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Heckling Brown's 'green' speech

I read the first few sentences and could feel my hackles rising, so here is a stream of consciousness barracking of the speech:

I am delighted to have been invited here today by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales - and let me start by praising him, on behalf of everyone attending the events today, for the immense contribution he has made to raising public awareness of the need to look after the planet on which we live - and to stimulating action on sustainability by both business and governments.

I want a knighthood

And I am pleased too to be here with so many distinguished businessmen and women -- all of whom understand that your reputation and success depends on the investments you make not just in new products but in the communities you serve.

They want knighthoods, or at least jobs on quangos once they retire.

A year ago today, 1000 business leaders gathered together across ten locations in Britain to pledge to take action on climate change, within their companies and with their employees, suppliers and customers.

Remember that? I don’t.

The event sparked the May Day Network - a national movement of businesses taking a lead in moving the UK towards a low carbon economy.

Yup, all pretty obscure.

And today you have come to report back on the progress that has been made.

I have heard that half of you have provided information to business in the community about your carbon footprint;

Half of you’. So he has an audience of sympathisers, and half of them manage to follow the script.

  • 40 per cent of you have set and reported on carbon reduction targets;

And they might not have done a damned thing about lowering them. Maybe they have told staff to go outside for breath breaks.

  • And many others have made energy efficiency savings by changing working practices.

Like not changing dead lightbulbs?

All great achievements.

Oh absolutely. Let’s have an orgy of self-congratulation

But despite these advances, you are here today - and so am I - because we all know that more must be done. And we want many others to see the benefits of joining with us in our endeavour.

You can’t just sent in a form and expect a knighthood you know.

So this morning I want to talk to you not just about the challenge of climate change but about its opportunities:

  • the opportunity to create jobs, to build businesses, to grow exports, to drive productivity;

Uh-huh. Yeah, right.

  • and more than that, the opportunity to liberate the creativity and innovation of British companies and British communities. For nothing less than this will enable us to meet the challenge.

And a speech from Brown is going to do that is it? And will the public be sent to the naughty step if it does not?

The Stern Report - published 18 months ago - showed that the economic cost of the kind of climate change which the world is currently headed for would be comparable to the economic effects of a great depression combined with world war.

Because the effect of an ice age / global warming / whatever is the fashionable scare story this week is so readily quantifiable, isn’t it?

But what the report also demonstrated is that - momentous as the challenge is - the costs of urgent action are far less than the costs of delay; and the earlier we act, the easier and less expensive our task will be.

See previous.

So the issue is not, as some would have it: can we afford to do more?
The now undeniable reality is that we cannot afford to accept any less.

Repeat after me, I will read Popper on the logic of scientific discovery before I go grandstanding about ‘scientific facts’.

And that is why the British government is committed to building a low carbon economy -- both here in the UK and around the world.

I would have thought wrecking the current economy would be a closer match.

That means doing all we can to ensure an ambitious post-2012 global agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with every country playing their part. And Britain is leading efforts to promote the building blocks of that agreement:

  • on financing we have proposed a new global fund to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change;

A proposal? How marvellous. I do not doubt that the less developed economies are just itching to stay pre-industrial with all that that implies.

  • on deforestation - which His Royal Highness rightly identifies as a key priority - we are funding major sustainable forestry projects in the Congo Basin and elsewhere;

Paying fair value for the land, are we?

  • and on technology we are pioneering carbon capture and storage and other vital energy technologies around the world.

What about destroying it? Maybe that would be a good idea too?

But it also means a significant change in our energy economy here in Britain. Indeed I believe it will require no less than a fourth technological revolution.

Oh dear, après moi, les clichés.

In the past the steam engine, the internal combustion engine and the microprocessor transformed not just technology but the way society was organised and the way people lived. Now we are about to embark on a comparable technological transformation - to low carbon energy and energy efficiency.

And it would seem you do not approve of the first two, do you?

And because energy use pervades every aspect of our lives, this - in turn - will imply an economic and social transformation: in the way our businesses operate and in the way we live our lives.

Nice bit of dodgy reasoning there.

No one should underestimate the scale of the challenge this represents. But if we can do it successfully, the benefits will be immense:

  • greater energy efficiency improving economic productivity;

Yup, let’s work with the lights off.

  • the demand for environmental goods and services creating new jobs and new business opportunities;

What about telling the nice people about lost jobs and business threats?

  • and the development of green technologies opening up new export markets throughout the world.

And who is to say those markets will be open?

And the nations that seize these opportunities will reap the largest rewards.

All relative isn’t it?

Globally, it is estimated that industries such as renewable energy, waste management and water treatment will be worth $700 billion by 2010 - equal to the value of the global aerospace industry. And the overall added value of the low carbon energy sector by 2050 could be as high as $3 trillion per year worldwide, employing more than 25 million people.

