Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg discusses his vision for a greener Britain and a sustainable economic future.
The countdown has started. In 10 months time, the world will gather in Paris to agree a new legally binding global climate change agreement. It’s no exaggeration to say our future, and that of our children, depends on its success.
Of course, none of this is news to you. Yet, I believe it’s a truth that bears repeating as often and widely as possible.
The evidence of the global risk we face is clear, the science exhaustive and beyond doubt and, without a strong deal in Paris, the task ahead of us to reduce the world’s emissions and tackle climate change will only become more difficult with every year that goes by.
We are already running to catch up: the more we delay, the more the world’s poorest countries are hardest hit of all. For them, denying climate change isn’t an option. Its impact is all too plain to see on their doorstep, increasingly putting their families, homes and livelihoods at risk.
For us too, as a country, going green isn’t a luxury extra, but a necessary investment in our future.
In the years ahead, the only sustainable growth will be green growth. It’s a guarantee of jobs and prosperity for generations to come.
It’s a massive opportunity for Britain. We’re a competitive place to invest, a great place to do business and have a skilled, flexible workforce.
Most importantly, without that shift to low carbon, we put at risk the huge physical and psychological benefits, as well as the sheer joy, we gain from our natural environment. Once lost, it’s gone forever.
That’s why, in government, Liberal Democrats have always fought for an approach that doesn’t just look after today, but is also mindful of tomorrow; that doesn’t just deal with the fiscal deficit we inherited, but also the imbalances in how we treat the environment around us.
This includes reforming our electricity market to boost investment in low-carbon energy. Since 2010, we’ve more than doubled the share of electricity we generate from renewable sources - reaching nearly 15 per cent of the UK’s electricity at the end of 2013.
The UK is now a world leader in offshore wind, with more installed offshore wind capacity than any other country in the world. We’re also strengthening our global lead in wave and tidal technology. According to the latest Bloomberg estimates, clean energy investment in our country rose by 3 per cent last year, to just over £10bn.
To help each of us live our lives more sustainably, we’ve committed hundreds of millions pounds to drive forward green transport. This includes half a billion pounds to sharpen the UK’s competitive edge in the development and use of electric vehicles, and I recently announced an unprecedented £214m investment to develop the UK’s cycling networks.
We’re establishing a new generation of garden cities and all new homes will be zero carbon from 2016.
We’ve created the Natural Capital Committee to help protect our natural wealth. And, step by step, we’re preserving Britain’s natural landscape: creating marine conservation zones; securing the future of our woodlands – England now has 10 per cent wood land cover, it’s highest level in 600 years; and maintaining strong protections for the Green Belt, our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We’ve secured extra funding for Kew Gardens, fought hard to ensure England’s Coastal Path will be completed by 2020 and, to halt the blight of throwaway plastic bags, we’re introducing our 5p charge.
Critically, we’ve committed £3.87bn to the International Climate Fund to help developing countries protect their biodiversity and communities from the impacts of climate change also.
But this is just the start. Whatever the result on May 7, we need a clear commitment from all of the main parties to achieve a landmark global deal in Paris and secure Britain’s low carbon future.
This isn’t a job for the fainthearted. Climate Change has no respect for borders, job titles or the political divide. It demands leadership at a local, national and international level, and we all have a role to play - in politics, business and civil society.
It’s one of the central reasons why I believe the UK’s continued membership of the EU is so important. If we’re to safeguard the future for our children and their children, then we need to stand tall in the world.
That starts with us leading in Europe, working with our partners to deliver an ambitious green agenda in Paris and beyond. Together, our voices are louder and stronger.
So let’s keep pushing across all political parties for a greener world, a better future for our children and an ambitious agreement in Paris.