Well, I have to say that David Cameron delivered a really interesting speech on Monday under the headline 'Blue Green Charter' ; at the Royal Horticultural Halls. He made it clear that going forward that there will not be a fudge or a compromise, a choice between economic, social or environmental progress but that to quote him “we will develop a strategy for a realistic environmentalism”. He went on to say that the reality is that the UK cannot afford not to go green at a time when oil tops $135 a barrel and when every family in the land is being so hard hit in terms of bills, but equally he made it clear that despite talking about completely changing the way we heat our homes, travel to work and produce our food that the answers lay clearly within fundamental Conservative philosophy or as he referred to the blue/green charter.
He talked about five key features or principles, harnessing the powers of markets, neutral green taxation, security of energy supply, the prioritisation of energy efficiency and the renewal of our national transport infrastructure. All fairly straight forward and obvious thus far you might think, although I felt in outlining two detailed initiatives around the development of green cars and the bringing forward of carbon capture and storage, he did actually touch on some really radical suggestions including that a Conservative Government would follow the Californian model and implement an Emission Performance Standard which to you and I means that all electricity generation going forward could not be higher in emissions standards than that generated in a modern gas plant. Given the current Government’s confusion/difficulty over the development or otherwise of Kingsnorth as Coal Plant without CCS this is quite a different approach. Similarly he talked about a novel policy initiative which appears to add up to a hypothecation of green taxes which would go into a separate pot to finance tax relief for families. Not quite sure what that might look like but he was at pains to emphasise that it did not mean new taxes.
In a similar vein I was personally delighted to see Cameron endorse a new system of feed-in tariffs which I have been calling for for some time. It might just explain the small discrepancy between the number of domestic and decentralised energy systems installed in Germany compared to the UK!
The fourth principle or feature of the Conservative approach is I am pleased to say squarely in my own territory of interest “energy efficiency” where a combination of regulatory and other interventions combined with what on the face of it looks like a clear commitment to smart metering should help us influence behaviour and encourage people to be more energy efficient. The only caveat I would add is we can have smart meters but we mustn’t have dumb citizens if we are to make the best use of them and therefore, the announcement he made that a Conservative Government would ensure every gas and electricity bill contained information with regard to energy consumption and comparing to other households is potentially a real step forward.
Finally, transport, often seen as the elephant in the room whether it be roads or airports. This speech tackles both head on, some fairly contentious judgements about the need for a third run way at Heathrow, pepper a series of rather vaguer commitments to high speed rail and tackling road bottle necks but I got a sense that there was less meat on the bones here, although it was good to see a politician not afraid to be somewhat contrarian around the ever growing “right” to air travel.
All in all a really quite challenging speech and I refer to another challenging speech given by one Abraham Lincoln in rather different circumstances but it seems appropriate in the context of climate change and I quote “with public sentiment nothing can fail, without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who merely enacts statutes or pronounces decisions”. This speech by the man who maybe the next Prime Minister goes some way in policy terms in delivering on that sentiment.