We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

SLD conference: Ed Davey speech

March 3, 2012 12:42 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Conference, I want to start my first speech to a Liberal Democrat conference since becoming Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, by making one thing absolutely clear:

I am immensely proud of the work done on energy and climate change by our fellow Liberal Democrat, Chris Huhne. And our party should be proud of Chris' achievements.

One month into the job, I now understand even more deeply than before what fabulous work Chris did to take forward the Liberal Democrats' pioneering and longstanding commitment to the environment. To make our Coalition the greenest Government ever.

From the Green Deal to the Green Investment Bank. From wind energy to wave power. From British leadership in the EU to British and EU leadership at the Durban climate change talks.

Chris achieved more in his 20 months on energy and climate change than any other British Minister managed in the last 20 years.

So I have a hard act to follow.

But you know one thing political commentators often forget about political parties - and especially this party. We are like a strong family. No - we are a strong family. Whether times are good or whether times are tough, we come together.

So I'd better warn you - have your handkerchiefs ready - this is going to get even more sentimental now.

Because I want to talk about myself, about our party, about energy and climate change policy and about Scotland, through the prismatic theme of the family - our Liberal Democrat family, our British family and our global family.

So a little about me. I applied to work for the party soon after leaving university. While I'd voted Alliance in my first General Election in 1987, I wasn't yet a member of the party. In fact, I'd often been marked down as a member of the Green Party at University because I was active in a student group called Green Action.

But I was far more interested in the hard-nosed reality of green economics than my Green Party friends. Plus some of them had deeply illiberal tendencies, so I never joined them. .

Instead, in 1988, attracted to work for the party, I entered the Liberal Democrat Whips Office in the Commons for my interview - in front of a scarey panel: the late and very great Nancy Seear. The Deputy Leader of the Party, Alan Beith. And the Chief Whip - a certain Jim Wallace.

I must have pulled the wool over their eyes, because they gave me the job, as the party's Economics Adviser.
And, inspired by Paddy Ashdown's liberalism, I joined the party one month later.

Unfortunately, at the time few outside the party were yet being inspired by Paddy.

We were 4% in the opinion polls.

In fact, in Scotland, we were officially an "asterisk" our vote was so low - even though most of our MPs then were Scottish.

And in May 1989, we were beaten by the Greens into 4th place in the European elections.

So, it was clear to me, from the start, I'd made a great career choice.

But like we all are, I was really interested in and motivated by our values. And having become the party's economics adviser, I worked to deliver a sustainable economics policy with everyone from Paddy to Alan, from Jim to Malcolm.

And I also worked with the party's then environment adviser, a certain Norman Baker. And along with Simon Hughes we wrote a radical document entitled "What price our planet?" - marrying the environment and economics.

As we all struggled together, to build our party back up again after the low point of 1988 and 1989, our party's unique blend of Liberal values could not have been more important. Including the fact that our commitment to the environment is in our family's DNA.

And Liberal Democrat family members have led and delivered time and again on the environment. Across the UK. Long before this Coalition.

Above all, in councils - from cycling to recycling, from energy insulation to energy innovations, our councillors led the way. A Liberal Democrat local authority means the environment is taken seriously in your area.

In the Scottish Government - when Liberal Democrat Ministers like Jim and Nicol helped prime and boost the Scottish renewables industry, setting the first ever targets for Scottish renewables. Without which we would never be where we are today.

And at the European level - where Liberal Democrat MEPs have championed European legislation on everything from energy efficiency to EU-wide renewable targets that have now forced not just the UK but other Member States to get real on clean energy.

So yes, to have Cabinet responsibility for energy and climate change for our party and our country is, for me, my dream job.

But I know that I am part of a team and more importantly part of a family - past, present and future - whose mission is to deliver the low carbon future we know is needed.

So let me tell you the real difference it makes for the environment having Liberal Democrats in the UK's Westminster Coalition.

First, our radical new approach to energy efficiency.

