This speech was originally given to Green Lib Dem Conference, 20/06/2020
This time last year, I was with you in Nottingham and presented our Lib Dem climate change policy and I am still very proud of it. Its main headline is to cut most emission by 2030 and get to net zero by 2045. It’s detailed, it is evidence based and underpinned by our values.
One of the big debates amongst ourselves was our 2045 target. Was it ambitious enough? Could we do better?
The reason for the 2045 target was the difficulty of reducing emissions in the farming, negative emissions and aviation sectors. We couldn’t quite see how the drivers that would force those industries to change could be put in place quickly enough.
Today I am making the case that, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, we can bring our party’s ambition for net zero down from 2045 to 2040.
It’s the aviation industry that can be forced to accelerate the pace of change. The problem with flying is jet fuel. We need to replace jet fuel with synthetic fuels. Synthetic fuels are made from green hydrogen and carbon dioxide. We are talking about carbon dioxide that is already around and rather than capturing it and put into the sea-bed we capture it and use it again. And we are talking about green hydrogen that is not made from natural gas but hydrogen made from renewables via electrolisis.
Synthetic fuels are therefore properly carbon zero, sustainable and part of the circular economy. However it will mean flying will cost more. Experts estimate that a flight currently costing £100 will go up to £160 because producing this chemically derived fuel is more expensive than pumping it out of the ground. That is why the aviation industry and the Tory government will resist it.
Now is the time to force the aviation industry to change. Because of Covid the aviation industry is in deep trouble. It is being bailed out by government, but it shouldn’t get something for nothing, there is a clear pathway to achieve net zero. It just needs political will. I think we Liberal Democrats can now bring our net zero target down to 2040.
This is not about dreaming but getting stuff done.
Let me touch on another focus that I have further developed since last year. The role of local government. A large amount of climate action should be delivered locally. As the spokesperson for Climate Action I am chairing our Lib Dem climate cluster. These clusters were originally set up by Vince to coordinate what we are doing in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. But I have widened the remit of my cluster and included councillors. These are now great sessions, because they demonstrate very clearly that our policy is right: Climate Action is driven from the bottom up.
There is a great deal of expertise and realism amongst colleagues in local government. This is not about dreaming but getting stuff done. However there are big barriers that local government faces because so much in this country is centralised in Westminster and Whitehall.
So many climate initiatives we want to deliver locally hit the wall because of national planning policies, national decisions about transport infrastructure or industry standards for waste management, to name a few.
What our climate cluster discussions tell me is: we Liberal Democrats have to shout more loudly than ever about the imbalance between central and local government. Decision making powers and resources must be devolved to our local communities. Our commitment to Climate Action and our commitment to Local Action must go hand in hand.
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