George Osborne’s Speech – the least green, ever!

Yesterday, Tory Chancellor George Osbourne gave one of the least-green speeches ever. In less than half an hour, he demolished his government’s aspiration to be the greenest government ever and announced that the UK no longer wished to lead the world in moving to a low-carbon future.

Promising that the UK won’t go further or faster than our European neighbours on tackling climate change might have quietened critical colleagues, many of whom are climate sceptics. Blaming renewables for increases in energy prices perhaps let his big-business friends in energy companies off the hook while they continue to rake in huge profits at the expense of consumers. But neither position will help the ordinary citizens of the UK who are paying the price of escalating oil prices. Nor will they encourage innovators and investors to the industries of the future to set up and create vital jobs in the UK, nor build a more sustainable economy for the UK in the future.

As I’ve argued before, the big problem with Osbourne’s position is that it is based on a false dichotomy – that you have to choose between tackling climate change and economic growth. Time and time again the evidence points to the opposite – that moving to a low carbon future is actually a race with long-term economic security as the prize. The winners will be the economies that develop clean renewable energy systems first and sell them to the rest of the world. A recent report by google.org describes it as an innovation arms race, with breakthrough innovations in clean energy potentially adding $155 billion per year in GDP, creating 1.1 million net jobs, while reducing household energy costs by $942 per year, oil consumption by 1.1 billion barrels per year, and carbon emissions 13% by 2030 vs. Business as Usual.  Far from being a burden that makes us less competitive with the rest of Europe, ambitious plans to decarbonise our economy earlier will give us a competitive advantage when it comes to winning these jobs and growth.

Building a future economy for the UK is not about gently balancing the advantages of the old oil-dependent economy with the opportunities of a low carbon future.  We cannot compete in the 21st Century with an economy built for the 18th Century.  We need a low-carbon industrial revolution if we’re not to see jobs lost, growth forgone and large aspects of life our of reach for many. George Osbourne’s speech might have quietened down some loud screams from the industries that aren’t ready for this revolution, but yesterday he might as well have backed the slide-rule industry He might think that reducing carbon emissions are all about caring for the environment. In truth it’s all about the economy.

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