Rio+20 Summit debate

Speaking ahead of the Rio+20 Summit in June, Peter Aldous highlights the "green economy pathfinder" status of the New Anglia LEP and calls on the UK to adopt a similar position on the global stage.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I shall start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) for her passion, conviction and resolution in leading that Committee. I shall limit my observations to the opportunities and challenges to be faced in the transition to the green economy.

The forthcoming summit has two themes—the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development. These themes are in many respects the same as those of a conference outside Norwich that I shall be attending and speaking at this Thursday. The New Anglia local enterprise partnership is hosting a conference entitled “Norfolk and Suffolk—leading the green economy”. Its objective is to help secure a smooth transition to a green economy, which can bring significant benefits to East Anglia.

The LEP has been asked by the Government to take a UK lead in demonstrating how business can take advantage of the new markets for environmental goods and services, and to support the strong stance that the UK has taken nationally to reduce carbon and tackle climate change. The Government have given the LEP green economy pathfinder status and it is currently working up with business leaders and academics proposals that demonstrate how the green economy is vital to the UK economic recovery and to sustainable growth. In April the LEP will present to Government its manifesto, which will bring together a wide range of best practice studies, as well as some innovative thinking on how to put low carbon at the heart of business opportunity and success.

In my view, one role that the Government should be playing on the international stage at Rio is the same one as the New Anglia LEP is performing in this country. Rio provides us with the opportunity to showcase what the UK can do. We were at the forefront of the 19th century industrial revolution. There is now the opportunity for us to play the same role in a 21st century revolution, the transition to the green economy.

There are three advantages of green growth, the three Es—enhancing the environment, achieving a secure and stable energy supply, and creating new employment opportunities. First, on the environmental front, it is vital that we manage our natural resources in a prudent and responsible manner and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Given the vast offshore renewable resources and extensive maritime engineering expertise in the North sea off the East Anglian coast, the UK can be a prime beneficiary of clean energy projects.

Secondly, it is important that we have a secure supply of energy, and that we are in control of our own destiny and not reliant on fossil fuel imports. Thirdly, the move to the green economy creates significant employment opportunities. At present clean energy employs 250,000 people in the UK. With conducive Government policies this can grow to 500,000 by 2020. Moreover, retrofitting our houses through the forthcoming green deal provides the opportunity not only to make the country’s housing stock more energy efficient and to drive down utility bills, but to help rejuvenate our dormant manufacturing and construction industries.

Since May 2010 the Government have done much to promote the green economy. First, they have supported research and development through the proposed technology and innovation centre for renewable energy and the proposed five renewable obligation certificates that support and encourage wave and tidal technology.

Secondly, they have provided a new streamlined planning process for determining applications for large infrastructure projects, which so far appears to be working well, based on the feedback I have received from Scottish and Southern on its Galloper wind farm application and from East Anglia Offshore Wind on East Anglia ONE.

Thirdly, there have been important developments in investment in sustainable infrastructure, with regard to rail and the roll-out of superfast broadband across the country by 2015, and in encouraging proposals for investment in electricity infrastructure so that the demand for energy can be better managed through a smart grid, smart metering and, in due course, the development of a European super grid.

Fourthly, working with the private sector is vital if we are successfully to realise the opportunities presented by the green economy. On the East Anglian coast, the enterprise zone due to start in April in my constituency—in Lowestoft and adjoining Great Yarmouth—and the designation of the two ports as centres for offshore renewable engineering will provide businesses with much-needed support and will help to reinvigorate supply chains. Moreover, the green investment bank can act as a catalyst for private sector investment.

Fifthly, and most importantly, on skills and advancing education, the most important thing we can do is invest in people. It is vital that people have the necessary skills to take up the jobs that will be created in the green economy. The further education and apprenticeship policies that are being enthusiastically promoted by my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning provide an ideal foundation on which to build. We also need to promote the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths in our schools.

The Rio summit presents the UK with an opportunity to showcase what we have been doing to promote the green economy. I am not suggesting that the Secretary of State should fly down to Rio, hopefully with the Prime Minister on the wing, to boast and to swank about the Government’s achievements. However, in a measured and constructive way she, with the Prime Minister by her side, can promote the green economy and show how a framework for sustainable development can be laid down. I also ask that she supports the UN Secretary-General’s “Sustainable Energy for All by 2030” initiative, which will be launched at the conference.

On the home front, the Government must finish the work they have started. There might be a temptation to water down the approach to sustainable development by adopting a “slightly green but business as usual” approach. This temptation must be resisted. Over the past 20 months the Government have successfully set out their stall, showing how they intend to move towards a green economy. The private sector has accepted the invitation to work with them to achieve that goal. The Government must not let the private sector down and must continue to work with it to bring to fruition the three objectives: nurturing and looking after the environment in a sustainable and responsible manner; achieving a low-carbon and secure energy supply with less price volatility; and creating new and exciting jobs that can play an important role in leading the economic recovery.

David Mowat: My hon. Friend is using the terms “green economy” and “renewables” as though they were the same as decarbonisation. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) explained, we have to cut our carbon emissions by 80%, or even 90%, by 2050. Currently, about 2.5% of our energy comes from renewables. Does my hon. Friend accept that other forms of low-carbon energy have a major part to play, because he has not mentioned them so far in his remarks? I of course mean nuclear and carbon capture and storage.

Peter Aldous: The Government’s policy is a mixed-energy approach—that is, nuclear, renewables and carbon capture, as my hon. Friend said. I support that policy. I was concentrating my comments on the green economy, but I agree with him.

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