As part of EEF's Green and Growth campaign, we held a joint fringe event in conjunction with the Fabian Society at this week's Lib Dem party conference in Birmingham. The event's title was ‘Have we got the balance right on climate change policy?' and attracted an interesting panel including Duncan Hames MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne; Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs; Maria McCaffrey, Chief Executive of RenewableUK and EEF's Director of Policy & External Affairs, Steve Radley – all ably chaired by Ed Gill, Head of Public Affairs at Good Energy.
Mark Littlewood was critical of new policies aimed at tackling emissions being overlaid on top of existing policies that were already in place. He was also highly critical of the EU ETS, describing it as a ‘big failure'. He suggested the UK should introduce a single ‘carbon tax' approach to replace the litany of carrots and sticks that are currently in place.
Maria McCaffrey emphasised that renewables benefit industry, and that it's not an either/or question of using them. She highlighted that the UK is already a leader in onshore wind, but that we missed out on leading the way on offshore wind, where we have big potential for growth. She also said there was the potential to see 90,000 new jobs being created in the renewables sector over the next few years.
Steve Radley made some comments about EEF's Green and Growth interim report, as well as figures from EEF's recent survey demonstrating that manufacturers already have significant green ambitions, but that around two thirds of those surveyed are very concerned about the current approach to energy and climate change policy. He also pointed out that the UK has fierce international competition for its green industries, as lots of other countries have green ambitions, and that he found it hard to see where as many as 90,000 extra jobs would come from. Other issues he raised included industry's need for certainty in electricity market reforms. However, he agreed with Maria McCaffrey's point that the UK has missed the boat on some greener technologies.
Duncan Hames answered that the UK has ‘not yet' achieved the right balance on climate change policy. He raised the issue of carbon flight as a significant international problem in meeting the aims of the UK's carbon budget. He argued the electricity market reforms were aimed at providing more stability in the market, but that policies need to look at lowering the costs of the low carbon transition.
After these initial statements the chair opened up the discussion to the rest of the room for a Q&A session, and a number of interesting points were made on industry issues.
In response to some of the issues raised, Mark Littlewood and Steve Radley both stated their scepticism about the government trying to ‘pick winners' in terms of sectors. Duncan Hames picked up on a point about the need for industry to develop more efficiency, arguing that the fuel combustion engine is very inefficient and that there was room for improvement in moving on from such decades-old technology. Later Maria McCaffrey added that Renewable UK had been heartened by a number of energy intensive companies had been making efforts to be more energy efficient, and also highlighted the fact that some of these companies are crucial to supplying the parts that make renewable technology possible.
Mark Littlewood suggested that there was ‘no prospect whatsoever' of the UK meeting its carbon reduction targets, but added that if the government is serious about this then it has to be brutal in tackling international problems such as carbon flight. Duncan Hames stated that the UK needed to be prepared to lead the international debate on this, but that the UK couldn't delay its own green ambitions just because there's an assumption that the international community will not follow suit.
Maria McCaffrey also argued that just because the UK's targets appear daunting that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to achieve them. However, Steve Radley later pointed out that the UK has the toughest emissions targets in the world, but that just having these won't necessarily lead to a green economy. Maria McCaffrey and Steve Radley later added that upskilling of the workforce in this sector was crucial.
The event proved to be a useful and engaging debate covering some of the energy and climate change policy issues faced by industry. EEF and the Fabian Society will also be hosting a similar event at the Labour party conference next week with Shadow Energy Minister Luciana Berger. This will be followed up the week after by a joint EEF/Enterprise Forum fringe debate at the Conservative conference, featuring Energy Minister Greg Barker MP on the panel. If you would like any more information about these events or are interested in attending please get in touch with Rocky Lorusso on firstname.lastname@example.org