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Edward Davey F12 speech to the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference

September 15, 2013 12:50 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

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Conference - Liberal Democrats have always made the weather on the environment. We've led the debate. In Opposition. In Local Government. In Europe. And after just three years in Government at Westminster, Liberal Democrats can already make a proud boast. We are the greenest party that have ever served in Government.

But our fight - and it is a fight - is to make the Coalition the greenest Government ever. And we must go further still. We must entrench a deeper cross party commitment to the environment. We must shape the greenest generation of British politicians ever. And believe me that will be a fight too. So we have to square up. To tackle climate change.

To attract tens of billions of private investment, in low carbon energy. To convince other nations to sign up to ambitious climate change action.
Before the last election, this fight seemed over. The scientific consensus had led to a political consensus. But that is being relentlessly attacked - inside and outside the Coalition.

Don't misunderstand me. The scientific consensus remains as solid as ever.
That's what the climate change deniers hate so much. Take the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to be published next week. The science is clear. The risk of global warming is greater than previously thought.

The damage that will be done by global warming is greater than previously feared. So the need for action is greater than ever. But that action, Conference, will be much easier, if we can rebuild the political consensus on climate change. Let me tell you something we've been keeping rather quiet till now.

At the start of this Coalition, we created a Liberal Democrat Green Ministers Group. We guessed there'd be a few fights along the way. And together, we've scored some victories. From the plastic bag tax to company audits on greenhouse gas emissions. Many green battles won. Look at Norman Baker's triumphs at Transport. From Norman's cycling victories to his low carbon vehicles successes.

And, of course, the greatest investment in our railways since the Victorians.
Conference, there's never been a greener Transport Minister than Norman Baker. And never forget the role Danny Alexander plays in green investment - at the Treasury.

Andrew Stunell and Don Foster delivered our policy of Zero Carbon Homes - despite Eric Pickles. And think of DEFRA.

DEFRA has a key environmental job - to protect wildlife and landscapes. Alongside a key organisation - Natural England. What did the Tories want? To scrap Natural England. Working with Owen Paterson of all people, David Heath had to fight tooth and nail to save Natural England - and he won.

Now I want to be fair to Owen Paterson. He was brilliant over the horse-meat scandal. The way he demanded European Union action was impressive. Owen made the case for Britain's membership of the EU better than any Conservative I've ever heard. Liberal Democrats, our fights to green this Government haven't just faced opposition from the badgering of Owen Paterson or the pickling of Eric. No. We have had to face the ultimate test - the charm of Michael Gove. Mr. Gove and his draft curriculum for geography. Strong on European continental drift. Weak on climate change.

Friends, children in our schools would no longer study climate change in geography - if I hadn't raised it. If it wasn't for Liberal Democrats.

So Conference we have to be in Government. To fight for green advances. And fight off green retreats. Take the battles I fight over wind power.
Owen Paterson would cull wind turbines faster than he can cull badgers.
But we have prevented the Stone Age wing of the Conservative Party from destroying our leading renewables industry.

For years, the huge wind potential from Scotland's islands - the Orkneys, Shetland and the Western Isles - has been well-known. But Labour did nothing. And the SNP? But today Liberal Democrats are acting.

And it gives me great pleasure to make this announcement here in Scotland.
I am publishing new plans to unlock the green energy promise of Scotland's Islands. Thanks to Liberal Democrats like Alistair Carmichael, Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott, another green battle won.

Conference, energy policy can stir emotions. I understand the concerns people have about energy's impact on our beautiful landscape - whether it's turbines, coal pits or shale gas rigs. That's why I've worked hard to ensure that local communities will enjoy much greater benefits from hosting wind farms, nuclear reactors or shale gas drilling.

Different to Labour. Different to the Tories. Liberal Democrat commitment to communities in action at the national level. Energy and emotions - historically - have come together.

Back three generations, my family were coal miners. In Nottinghamshire, where I was born. And where I lived through the coal miners' strike. An emotional time. So I recognise the emotional impact of saying, the days of coal-powered electricity are numbered.

Unless and until we get carbon capture and storage commercially viable, coal has no future. That's why I don't believe shale gas is the environmental threat some fear.

Cleaner gas will be essential for keeping the lights on, as we replace dirty coal. Our Carbon Plan, for cutting carbon emissions, assumes Britain will use a lot of gas in the future.

So, Conference, let's be the voice of green reason in the shale debate. Reject the zealots who claim it's a catastrophe. Reject the vested interests who argue it answers all Britain's energy problems. They are both wrong. I've been cautious on shale. Avoiding hyperbole. Weighing up the evidence. Insisting on firm regulation. I've been fracking responsible.

Liberal Democrats, we know that seeing the environment and the economy together is crucial. It's why Liberal Democrats believe our green policies are central for economic recovery. The facts are with us. £29bn of investment already secured for renewable energy, supporting 30,000 green jobs. Green jobs in every corner of the UK - more than 18,000 in England, nearly 2,000 in Wales, and more than 9,000 in Scotland. The Green Investment Bank- £2.3bn invested in its first five months. Our Energy Bill, building the world's first low carbon electricity market, with 200,000 green jobs by 2020.

But we have had to fight every step of the way. Take our Liberal Democrat achievement of getting a decarbonisation target into law. A clean energy target. A world first. The Conservatives weren't keen. But we fought, and we won.
And I had to battle hard to get a radical green idea into the Energy Bill. Electricity Demand Reduction. For the Energy Bill I inherited was great for investment in more green electricity supply. But weak on cutting electricity demand - the real greenest approach. So I fought and won. Now there will be new incentives to cut electricity use. Just as our new policy Zero Carbon Britain calls for.

