More sustainable policies needed from the ‘Greenest Government Ever’

This month sees the fourth anniversary of David Cameron's promise that the coalition would become 'the Greenest Government Ever'. But, as Charles Perry argues, blue and yellow have not made green, and those promises of action on climate change have dropped from sight.

As the economy recovers and the political parties finalise their manifestos for the 2015 election, Sustainability has to be front and centre of the policy debate – sustainable economy, sustainable society and sustainable environment.

The Confederation of British Industry estimates that the UK’s green economy could be worth up to £20bn by 2015 if it is supported in a constructive way by the Government. I have last election’s three C’s – ‘Clarity, Consistency and Continuity’ – ringing in my ears. Will nurturing an environment to mobilise the UK’s ‘low-carbon’ sector to prosper and become a world leading industry now be top of the agenda?

Ironically, in pursuit of affordability for homes and businesses, sustainability is actually the key to reducing costs; eradicating waste in all its forms, such as energy and carbon waste. Yet the link between sustainable economy, society and environment remains largely conceptual in the public debate. Furthermore, Britain is missing this big opportunity, rather than driving it.

Sustainable solutions

This is immensely frustrating and it is time for politicians to set an example and show real leadership to incentivise sustainable solutions on the one hand and adopt a tax framework which penalises unsustainable, polluting behaviour on the other.

However, it’s not just the coalition that needs to lead with a clearer and more consistent approach. Labour’s much discussed policy to cap energy prices also made the headlines but neither is this a sustainable solution. The UK still awaits an innovative, stable, policy framework that fosters the development of a secure, reliable, clean and affordable energy infrastructure delivering sustainable growth. 

Given the scale of the problem facing humankind, we clearly need to be doing a lot more to harness nature’s free resources; provided daily through tides, waves, sun and wind – the cheapest forms of energy going forward, given no input costs.

So what should the next Government do to drive sustainable growth? I think there are a number of key steps.

Key steps…

  • Bolder ‘Churchillian’ approach – Political parties need to embrace sustainability; rebuilding trust and mobilising Britons with a compelling vision and much bolder targets, proving how they will collaborate across parties and with the private sector to deliver a winning competitive advantage for the UK. 
  • Incentives – Incentivise low-carbon technologies which are sustainable, safe, clean and made in Britain. Tax breaks and fiscal incentives should be re-focused on sustainable, clean technologies – and removed from fossil fuels, as already committed by Britain and the G20. Does the oil and gas industry still need subsidies and what is the root of harmful pollution? 
  • Make polluters pay – ‘Green Taxes’ is an oxymoron – political leaders should talk in language that makes sense to all – rather ‘green incentives’ and ‘pollution taxes’. We must make the polluter pay, as pollution is the primary problem. 
  • Delivery – Whilst EU targets are forcing the hands of politicians to create and implement green policies, the reality is that there are huge opportunities in sustainability and it should be a seen as a growth driver that benefits not only the environment but also the economy and society. It is time for the UK to lead Europe (not the other way round) and deliver on its promises, rather than to keep finding excuses not to lead. 

For all parties, there is a huge opportunity to set out a clear vision for a sustainable future for the UK.

We need to change our perspective because the fossil fuel age is in terminal decline and the clean revolution is here. The 20th Century modus operandi has been very linear (and wasteful) from upstream to downstream. We need to create a circular economy with resource savings, re-use and maximum efficiency, clean energy and sustainable business models. This is known as the ‘triple bottom-line’ approach – it is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

Other economies are moving in this direction ahead of Britain, most notably Germany and Scandinavia. Earlier this month, the US and China met to agree emissions reductions and new climate targets. The UK is being left behind.

Charles Perry is a director at sustainability group Anthesis-SecondNature.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie