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Powering a New Economy: How a clean energy revolution means Britain can lead the world

April 3, 2017 8:13 PM
By Tim Farron MP

In this talk, Tim Farron MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, gave his assessment of the UK clean energy sector and put forward the steps the Liberal Democrats will take to work towards a zero-carbon Britain.

Powering A New Economy: How a Clean Energy Revolution Means Britain Can Lead the World

It's a privilege to be here at Policy Exchange, following in the footsteps of the great and the good - indeed it was from this very podium that Michael Gove launched his leadership bid.

Introduction - Story

It's possible that there are varying views in this room on the wisdom or otherwise of the UK leaving the EU and indeed of the UK leaving single market.

Catastrophic scenarios about both are presented and then ridiculed and - in the words of the great Gove - we get to the point of no one trusting experts anymore.

Maybe that's the point of fake news? It's so that when there is something genuine to be panicked about, people have already become anaesthetised with panic-fatigue.

That is a very dangerous situation to find ourselves in.

The self harm of an extreme separation from Europe, beyond anything that the majority voted for, is a genuine threat.

But let's be blunt it is but a flesh wound compared to the indescribable threat of climate change to our country and to our economy.

Again you will find people who will ridicule the science, but it's time to impatiently shrug those people off - they are now in the same bracket as those who claim the moon landings were faked or that Lord Lucan is alive and well and currently anonymously serving in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet.


A year ago it seemed that the world had finally woken up to the dangers of pollution and rising temperatures.

The US, China and Russia agreed that climate change is one of the gravest challenges facing humanity.

We came to a consensus on the need to take the perils of climate change seriously.

The debate was not on whether to, but on how fast and far to push towards a clean economy, and the signing of the hugely significant Paris Agreement was the result.

Countries across the globe had recognised that this was not just an environmental issue, but an economic one.

They recognised the risk to their economies of doing nothing.

They saw that there was money to be made from investing in new technologies that will be vital in the future.

So they committed.

But since then, much has changed.

The consensus is unravelling.

Now we have a climate change denier in the White House;

Which provides a reason or an excuse for other countries to backslide a little too.

We have a Tory Government that went from hugging huskies to dismissing intelligent environmental policies as "green crap";

And a Labour Party that has no coherent vision for the environment, industry or the economy.

Among politicians there is apathy. There are too many climate-ignorers.

Meanwhile our world gets more polluted and future threats not just to our world but to our economy are being ignored.

This must change.

We cannot afford to go backwards.

We must not throw away the economic opportunities before us.

We must not squander the opportunity to be a global leader in innovation and exports to the world.

The clean economy must not be left in a 'green' box and associated only with earnest left wing politics.

And frankly, if we are to build a new clean economy and to genuinely tackle climate change then limiting ourselves to the anaemic message of hair-shirted personal austerity is the surest way to ensure that we fail.

We only build an active majority for a consensus on a new clean economy, if we can inspire people to back it.

So we must tell the story of a strong, clean economy, which will allow Britain to prosper, will create jobs, and will protect our future.

For years Britain has been ahead of the game, leading the way on renewables and sustainable business practices.

We have some of the best examples of innovation and expertise.

We are a world leader in offshore wind, generating 40% of the world's supply.

We have the best hub of sustainability expertise in the world.

Under the Coalition investment increased and the amount of renewable electricity we generate tripled.

We built on the cross-party consensus formed around the ground-breaking Climate Change Act in 2008 which set ambitious targets and raised the level of ambition in Europe.

We worked with business leaders to set in motion a long-term strategy for a strong, clean economy, driven by doing the right thing for the world we live in.

Britain became the fastest growing green economy in Europe, with a turnover of £46.2 billion providing 238,000 jobs.

But just as things were really taking off, the rug has been pulled from underneath.

The Government has gone back on its commitments.

It has failed to see the business opportunity of investing in a low carbon economy.

It has chosen an extreme separation from Europe which can only damage the UK economy.

The twin choices of an extreme separation from Europe, pulling out of the single market without a mandate to do so; and the dumping of the Coalition's green agenda, come from the same place.

It's about choosing narrow dogma over intelligent pragmatism.

The Prime Minister choosing to pander to President Trump hardly makes us any more optimistic that her next choices on climate change will be wisdom over transparent political short-termism.


We can no longer assume that a consensus will lead us in the right decision.

What happens in the next five years will be crucial.

That's why I'm setting out today my vision for a Britain that is clean, innovative and prosperous.

There is a huge opportunity before us which we need to take.

The low carbon and no carbon economy will be underpinned and driven by industries which will be worth trillions globally in the next few decades.

It is a new industrial revolution.

We can do as the Victorians did and lead it, prosper from it, and stand tall across the globe as a consequence.

Or we can look down our noses at it and be surpassed and relegated.

It's an industry which will help create a strong economy from which we will all benefit in our pockets as well as protecting our planet and our economy from the devastating consequences of global warming.

If we do not take this path, then others will - and they will reap the benefits instead of us.

It's all down to political will.

My vision is not simply to turn back the clock to before the torrent of anti-green measures of the Conservative Governments began.

It's not simply to invest more and hope for the best.

We must have a far more ambitious approach than that.

It's for Britain to become fully self-sufficient in our energy, no longer relying on the oil-rich Middle East, Russia, or China.

I want us to secure the future of our energy whilst doing the right thing for our planet.

We are an island nation with fantastic clean natural resources.

We can harness the power of the seas and use it to power ourselves and export to the world.

Our offshore wind has potential to supply a far greater share of our energy needs.

We have the second largest tidal range in the world, after Canada.

But we are not making full use of our seas. It's time to reclaim our maritime history and use it to our advantage.

And to secure our place as the world leader in these technologies.

We need to do with clean energy what the Victorians did with rail and infrastructure - to create a radical programme of upfront investment which transforms the world we live in.

A collective patriotic endeavour to become energy self-sufficient, to write a chapter in Britain's history that will make future generations proud of us and keen to follow.

The new, clean economy will tip our way of living upside down.

Our roofs will power our washing machines. Our cars will be charged at home. Our waste will make us money. 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.

It's the best for Britain, it's the best for our planet.


When I talk about self-sufficiency, I do not mean we should pull up the drawbridge, to put Britain First at the cost of our international trade.

I mean exactly the opposite - I want us to be on the front foot exporting our technologies to other countries.

I want us to be a world leader in a global market place - internationalist and interconnected.

Not at the mercy of fluctuating commodity prices which push up bills and destabilise our economy.

I'm a patriot. There's too many on the centre and left who are squeamish about patriotism. Not me, my vision for our economic future is a patriotic one.

It's for regeneration and jobs in every part of our country.

It's for British design, engineering and exports.

It's for investment in areas left behind by changing technologies.

And it's for cheaper electricity bills that bring an end to fuel poverty across our nation.

Because it is possible to be patriotic without being nationalistic. In fact, it's essential.

I'm not having short-sighted climate change deniers, isolationists, aggressive fake nostalgia merchants nicking my flag, appropriating what it is to be British.

To be British is to look outwards and to lead by example.

Business as usual will mean our economy is left behind and our people are left behind.

It will mean that other countries step into the space which is rightly ours and reap the economic benefits that should make us prosper.

It will mean a future of higher electricity bills for consumers and less tax income from successful clean businesses.

It will also mean more global uncertainty. You see, as increasing amounts of land becomes deluged or desiccated, the impact will be a human tragedy and the mass movement of tens of millions of people.

Those who fear the impact of migration should be absolutely terrified by climate change.

We have a small window of opportunity, and it's now. There is an urgency for action before it's too late, but there is a patriotic, self interested as well as long-sighted motive for choosing to act now.


Yet the Conservatives are headed in the wrong direction.

They have stopped new onshore wind, undermined solar, avoided tidal, and cut the Renewable Heat Incentive.

They have abandoned the excellent Zero Carbon Homes policy put in place by Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams in Coalition.

They have simply hand-picked the technologies they like - picking winners by prejudice not reason.

That's not a market approach, or a proper industrial strategy. That's a UKIP strategy.

It's irrational.

It's putting ideology before people's jobs.

In the last two years there have been 12,500 job losses in solar alone, caused by Government cuts - this would never have happened to a heavy carbon industry.

They are not planning for the long-term, they are sleep walking their way through with a short-termist approach, while those in industry look on with disbelief.

Investor confidence has been totally undermined.

Start-ups are struggling to scale up.

There is no certainty for business whatsoever.

This is a Government blinkered by right-wing climate-sceptics who put warped ideology before common sense. Putting prejudice before the market.

The recently published industrial strategy has a whole chapter on the green economy but fails to put forward one concrete proposal on how to capitalise on the huge business opportunities of renewables.

The Government says they care about bringing down consumer bills, but they have left out the cheapest forms of clean energy - solar and onshore wind.

Theresa May has promised to stand up for every corner of Britain.

But from the Western Isles to Swansea Bay, she is causing uncertainty among clean businesses and holding back jobs and growth.

She is hiking up business rates on solar panels by eight times, which will damage the solar industry across the UK.

She is looking backwards to fossil fuels, giving the green light to fracking instead of looking to the future.

And she has continued with the disastrous plan to sell off the Green Investment Bank, just as it is getting established.

When Ed Davey and the Liberal Democrats ran the Department for Energy and Climate Change the wrestling match was between us and the Treasury, and we usually won. Now it is between Greg Clark and Number 10, and nice guy though he is, he loses every day.

Theresa May has a lot to answer for.

The cheap energy future is low carbon and no carbon. Failing to invest now will cost us more in the future.

What the Lib Dems would do

My role as the leader of an opposition party - and the only opposition leader engaging in a constructive conversation on British business - is to raise the level of debate.

The Liberal Democrats are going further and faster towards a sustainable future than any other party.

We have a bold vision of reducing net emissions by 100% by 2050 - a significantly more ambitious goal than the current legal requirement to reduce emissions by 80%.

Sweden has pledged to do it - why can't we?

We will work towards limiting the global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees rather than 2 degrees.

We need a sweeping programme of investment and reform on a level never seen before.

We are putting together a plan with the help of experts to show exactly how that ambition will be achieved - our very own, Liberal Democrat roadmap to a Zero Carbon Britain.

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

Reforming agriculture and land-use.

Boosting natural protections such as peat and forestry.

Electrifying transport and getting rid of diesel.

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.

British Infrastructure Development Bank

It is clear that to deliver ambitious change, we need to invest.

Not picking winners but supporting a range of new technologies to grow and develop.

We would set up a British Infrastructure Development Bank to fund our infrastructure of the future, the development of the nation, with sustainability principles built into it and with people who understand the issues running it.

An initial £5 billion of public money to support clean infrastructure projects, primarily in energy and housing.

Public money funding public goods, leveraging in private money to deliver the scale of investment that we need.

Building infrastructure now that locks us in to reliance on fossil fuels in forty years' time and does not adequately protect us from future flooding is madness and it will cost us.

Yet there is currently no strategic thinking about this from the government.

The Government has a National Infrastructure Plan that is unrelated to its industrial strategy and unconnected with the science and technology innovators in Britain's world class universities.

But our investment would set us up for the future through a long-term plan.

Energy efficiency would be a priority - tackling our leaky homes which drive up bills, and building new homes which are fit for the future.

Carbon capture and storage would be given a chance to develop and the pulled projects in North Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire given the green light.

Alternatives for heating our homes must be developed, which do not rely on fossil fuels.

Battery storage would be given support.

Renewables companies would be empowered to scale up and innovate.

Tidal Lagoons

Our ambitious, long-term plan would also give the immediate go-ahead to the world's first Tidal Lagoon at Swansea Bay, and a commitment to a whole programme of tidal lagoons on Britain's shores - up to ten over the next two decades, including at Cardiff, Colwyn Bay, Newport and Morecambe Bay.

This would generate over 34,000 jobs in Wales alone, and create opportunities for hundreds of businesses in the supply chain.

Tidal lagoons are not a one-stop solution but nevertheless have a key role to play in a low carbon economy, using technology that is already tried and tested.

They will provide extremely reliable and consistent energy for at least 120 years.

Because while the sun is not always shining, and the wind is not always blowing, the tides are always in motion.

And they could provide up to 10% of our future electricity needs, as well as further benefits of flood protection and regeneration of coastal areas.

There will be much to learn from building the first lagoon to develop the next. But this ambitious programme is achievable.

A Tidal Lagoon Authority should be set up immediately to research the best locations.

Moving towards a new, clean economy means taking bold policy decisions which encourage innovation and give entrepreneurism a chance.

Electric Cars

Our new economy also requires a rapid transition to electric vehicles, to reduce emissions and tackle the immediate threat of air pollution - which causes 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK.

Britain should become the global leader in low emission vehicles, providing not just grant incentives but tackling the installation of charge points.

We would introduce universally compatible charging points to make it easier for drivers and incentivise demand - helping urban motorists, not just motorway drivers.

Some areas of our economy are harder to decarbonise than others. Improvements in transport are within reach and we must push forward with ambitious strides.

We need an immediate go ahead of the much delayed rail electrification programme and we want to see this rolled out across the country.


There is a lot of defeatist and apocalyptic rhetoric around climate change.

But that doesn't help us. Human kind created climate change and so it stands to reason that Human Kind can solve it.

But if we're going to really do this, then preaching earnest words to the converted won't cut it. If we actually want to win this battle then we need to inspire the British people to make it their collective patriotic mission to make this fight their own.

That means moving away from the language of 'green' and 'sustainable' and speaking in terms of jobs, prosperity, self-sufficiency and exporting to the world.

Someone needs to lead.

Someone needs to push forward a vision for a new clean economy that will make us prosperous as well as it being the right thing to do.

Someone needs to give voice to the wealth of expertise and entrepreneurism of those who really understand this industry - like you.

So we will.

Just as we are the only real opposition to this Government over Brexit, and the underfunding of our NHS, so we will be on growing our new clean economy.

You are working on the ground; we will fight your corner in Westminster.

Let's work together to make our economy clean, prosperous and resilient to thrive, not just survive, in the decades to come.

Let's choose to make this a patriotic collective national endeavour, united in our ambition, Victorian in scale and in our can-do attitude.

Let's make sure that the Britain's future generations look back on ours with pride and not contempt.

Meanwhile here is the Policy Exchange info about the speech:


Powering a New Economy: How a clean energy revolution means Britain can lead the world