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Green Liberal Democrats

Lynne Featherstone's Spring 2017 Libdem conference speech about green issues

March 21, 2017 11:27 AM
By Lynne Featherstone

Lynne Featherstone's speech about our planet, and what we can do to help: "Well conference.... It's been quite a...

Posted by Green Liberal Democrats on Monday, 20 March 2017

Baronesse Lynne Featherstone's speech about our planet, and what we can do to help:

"Well conference....
It's been quite a year.
And if a week is a long time in politics - then this year has felt like an eternity.
The election of Donald Trump. Leaving the European Union. The end of 'BrAngelina'.
But even these events pale in comparison to the threat posed by climate change.
For years we have known about the dangers of global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps.
Academics have shown us the evidence.
Physical signs around the world have begun to appear - droughts in some areas and floods in others.
Global air pollution is getting worse.
In the UK, an increase in floods has been attributed to climate change.
It has taken many years of campaigning by individuals, charities and, of course, the Liberal Democrats, to cast the climate change deniers into the side-lines and help us recognise that climate change requires a change in the way we live.
Children are now growing up with an understanding of the threat.
Young people instinctively get that tackling climate change is the right thing to do.
Millennials are asking their employers what they are doing to make their business more sustainable.
Baby Boomers are buying electric cars and installing solar panels on their roofs.
There has been a cultural shift.
Politically, we have made huge progress.
Almost ten years ago all major parties agreed to the Climate Change Act which was, at the time, an ambitious commitment to reducing our emissions.
Then the Coalition took huge strides forward and took the rest of Europe with us - led of course by our excellent Liberal Democrat Secretaries of State, Ed Davey and Chris Huhne.
We have a huge amount to thank them for.
By the end of the Coalition, we Liberal Democrats had made Britain the fastest growing green economy in Europe.
The amount of electricity from renewables had more than trebled.
We had set up the Green Investment Bank, which has helped fund £11 billion worth of green infrastructure projects in the UK, with just £2.7 billion of investment.
And we had invested £500 million in low emission vehicles.
In 2015 we had a record-breaking year with billions of pounds poured into solar and wind energy and more homes powered by nature than ever before.
None of these things would have happened with a Conservative only Government.
We knew this at the time.
Now we have proof that it's true.
We wrestled hard behind the scenes for our green achievements in Government.
Now it's clear for everyone to see that it was only the Liberal Democrats that had environmental protection built into its DNA.
We have had less than two full years of Conservative-only Government, and already the list of anti-green measures is shocking.
They have cut subsidies for solar and wind power.
They have caused over 12,000 job losses in solar alone.
They have scrapped the £1 billion Carbon Capture and Storage projects.
They have cut the Renewable Heat Incentive.
They have pushed ahead with fracking, even under National Parks.
They have abandoned our Zero Carbon Homes policy to make homes more efficient and bills cheaper.
And to top it all off, they have closed the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
That, Conference, shows the Conservatives in their true colours.
But now, sadly, the Conservatives are not the only threat to our fight against climate change.
We have a climate-denier in the White House.
Trump has called climate change a 'hoax' cooked up by the Chinese.
And these weren't just meaningless words on the campaign trail. He has acted on them.
Within hours of being elected, he removed all references to climate change on the Presidential website.
Already, he has cut 70% of funding for measures to combat climate change, cut the government's Environmental Protection Agency by 25% and rolled back Obama era regulations designed to combat harmful emissions and corruption in oil and gas companies.
And he is just getting started.
There's a genuine risk that other countries will use Trump as an excuse for not acting themselves.
The hard won, Paris Agreement, which gave so much hope just a year ago when it presented a united global ambition to tackle climate change, is now under threat.
The global consensus is in danger of unravelling.

And then Brexit.
Our withdrawal from the European Union will shape this country's future for decades to come.
But the government has taken an incredibly short-sighted view in pursuing a Hard Brexit.
Hard Brexit will mean that we will no longer be held accountable to the EU for air pollution, already the cause of 40 000 deaths a year in the UK.
Hard Brexit will mean that targets for recycling, emissions and renewable energy will be dropped.
And most of all, Hard Brexit will mean that the UK will lose its voice at the negotiating table at a time when strong multilateral action is needed more than ever.
Conference, you cannot have a safe environment with a Hard Brexit.

