model.

I’ve just returned from climate change negotiations in Durban, where the UK is working hard to secure a new deal on climate change and lay the foundations for a global low carbon economy.

Reducing carbon emissions is absolutely essential for future human well-being.

It is also part of a bigger picture.

Like Copenhagen’s, the programme in Durban included a Forests and Agriculture Day.

We can’t tackle climate change without addressing de-forestation and agriculture as together they generate nearly a third of carbon emissions..

This destroys ecosystems and the plants and wildlife they support. They provide us with food, with water and with air. They provide the raw materials we need to build our homes, hospitals and transport systems, and to make our technology, from satellites to mobile phones.

Pavan Sukdev’s work on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity values these provisions at many trillions of dollars.

Durban is one of a sequence of international meetings about the environment, the economy and development which needs governments, civil society and business to work together to achieve results.

For me this sequence of meetings started with the Nagoya summit in October 2010, where new targets for reducing biodiversity loss were agreed. The contribution of businesses and other organisations at Nagoya was invaluable.

In January, the World Economic Forum summit in Davos will convene forward-thinking companies who absolutely get the fact that business as usual is no longer an option.

Davos is the opportunity to shape new models which can transform the economy.

Our job, as young global leaders, is to spread the message. To get all businesses thinking this way.

Which leads me to June, and Rio +20: an opportunity to shift the thinking, and the actions, of the governments and the businesses of the world. In Rio we’ll be seeking tangible outcomes that will have a real impact, maybe along the lines of the Sustainable Development Goals the Colombians are preparing.

After that, in October, there’s the next biodiversity summit in Hyderabad, where we’ll take forward the actions agreed at Nagoya.

Eradicating poverty, tackling climate change, and protecting nature are all part of the same fight, and for us to succeed we need united global action.

We need governments to set ambition, provide direction and forge agreements.

We need civil society to provide its expertise, influence and energy.

We need businesses to work in step with nature rather than against it, both growing and greening . 

So in conclusion what I would like you to take away from this is that the UK is providing international leadership as we embark on a journey to green recovery. That I’m encouraged by the excellent examples of UK companies who model green growth but we need to scale this up to meet our ambition.  To do that I need your help as this mission is an urgent one if we are to create a new green and thriving economy.

Published 6 December 2011