‘Could be’

If Britain maintains its share of this growth there could be over a million people employed in our environmental industries within the next two decades.

All of whom will have a heavily invested interest in hyping every last ‘climate change’ issue. Great.

So building our own low carbon economy offers us the chance to create thousands of new British businesses and hundreds of thousands of new British jobs.

So says the man who has never worked outside politics, academia and the media.

Estimates suggest our environmental sector is already worth £25 billion - employing 400,000 people - and could more than double within 20 years. The City of London has become a global hub for carbon trading and the UK is poised to become the world leader in installed capacity of offshore wind. We have a strong history of innovation and remain world leaders in scientific research. And we have a stable macroeconomic climate, an improving skills base, and flexible product and labour markets.

Ssshh, don’t mention the recession.

So Britain is ideally placed to help minimise the costs of the move towards a low carbon, resource-efficient economy while maximising the opportunities.

Just like that, as Tommy Cooper would have said.

But to do this we have to unlock the talent and potential of our economy and our society.

For the fact is that a low carbon society will not emerge from 'business as usual'. It will require new thinking and new technologies. It will involve new forms of economic activity and social organisation. It will mean new kinds of consumer behaviour and lifestyles. And it will demand creativity, innovation and entrepreneurialism throughout our economy and our society - a new drive to unlock the talents and skills of our people, our companies, our workforces and our communities.

New – five uses in that paragraph. Change ‘new’ to ‘unknown’, and one is nearer the mark.

For businesses I believe this is an exciting opportunity.

Already over the last few years I have seen a transformation in the priority given to environmental sustainability by companies, big and small, in every sector. Many firms have recognised that operating in a more sustainable way is not just good for the planet but is good for them - and is what their customers want too.

Greenwashing is all a bit last week now, isn’t it?

At the same time every firm can now see the value of investing in energy and resource efficiency measures

  • giving a net profit not a cost, with earlier payback times than anticipated. And for larger firms the opportunity to influence not only their own resource consumption but to green their supply chains is becoming clear.

Gordon, old bean, these captains of industry, if that is what they are already know how to read a balance sheet.

So we want to see British businesses take these opportunities, as so many are now doing. But they will rightly ask in turn what government is doing to support them.

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' Ronald Reagan.

Last year our Commission on Environmental Markets and Economic Performance published an expert report on what the government could do to help Britain benefit economically from the new environmental agenda. Today, we are setting out our response to their recommendations. And let me highlight the four areas where we are focusing our efforts.

First, we are setting a clear, credible, long-term policy framework --- because we know that only this will encourage businesses to invest and enable the timely development of innovative products and services.

But you will only be here for another two years, woncha?

Through the Climate Change Bill we are the first country to put into legislation a statutory cap on our emissions ---- with five-year carbon budgets set on the advice of an independent climate change committee providing certainty for investors, business and consumers.

Whoopee do….

Every new policy will be examined for its impact on carbon emissions - not just those which reduce emissions, but those which increase them. Where emissions rise in one sector, we will have to achieve corresponding falls in another.

Every new policy? I’m calling BS on that one.

And this UK framework is now set within a clear set of European goals --- tough targets for a 20 per cent reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, or 30 per cent as part of an international agreement. And a strengthening of the carbon market created by the EU emissions trading scheme, which now covers nearly 50 per cent of Britain's emissions.

As in the EU is the puppeteer yanking your strings, eh?

Within this overall framework, Britain is establishing long-term low carbon policies across our economy.

In energy, we have committed to meeting our share of the EU target that 20 per cent should come from renewable sources by 2020.

No parliament may bind its successor.

In transport, we are proposing the EU adopt an ambitious target of reducing, by 2020, average CO2 emissions of new cars to 100 grammes per km.


In aviation, we are pressing for emissions from flights to be included as soon as possible within the EU emissions trading scheme.


In housing, we have agreed a timetable for all new homes to be zero carbon from 2016 - with new non-domestic buildings meeting this target three years later.

And what percentage of our housing stock is replaced every year? Less than 1% I imagine.

And it is these long-term policies that are driving the creation of new markets for environmental goods and services.

Second, the Government aims to create the conditions for innovation through our approach to regulation, to procurement and to research and development.

Check Ronald the Great’s comment from earlier

As we set out in our innovation white paper, we will work with the Business Council for Britain and industry regulators to ensure that regulation rewards rather than retards innovation.

Regulation is also known as red tape, isn’t it?

We will give priority to low-carbon and sustainable products in our procurement policies, helping give industry confidence to invest in their development.

And thus make the entry costs to meeting government contracts all the higher for start up companies.