That's why our role as Liberal Democrats is as crucial now as it ever has been.
We have not abandoned our clean agenda despite the political challenges Britain is currently facing.
We are still fighting.
The Conservatives may have given up, pandering to Trump and their climate sceptic friends, but we will not.
We are committed to reducing carbon emissions by 100% by 2050.
We are committed to limiting global temperature rises by 1.5 degrees.
We are relentlessly pro-renewables, pro-efficiency and pro cutting edge technologies that will take us towards a zero carbon Britain.
As well as protecting the environment, we want to take the opportunity to make our economy stronger and create jobs across the UK.
Our clean economy can make us prosperous while doing the right thing for the planet.
It will also bring down energy bills and help tackle fuel poverty.
Britain needs a new green industrial revolution - a clean industrial revolution.
We need to do with clean energy what the Victorians did with rail and infrastructure.
We must create a radical programme of upfront investment which transforms the world we live in.
Because future generations will look back at ours and they will judge us. What will they think?
I want them to look back and be proud that it was our generation that transformed our economy - from one reliant on fossil fuels to one that is sustainable.
Conference, when it comes to climate change, we can't simply tinker around the edges.
We need to be bold.
We need to be ambitious.
We need to take advantage of the huge opportunities before us.
The Liberal Democrats are going further and faster towards a sustainable future than any other party.
That is why, with the help of experts, we are doing the work to create a roadmap to a carbon free Britain.

It will show us what actions need to be taken now in order to achieve a zero carbon Britain by 2050.

It will focus not just on energy sources, but on how all businesses can be sustainable and help meet our targets.

There is a huge amount of change that's needed:

Reforming agriculture and land-use.

Boosting natural protections such as peat and forestry.

Electrifying transport.

Developing smart technology and advancing the circular economy.

Addressing the need for change in our homes and heating.

And using the financial sector to promote clean industry, including through better disclosure of climate risk.

Tim Farron has already called for concrete proposals to help us get to a Zero Carbon Britain by 2050.

Just a couple of weeks ago he called for a British Infrastructure Development Bank to provide the funding for the sustainable building of the future.
And he called for up to ten new tidal lagoons across Britain, to harness the power of the seas to power our homes.
Britain's clean future is exciting.
Our roofs will power our washing machines. We will charge our cars at home. We will make money from the waste we throw away. Our homes will be warm without turning the heating on. Our energy will be British, it will be clean and its production will create hundreds of thousands of jobs - in every part of the UK.

But business as usual will not get us there.
Small tweaks to the system and a gentle increase in renewables are not enough.
Theresa May may not be a climate denier but she is a climate ignorer.
She failed to mention climate change in her Brexit plan and her Party Conference Speech. In her Industrial Strategy, she failed to propose even one concrete measure to tackle climate change.
Last week in the Budget, Philip Hammond too made no mention of the environment, climate change, the solar industry or air pollution in his Budget speech- including the much needed protection for businesses who face an 800% hike in business rates on their solar panels.
Both May and Hammond are denying us the opportunity to be a global leader in clean energy and capitalise on the economic advantages before us.
At the moment, we have a comparative advantage in the area of renewables which we can build on.
We generate 40% of all offshore wind power across the world and we have the best sustainability expertise in the world.
But in ten years our leading role could be obsolete.
With countries like China and India sensing the business opportunities in the low carbon and no carbon economy, we will quickly be left behind.
Unless, of course, we do the right thing and invest now.

Meanwhile, what are our European neighbours doing?
While our Government is fighting over how hard and fast to pull out of Europe and ruin our economy, other European countries are moving ahead with going green.
There are many examples we can take:
The Netherlands have developed a bike lane which is solar panelled.
France has forced financial institutions to address the risk of climate change to their business.
Denmark was run entirely on renewables for a day last month.
Portugal managed to run on renewables for 4 days straight last year.
Norway has pledged to become climate-neutral by 2030.
While our Government is preoccupied with Brexit, other countries across the continent are pressing ahead.

And what about even further afield?
We might expect that developing countries would be falling behind on their efforts, especially when the leader of the US is uncommitted.
But that's not true.
Forty seven of the world's poorest countries have committed to a zero carbon target by 2050 - a target even more ambitious than Britain's.
While Trump's election made Theresa May go quiet on climate change, countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum - which includes Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Haiti - responded to him by making an even bigger, bolder commitment to reduce their carbon emissions than they ever had before.
If they can stand up in the face of Trump, why can't we?
When I was minister for International Development I visited many places already experiencing the harmful effect of climate change.
Those in areas that have seen a deterioration of their crops over recent years know that climate change is a reality now and not a future possibility that they can ignore.
People who live in cities that are thick with smog from polluting vehicles and buildings are crying out for cleaner, greener energy that protects them and their children's health.
We have a responsibility to lead the way on the clean economy not just for our own sake, for the sake of those all over the world.
A green revolution will transform the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Solar energy could provide cheap and reliable power to villages and towns currently unable to access mainstream energy sources.
Expanding the circular economy will cut emissions and provide thousands of secure jobs.
Cleaner air will increase the life expectancy of future generations.
There are already many innovative projects helping people in developing countries to adapt and prepare for their future.
Part of Britain's role in leading on climate change is to support this action - because we have only one planet and we share it.

