Natalie Bennett: Green economy remains ‘missed opportunity’ for UK

EXCLUSIVE: Green Party leader Natalie Bennett says the labelling of the coalition as the 'Greenest Government Ever' has become a "sick joke" after four years of mixed political messages, failed green policies and a lack of urgency on the transition to renewable energy sources.

Speaking to edie on Tuesday, Bennett said the UK has a “tremendously exciting opportunity” to develop a green economy, but more stable, long-term policies will be needed from the next Government to avoid falling behind the rest of Europe.

“The transition to a green economy is really exciting – it’s full of technological, community and social opportunities,” said Bennett. “But clearly the system we’ve got now isn’t working. A continuation of what we have is not a good idea – nobody would say that.

“The fact that the three main party leaders even had to sign that letter to indicate that they were serious about climate change really is quite telling. People have been looking at the actions of this Government over the past few years and the fact that it called itself the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ has, in reality, become a sick joke. It’s a guaranteed hollow laugh in pretty much any audience in the land.”

Renewables race

When asked which area of UK energy policy needed urgent attention, Bennett replied: “The privatisation of the energy sector – leaving everything up to the market – has simply failed. We need to end up with a mixed economy of electricity supply and distribution with a diversity of public and private participants, community, co-operative and municipal distribution.

“Up to 2030, we need to focus on expanding the existing mature technologies – wind, solar and small hydro. So many other countries are racing ahead ion this – China, the US and Germany are all racing ahead on renewables and we’re being left behind.”

Bennett was speaking to edie after partaking in a heated political debate at the Ecobuild 2015 exhibition which featured Energy Secretary Ed Davey, Labour’s shadow spokeswoman for energy and climate change Baroness Worthington, and Conservative MP Peter Lilley.

Rebuilding Britain

The session, titled ‘Greening the grid: is low-carbon electricity a vote-loser?‘ took an interesting turn when Lilley became embroiled in a row about the science of climate change after condemning further investment in renewables. But Bennett was quick to dismiss Lilley’s claims, insisting a green energy transition is “absolutely essential”.

“Is greening the grid a vote-loser? I don’t believe it is at all,” she said. “It’s actually a tremendously exciting opportunity – a real chance to transform and rebuild British society as we have to rebuild so many elements of it.

“Greening the grid is not nuclear. It’s not fracking. And it’s biomass only where it’s genuinely sustainable – we’ve seen far too many projects that aren’t that. It’s clear where we have to go and that’s towards energy conservation and the development of renewables.”

Last week, Bennett topped a poll of sustainability professionals for showing the strongest leadership on climate change issues, with 51% of the vote – more than David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband combined. At the last national ballot in 2010, the Greens claimed their first Westminster seat but polled only 1% of the vote. The party will undoubtedly be looking for a better result at the upcoming General Election in May.

Luke Nicholls

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