And Conference, to fast track this, I am pleased you are the first to hear my announcement of a new £20m pilot - the first ever in Britain. Companies being paid for saving energy, not wasting it. And these new green markets we're creating - to cut energy demand - include our Green Deal.

Now you may have heard reports claiming it's not working. But look at the facts. Nearly 60,000 assessments - in its first five months. And more than 70% of them have had or are looking at getting green deal measures installed.

Yes, it can be difficult building a new green market. But the Green Deal was never meant to be a quick fix. We're building this, not for a few years, but for a few decades. And so my challenge to the Conservatives is this: Do you want this to be the greenest Government ever? Or not?

I know the Tory Party is split on this. But colleagues, the climate can't wait for Tory Party unity. So I say to our Coalition partners: "it's make your mind up time."

Colleagues, remember before the last election, when there seemed to be so much political consensus on climate change? Remember how the vote blue, go green Conservatives used to love bomb us? I have to say, it used to give me the creeps.

But now they're love-bombing UKIP. Tory backbenchers fantasising about Nigel Farage. They long to be Sancho Panza, to the UKIP Don Quixote. Well, let them tilt at windmills.

I am far more impressed by the young wind engineer apprentices I met in Wales. When I went to celebrate the start of construction on what will be the largest onshore wind farm in England and Wales. The wind farm apprentices told me their fathers and grandfathers had worked down in the Welsh valley coal mines. And were delighted their sons and daughters were keeping the lights on, above ground.
But colleagues, be warned. UKIP and some Tories will wildly claim its green policies pushing up people's energy bills. Even though the facts show that's not true. For it's the rocketing price of wholesale gas on international markets - 50% up in just five years - that's pushing up bills.

And I am worried, extremely worried - about high electricity and gas bills. I've had to help people struggling with astronomical bills. I'm sure you've seen people in your area genuinely frightened about using too much electricity or gas. That's why I'm so determined to act on fuel poverty.

But believe it or not, we've first had to work out how to measure fuel poverty properly. Under Labour's incompetent measure even the Queen was counted as fuel poor. With our new measure, and with new tougher targets, I will act on fuel poverty. And I'm asking everyone across Government - from the NHS to local government - to help me.

But to help everyone struggling with high energy bills, I promised this Conference last year we would legislate for simpler bills and simpler tariffs - and I've kept that promise. We have. And many people will start to see the benefits this year.
But too many energy companies have ripped off too many people. I could not allow that to continue. So I have given Ofgem tougher powers. In the future, if your energy company rips you off, you can get compensation. Liberal Democrats - on the side of the consumer. And we're doing more.

Working with the voluntary sector, we have created the Big Energy Saving Network. This network will tell people who need help that help is here.

And Conference, it's my concern about energy bills that's led me to be so tough on nuclear power. I heard the debate today. I respect it. But I have to deliver the Coalition Agreement. That says "no public subsidy". And on behalf of consumers, that's what I'll deliver.

But where is Labour on all this? Their difficulty is, they agree with what we're doing. Many of them wished Labour had been so green. But Labour do have a policy. It's tough. They want to abolish Ofgem - the independent regulator on energy markets.

But abolishing Ofgem has at least three major problems for Labour. First, it was Labour who set Ofgem up. Second, it was Ed Miliband who "strengthened" Ofgem. And third, their policy after Ofgem is - wait for it - Ofgem2. You couldn't make it up.

But it's been on climate change where Labour have disappointed the most. Ed Miliband should be proud of introducing the Climate Change Act when he was doing my job. Albeit with cross-party support.

Yet do you know how many questions the Labour Front Bench have asked me on climate change since I became Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change? 100? 50? 10? One? No - not a single question on climate change from Labour. In 20 months. That is shocking. And worrying. Because tackling climate change can't be done by one party alone: climate change needs the politics of coalitions.

Within this Coalition, there are a few Conservatives who help on climate change. But as my Conservative colleague Greg Barker wrote on Friday, green Tories have got to speak up.

But so has Ed Miliband. Given his track record, surely he would want to improve Labour's act on climate change? So today I'm giving him the chance.

Ed, I'm inviting you to share in my advanced planning and strategy for the critical global Conference on climate change in December 2015 - that's after the next election. For the next Government - whichever parties are in it - will need to hit the ground running to fight for the greenest deal for the planet.

That's why - ahead of the 2015 climate change negotiations - I'm building international coalitions. Within the European Union, I've set up the Green Growth Group. 14 countries are now working together for an ambitious European position, ahead of 2015.
In Obama and Kerry, we have the most climate friendly American leaders we have ever seen. The new Chinese Government is now showing green leadership that's yet to get the recognition it deserves. If the USA and China move, a global deal on climate change may be really possible in 2015. Europe has to be ready.

Conference, when I go to these international meetings discussing climate change, I'm privileged to listen to people from around the world. People who are already experiencing the awful impact of climate change on their countries, today. One speech from a Minister from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific has stuck in my mind. He told us how some people in his country go to bed in life jackets - because the sea levels have risen so much.

We have to rebuild the political consensus on climate change. That's why our role in this Coalition has been so important. And why the Liberal Democrat fight for the environment is so significant.

Conference, I know Liberal Democrats are the greenest party ever to serve in British Government. But we are not yet part of the greenest Government ever. So in the 20 months left of this Government, we must fight to help the Prime Minister deliver his promise to lead the greenest government ever. And, Liberal Democrats, WE must go further.

We must build the greenest political generation ever. Fighting for the environment.

Conference, let's build a stronger economy. A fairer society. And a greener world.

This is the Liberal Democrat calling. And it's my commitment to you.