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A green light to red tape – when it drives innovation and opportunity

Claire Perry, the minister for climate change within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis), was the main speaker at the launch of a report from the Aldersgate Group on environmental regulations on 7 December. This is an edited version of her speech.

What was particularly compelling about the report is that you worked on a sector by sector approach, which is incredibly helpful for us because, indeed, that is how often a lot of our communications come in. And you also focused on the opportunity for the future.

You do not have to do things to protect our environment at the expense of jobs, growth, prosperity and future employment. In fact, the two were completely symbiotic. They went hand in hand.

One of the things we tried to set up very clearly in [Beis’s] ‘The Clean Growth Strategy’ is the enormous opportunity for us to benefit from both our own leadership position in transitioning to low carbon and also this – what I’ve referred to as ‘the unstoppable global pivot’ towards that low-carbon economy.

Even as short recent time as four or five years ago, the conversations were not about clean growth. They were about trade-offs. It was either/or and I think one of the tributes, one of the great successes of the people in the room, is that that message you’ve been proving for so long has finally cut through.

I know you’ll know these numbers, but I always like to recite them just to make sure. So how many people work today in the British low-carbon economy? Four hundred and thirty thousand directly and jointly. Bigger employment sector than aerospace, and crucially creating employment in towns and areas that have found it very difficult to thrive and prosper in our new economy: a turnover of about £40bn currently.

I’m a great believer in rolling back the tide of regulation where possible, but red tape is not all bad

Last year only two countries in the world were considered to have done enough to reach even a ‘two degree’ target in terms of reducing their emissions intensity, their production of emissions for every pound of GDP. And that was China and the UK. So we’re coming at this from a huge position of strength and I think that means that we can both continue that momentum domestically, but also really get out there and help the world and benefit from the global opportunity.

I know you’re probably a little fed up with government reports, but if you have a moment over Christmas do read ‘The Industrial Strategy.’ It’s really good, and it’s good for several reasons. One, it’s the first time government has actually sensibly set out to say, “How can government and industry and civil society and local economic partnerships work together to create the prosperity that our children need? How do we create those good jobs right across the country?”

And it puts clean growth as one of the four grand challenges that runs right through the industrial strategy. How do we get UK businesses and sectors to deal with the challenges of clean growth, including some of the regulatory burden that we will bring forward, but equally the opportunities? And it’s a really, really interesting perspective.

Of course, we do have to regulate. I’m a great believer in rolling back the tide of regulation where possible, but red tape is not all bad. Particularly in this area where we do know that the regulations and tax and spending changes that we make have a major impact. And again, one of the items in the budget was the change in vehicle duty on the most polluting diesel cars. It’s not a war on diesel. We understand that many people were incentivised to buy diesel through government policy, but now knowing what we know we think there is a big opportunity to get us off fossil fuel vehicles and into where the world is going, which is into electric and low emission vehicles – and we want the UK to be positioned at the forefront of that.

We have to be pushed and guided and advised because this is not one where governments can go it alone

We’re investing in the next generation of battery technologies through the Faraday Challenge, because actually the most critical part – and actually the most value-added part of an electric drive train is the battery technology. At the moment, we import batteries. We want to be building them here.

If we crack these storage conundrums for batteries at the appropriate cost, we can then start to work with distributed energy and make that far more effective and far more affordable. So joining up policy, ambition, regulation, government spending of tax payers’ money and incentives, I think is the way to drive real change.

So the question of help or hindrance? It is absolutely a help, but I think as you also pointed out, we do need to say it’s not just about regulation. We need to see the innovation. We need to see the skills enhancement. We need to see the appetite for change going forward.

I’m very proud of our ambition. I’m very proud of our leadership. We are completely committed to collective action. This will be a very busy year. We set out in ‘The Clean Growth Strategy’ what we’ll be doing over the next 12 months. We’ll see the 25 year Environment Plan, Bio Economy Strategy, the Road to Zero, the Resource & Waste Strategy, all of the consultations we said we would bring forward to shape the remainder of the policy set out in the ‘Clean Growth Strategy.’

We have to be pushed and guided and advised because this is not one where governments can go it alone. We have to work together, but by working together we capture this incredible economic opportunity which means that our children not only will be living on a cleaner planet, they’ll be working in those industries in the future, and I think that is a brilliant prize that we can work together and achieve.

Photos from the Aldersgate Group

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