In today's Times of Tunbridge Wells article Greg speaks on the climate achievements of Britain, the full article can be read below:
Last week I attended the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, with a cross-party group of parliamentarians. Driving action to save our planet from catastrophic climate change has always been one of my biggest motivations in public life. I was the Secretary of State who first proposed and then legislated for the UK to aim for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We were the first major country in the world to do so. But Britain’s leadership has been followed by most of the world. More than 140 countries, including the biggest polluters – China, the United States, India and the European Union – have set a net-zero target, covering about 90% of global emissions.
In Dubai I was struck by the progress that has been made since the first COP summit I attended - in Copenhagen in 2009. That summit was a failure because countries refused to commit to any reductions in emissions or to protect biodiversity. Yet now almost every country on earth is committed to reducing emissions and they are acting on it – though some can and should move faster.
On action, as well as policy, Britain has a proud record of leadership. At the time of the Copenhagen COP summit in 2009, coal regularly supplied 40% of Britain’s electricity generation, but now most of our power generation comes from zero-carbon sources like offshore wind – where we are the world’s leader. In fact we have decarbonised faster than any other major economy. And we will be the first major country to halve greenhouse gas emissions.
As important as combatting climate change is, I have always been motivated by protecting our natural environment. And here the imperative of restoring biodiversity and safeguarding the climate come together. The Glasgow COP in 2021 made an historic agreement to halt and reverse deforestation by the end of this decade. Last week’s Dubai COP went further with a new fund to safeguard 10 million hectares of forests. In Britain, our Environment Act will ensure that no products can be sold which are linked to deforestation.
When I was responsible for setting Britain’s climate policy I always argued that protecting our planet must also help improve the livelihoods of people here and around the world. Hairshirt environmentalism – adopting measures that reduce standards of living and make people poorer – is wrong in itself and is liable only to alienate potential supporters and thwart progress. One of the most gratifying developments is that our leadership is reaping economic benefits beyond even my expectations when the policy was first introduced. When we began the auction process for permitting offshore wind farms in 2014 the cost of generation was £117 per megawatt hour, which meant they needed a public subsidy. By last year the cost had fallen to £37 per megawatt hour – an astonishing reduction that meant that wind generators now pay a subsidy to consumers, because they are cheaper than the market price of electricity.
And the economic benefits do not stop there. I had the pleasure, as a Minister, of opening new factories like the Siemens wind turbine factory in Hull, which created over 1,000 new jobs and is still adding 50 new positions every month. This is replicated all around coastal Britain, revitalising the economies of towns that had been in decline for years. It is not just the revival of manufacturing that renewable energy is driving: jobs in design, engineering, and technical services are springing up across Britain. As other countries now look to follow us, we can capitalise on this lead by exporting renewable technologies and knowhow to other countries.
The UK will only ever account for a small portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but our influence on global climate policy and practice goes well beyond that. Our diplomatic prowess gives us the skills to shape deals. The City of London means that we have an outsized influence on investment far beyond our own coasts. And, as Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, I see every week how our universities and technologists are contributing to developments that will make it easier and more economically beneficial to attain net zero and enhance energy security: from battery storage that can turn renewable energy into firm power, to small modular nuclear reactors that can provide reliable zero carbon electricity.
I am proud of what we have done in Britain to make us the most advanced major country in the world on delivering emissions reductions and protecting our environment. The strong theme at the COP summit in Dubai that action on climate should drive prosperity and enhance security was striking to be part of. I came away from COP convinced that not only can we protect our planet, but that we can do so while making people better off economically too.