We need a positive environmental agenda, says MP

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for a positive agenda to protect the environment and tackle climate change and not one that relies on “bullying” people through taxation and regulation.

Mr Herbert was speaking on the BBC's Politics Show South programme on Sunday (6 December) ahead of this week's UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

The Shadow Environment Secretary said: "What we need to do is make sure that the changes that politicians talk about at Copenhagen can be translated into people's lives.

"I think that what we need to look much more at is how we can incentivise and motivate people to do the right thing and be careful about an agenda that appears to beat them up with taxation or regulation.

"At the end of the day, it's the individual changes that people will make in their lives that will make the real difference."

Mr Herbert called for a "positive environmentalism" with initiatives that encourage people to recycle more of their household waste and invest in home insulation and energy efficiency.

The MP paid tribute to the "brilliant" Greening Campaign, now with several branches in West Sussex, which has encouraged local communities to work together to reduce their carbon footprint.

He added: "The campaign is spreading across the country and I've been very strongly supporting it in my own constituency because what it enables people to do is realise how they can save money but also how they can make a difference to the overall scheme of things.  Otherwise, people think it's so big, it's so hopeless and ask: can I actually do something?  They can and Government can help them."

Referring to Conservative proposals to provide up to £6,500 worth of home insulation improvements, enabling households to reduce their gas and electricity bills, Mr Herbert said: "We've suggested that if we can give people the savings that they will make from energy efficiency in advance, if we can give them the cheque up front, then they can invest in those things.  With energy efficiency your bills come down so what you do is capture that saving.  Everybody wins.  People's energy bills are lower and the Government has encouraged people to do things in their homes that will be energy efficient.

"It's that kind of innovative thinking that's been hugely welcomed by green groups and will help people to go green but not bully them to go green."

Asked whether major developing countries like India and China would be able to cut emissions and pursue growth at the same time, Mr Herbert said: "Well, remember that one of the significant changes now is that India and China are joining in on the call for agreement at Copenhagen.  I hope that it will be pulled off in the actual detail but they are taking action to deal with dangerous climate change in their own countries because they know perfectly well that they'll be affected.  India knows this very well.  They are already seeing climate changes which will affect their ability to grow food.  They know perfectly well that this issue is important.

"But they can still pursue growth.  You can have green growth.  Remember that green technology can create jobs too.  That is the sustainable future.  What we need to point to is the ‘good future'.  The good future for them and for us.  We have all learnt that you have got to live within your economic means.  But, actually, you have got to live within your environmental means too.

"Developing countries won't have a good future if they pursue growth that isn't in the end sustainable because it depletes their resources or damages their environment.  They are very conscious of this."

Mr Herbert said that there was now a cross-party consensus on the global warming issue and that David Cameron was "absolutely right" to have led the Conservatives onto its ‘blue-green' agenda when he became leader in 2005.

Sunday's Politics Show South programme was broadcast from Alresford Golf Club in Hampshire.



Notes for Editors

1. To watch the Politics Show South programme, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00pfmkv/The_Politics_Show_South_06_12_2009/ (regional programme starts 31:30)

2. For more information on the Greening Campaign, visit http://www.greening-campaign.co.uk/index.html.

Christopher N Howarth