One of the things that has been keeping me sane over the past three months as the twists and turns of Brexit have taken their toll, is working on climate change. I’ve had the privilege of being part of an expert group providing advice to the UK Committee on Climate Change on the move to a low carbon economy. It may be strange to think that a subject as serious as climate change can be uplifting, but it has been great to channel my energies into tackling the biggest challenge of our time.
From school strikes to the Extinction Rebellion, global protests have raised absolutely the right questions and shown that a lack of action will be catastrophic. Sometimes, business is perceived as the obstacle to dealing with climate change. But many businesses are leading the charge from the front. From colossal offshore wind turbines to electric vehicle batteries, they are the ones innovating the world away from fossil fuels by delivering the technology needed to cut carbon emissions.
Indeed, without business creating new technologies, there is no way we can stop global warming. But the problem also requires real solutions from governments, as well as changes to the way each of us lives our lives, right now. As the country that first harnessed the power of hydrocarbons to drive the industrial revolution, the UK has a unique responsibility - and opportunity - to lead again. The first step to doing this is to be even bolder in our climate ambitions.
Next week, the Committee on Climate Change will recommend to the government whether to raise the UK’s current 2050 target to reduce emissions by 80% to a net-zero emissions target. We fully support a net-zero target as a clear and bold response by the British government to people in every nation across the globe who are demanding immediate action.
The UK has an impressive track record on action thus far. Since 1990, we have grown our economy by more than 60% whilst cutting carbon emissions by more than 40%. In 2008, we were first country to set legally binding targets to cut emissions. Last year, 53% of our electricity came from low-carbon renewable and nuclear sources, and this Easter weekend we set a new 90-hour record for generating electricity without coal. We already have the world’s largest capacity of installed offshore windfarms, are developing new technologies to capture carbon, and are using our financial services sector to finance green and sustainable projects across the globe.
As we know more than ever about the negative effects of climate change, we also know more about the solutions – and the wealth of opportunities they offer. Onshore wind is among the cheapest of all energy sources and solar power continues to fall in price, while rapid advancements in battery technology mean that electric vehicles are surging in popularity.
The UK has another opportunity to demonstrate it is at the forefront of climate action by hosting the 2020 international climate change conference, COP26. We back the government’s bid to host this critical meeting and to showcase the brilliant, home-grown new technologies and services that are helping drive this transition, demonstrating to the world that the UK is at the forefront of a new industrial revolution.
The scale of the challenge is significant. While shifting towards a zero-carbon future will not be cheap, it is the best value investment we could make as a country in the long run. However, the costs of any transition cannot be borne by those least able to deal with them. Investing in new technologies must be shared fairly, between consumers, businesses, and the government.
The world has reached a large and unavoidable crossroads on climate change. Tough decisions and leadership, from boardrooms to cabinet tables, are needed. This is the “space race” of our times, the green race, to a better future.