And we are increasing support for R&D in sustainable energy technologies such as offshore wind and marine energy through our new £1 billion public-private Energy Technologies Institute.

And how much of the funding is ‘yours’?

Our third priority is to ensure that our workforce has the skills and the expertise for the environmental industries and occupations of the future.

And haven’t you done well with education recently.

So we will work with employers to create apprenticeship and 'Train to Gain' places in environmental sectors, and bring forward plans for a national skills academy for environmental industries.

Sounds like the MacDonalds College of Hamburgerology.

Fourth, we are seeking to encourage changes in consumer behaviour. For we know that we will only succeed if individuals and communities, as well as government and business, are part of the solution.

Encouraging? With a round of applause, or through the scourge?

That is why we launched last month our 'Act on CO2' advice line, a one-stop shop for consumer advice and information on energy and water efficiency, waste and recycling and green transport. And why later this month we will begin a high profile advertising campaign highlighting what consumers can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Nearly one million people have already used our web-based 'carbon calculator'.

I do not doubt the phone is ringing off the hook. Still, there are some of those jobs you reckoned would be created.

The Government's approach is based on the 'I will if you will' principle. We can only ask consumers to make greener choices if we make it easy for them to do it - and we will ask businesses to be part of this too.

Not ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’?

So we want people to install loft and cavity wall insulation - and we are providing discounts funded by energy companies. We expect 5 million more homes to be insulated over the next three years.

Discounts big enough for them to brag about under CSR etc in their corporate reports, but small enough not to impact the bottom line, no doubt.

We want people to buy greener cars if they can - so we have reformed the system of vehicle excise duty to ensure there is a tax incentive in every class of car.

Just sell them the spray cans.

And we want to see the elimination of single-use carrier bags - so we have asked the retailers to come up with a voluntary solution but will take a statutory power to require it if we have to.

Or the tax on single blokes. I am anticipating having to turn a lot of carrier bags inside out at the checkout rather than give charging supermarkets free advertising.

But let me also say that I know that in the end consumers will not change their behaviour because government asks them to. Green consumption needs to become part of the culture and part of people's lifestyles. And for that we need to find new ways to engage them.

I don’t have ‘a lifestyle’. I have ‘a live’. Try it.

So what I want to see is a different kind of consumer campaign, led by civil society organisations and consumer-facing businesses, which can help embed greener choices in people's lives. And I have asked Fiona Reynolds of the National Trust and Ian Cheshire of B&Q to see how this might be done.

Ah, they do the nagging for you. The gongs are in the post, Fiona and Ian.

So this is our vision:

(Insert tasteless joke about cyclops here)

  • a green economy providing new jobs and business opportunities...
  • powered by the innovation of our firms and the skills of our workforce...
  • driven not just by long-term government policy but by green behaviour as an integral part of people's lives.

Each of us - businesses, consumers and government - need to play our part. And working together I have no doubt that this is a challenge to which the human spirit - and our powers of ingenuity and enterprise - will rise.

Oh dear, the human spirit. This is just embarrassing, isn’t it?

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Blogger Old BE said... 1:28 pm

I'm inclined to agree with my boss when he says: I'll start cutting down my firm's carbon footprint when the Chinese stop opening two coal power stations a week.  

Blogger ScotsToryB said... 1:53 pm

'and on technology we are pioneering carbon capture and storage and other vital energy technologies around the world.'.

Tell that to Shell and Peterhead.


Anonymous Anonymous said... 2:26 pm

Congratulations Mr C! You have succeeded in completely boring me for the first time ever with one of your posts - so much so that I gave up after the first three paragraphs. I wonder how many other of your visitors will find the sheer endurance to read that lot through to the end.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 2:30 pm

Nomad - fair comment. I was hoping to run it past a mate for an 'is this worth doing?' reality check, but he was not available.

Ho hum.  

Anonymous Anonymous said... 2:50 pm

The Curse of Jonah Brown strikes again - not even The Croydonian can make him interesting!

Brown is the most tedious speaker I can remember since, I don't know, maybe Brezhnev. Two sentences of McBroon's turgidity and even morris dancing begins to seem attractive.  

Blogger ScotsToryB said... 3:02 pm

Mr C & Nomad,

I would not have known about this but for the post.

So it was long.

Do what I do, if it is still interesting, read it, otherwise get the gist by random sampling and then comment, if you wish.

I'm getting more mellow by the day, methinks.


Blogger Clunking Fist said... 9:41 pm

"And because energy use pervades every aspect of our lives, this - in turn - will imply an economic and social transformation: in the way our businesses operate and in the way we live our lives."

That is code for "get used to the idea of living in a cave, fighting off mauraders for food, travelling only as far as you can walk. Dressing in animal skins. I.e. total economic depravation.  

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