One reason why countries around the world are waking up to climate change is because of concerns about air pollution.
Emissions are causing a global health crisis. China knows it. We know it.
Here in Britain there are millions of people breathing in dangerously high levels of pollution each and every day.
There are 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK caused by pollutants.
Exhaust fumes cause asthma in otherwise healthy children and stunt children's lung and brain development.
Shockingly, 90% of the UK's population now live in areas where levels of air pollution exceed World Health Organisation limits.
This public health hazard is unacceptable and costs the NHS and the economy billions of pounds.
The Government has sat back and done nothing while legal limits have been broken.
In Brixton, the annual air pollution limit was breached in just the first five days of 2017.
At Heathrow, targets have been missed for the last decade but expansion is going ahead with no plan for tackling it.
Here in York, the city was named by the World Health Organisation for breaching safe levels of fine particles last year.
Meanwhile, the M25's busy Dartford Crossing was excluded from air pollution assessments because it was classed by the government as a 'rural road'.
It's time for radical action to address this crisis.
Diesel cars currently make up nearly 45% of all new car sales in the UK. That figure has risen from 18% in 2001.
Many diesel car owners bought their vehicles in good faith that it was better for the environment than a petrol car.
But now the evidence from experts is clear.
We need to put our children's health first and cut emissions as fast as possible.
Four cities around the world have pledged to ban diesel by 2025 - they are Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens.
But none of our great cities are on that list.
If Paris can do it, why can't our major cities, including London, do it too?
It would be tough, but we could do it - if the political will is there.
Liberal Democrats are calling for radical action to tackle the pollution crisis.
We're calling for a scrappage scheme to incentivise diesel drivers to change their vehicles to electric ones, through cash payments.
We're calling for a ban on any diesel-powered vehicle keeping engines running while parked or at a terminus.
And we're calling for Clean Air Zones to be extended to more cities across the UK - including Manchester, Liverpool and York.
Freight needs to be taken off the roads and onto trains, and the much-delayed electrification of the railways must be rolled out.
More support for the move towards electric and hydrogen buses is vital.
And to top it off, a phased-in ban on the sale of new diesel cars in the UK must be investigated.
This crisis will not be fixed by a single solution. But if we act now with a programme of measures it will start to change.

We must send a strong signal to the market that the future will be clean.
For some people, this is a hard message; for example, London's black cab drivers.
I spoke to a driver recently who said that the changes would cost him £40,000 and were bound to put prices up, making it harder to attract customers.
He said that with Uber he already had enough to deal with.
But then he said something crucial.
He said to me, 'Despite it all, the question is what kind of world I want my grandchildren to grow up in.
If we want to tackle our air pollution crisis, then hard decisions will have to be made.
But the benefits will be huge.
Britain could be a world leader in selling electric vehicles.
There is a huge economic opportunity here for us to capitalise on.
The more electric cars become mainstream, the quicker they will come down in price.
And of course, we must also reduce the number of polluting vehicles by encouraging cycling, walking and using public transport.

As Liberal Democrats, we have a job to do.
We have long since fought for a green economy which places us at the centre of global efforts to tackle climate change.
Now we are needed more than ever.
We must be the opposition voice that is raising the level of debate, challenging the Government, offering better policies and holding them to account.
We are the only opposition party that has a clear and coherent approach to the environment and the economy.
And if we are to win this fight, we will need to win the public over to seeing tackling climate change not as something that is just for a handful of keen activists, but a patriotic endeavour for which we can all be proud.
We must convince those on the right of the economic benefits to tackling climate change - the opportunities for job creation, prosperous businesses and tax revenues.
And we must convince those on the left that climate change will affect global poverty more than anything else.
If we do not lead this fight, then who will?
Conference, there is an urgency about this fight that is being ignored.
There is no time to waste.
We must act now.
Let's work together to hold the Tories to account and create a Britain that future generations will look back on with pride.


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