We need to debate delivery, not policy – Gummer on the green agenda

Parties of every persuasion, from the Greens to the BNP, seem to agree that something needs to be done about the environment, so let's hear how they plan to deliver - this was the plea from the longest serving Environment Minister in British political history when he spoke in London today.

He also said climate change and the sustainability agenda should be fully reclaimed from fringes and those who wear ‘open toe sandals’ and brought into sharp focus by the mainstream as it is ‘a central issue to the survival of civilisation’.

Speaking at The Green Collar Economy Forum hosted by clean-tech company Ultra Green on Friday, John Gummer said: “There’s a broad political consensus, but I always think that that’s a great danger.

“Everybody’s said the right words but not thought about delivery.”

Without a clash of policies, he said, there was a danger that everyone would assume the job was in hand and there would not be the usual rigourous scrutiny by those in opposition.

“The arguments we’re hearing are all about this technology or that technology, this or that mechanism, not about how to deliver,” he said.

The real issue is how to get things done, he said.

Now officially retiring from the MPing business, Mr Gummer was not shy about voicing his own opinions for solutions to the problems faced by the governments of today and tomorrow.

He called for a new cabinet role to be established akin to that of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury – the person appointed to ensuring that all departments are keeping within their assigned budgets.

A new Climate Chief Secretary could play a similar role when it came to government meeting its own self-imposed carbon budgets, he argued.

He said that for Ministers, meetings with the Chief Secretary were as uncomfortable as they were important, but they were also necessary – and our need to keep carbon in check should be viewed the same way.

“Government would then become very interested in its own energy use and procurement policy,” he said and go beyond offering lip service in these areas.

He also said that there was a place for the local empowerment agenda espoused by the Conservatives, but it must be combined with common sense.

“Localism with a degree of intelligence is crucial part of what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Foresight was needed on a local level that would help people make the right decisions, he argued.

He cited the example of two Conservative central London Boroughs with radically different approaches to encouraging electric vehicles.

Westminster offered free parking, a huge incentive, while Kensington & Chelsea “the most reactionary borough on the planet” did not.

The City of London had introduced such a scheme, but then withdrawn it after electric vehicles became too popular, he added.

Failure to find solutions and act on the rhetoric will be catastrophic, he warned, saying that the world’s population would soon reach 9 million and we would be unable to feed, clothe and house people unless we move quickly towards a more sustainable way of living.

He said that climate change was a pressing concern, but looking at the bigger picture sustainability is about moving along the road to progress for civilisation in general.

Sam Bond

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