Now everyone knows saving energy is the cheapest and quickest way to achieve our three goals of energy security, affordable bills and low carbon.

The win-win-win of warmer homes, lower bills and less pollution is hardly news. There have, after all, been plenty of Government insulating schemes in the past.

No, our Liberal Democrat claim is not that we're the first to have recognised the potential of energy efficiency.

Our claim is that we will be the first Government in history to embed energy efficiency across our whole energy policy.

The first Government to seek to make reducing energy demand at least as important as how we increase supply.

The first Government to develop a market-based, self-financing scheme so every family and every home across Britain can take part in our energy efficiency drive.

When the Green Deal is launched later this year, and as it rolls out across next year and beyond, it gives you, and every Focus editor and every leaflet deliverer the chance not just to talk about the environment but to show every household how they can act.

For the Green Deal can help us tackle Britain's energy wasting polluting housing stock. We have the oldest and least efficient housing stock in Europe.

As Chris used to say, we use more energy heating our homes than Sweden - yet their average temperature is 5 degrees colder.

With the Green Deal, householders can make their homes warmer - at no upfront cost to them. Firms will help them cut their electricity and gas bills - getting their money back from future savings on future energy bills.

What's really clever, thanks to the Energy Act 2011, the firms get their money back from whoever lives at the home that's been insulated - even if the original tenant or owner has moved on.

This new system tackles the market failure that previous governments just ignored.

In fact, what we're doing is to create a whole new market - with a Green Deal business model that can live without subsidy or regulation. That can attract new businesses to take-on existing energy suppliers, opening up real competition in reducing energy demand.

To drive innovation. Drive up green jobs. And drive down energy bills.

Make no mistake. This is so radical that it will be really difficult. The lobbying against it. The struggling to stop it. The vested interests who hate it.

Getting the Green Deal going is and will be a major challenge. But I couldn't be more personally committed to seeing it through.

So today I'm giving notice.

To every NGO who wants to tackle climate change.

To every candidate, councillor or council who says they want a greener future.

And to every member of our party.

Later this year - but especially next year - this is your chance.

To get serious about saving energy, saving the planet and saving people money.

On energy efficiency, I want to make one more pledge - this time to business. For when I think of energy efficiency, I don't just think of people's homes. I think of industry and commerce too.

Some in business have long embraced this money saving opportunity - but I know we can do so much more together. And in the weeks and months ahead, I want to work hard with business, to see how we can cut their energy bills with new approaches to energy efficiency.

Yet Conference, however successful we are in energy efficiency - I have to tell you, that won't be enough.

To tackle climate change - and to protect our country from volatile oil and gas prices - we need to change the way we produce electricity.

We will actually need to increase electricity production - because we also need to shift from polluting petrol and diesel transport to cleaner electric vehicles.

And of course we will also need to decarbonise electricity. Because if we generate electricity more cleanly, we will go a long way to meeting our 2050 emission reduction targets.

And in practice that means three things.

First, renewables like wind, marine, solar, tidal, hydro, bioenergy, heat pumps and so on.

Second, new nuclear. But without public subsidy and with guaranteed financial provisions for future decommissioning.

And third, clean coal and clean gas - delivered by carbon capture and storage. CCS.

What's been quite remarkable in my first month is how many people seem to think that their low carbon energy technology is the only one that matters. The only one that can save us.

It's either renewables. Or nuclear. Or CCS.

So for some, onshore wind subsidies are wrong - because of shale gas.

For others, nuclear is just not needed - because we have so many renewables.

And for others, gas is just another polluting fossil fuel - when we have clean nuclear.

Well, I have to give you a very unsexy, dull and boringly cautious message:

we need to try every low carbon technology we can get our hands on.

And the fundamental reason is this: every low carbon technology has its risks.

The future is not certain.

And the risk of dangerous climate change is just too great.

In common parlance - when you're planning for the future, you don't put all your eggs in one basket.

By subsidising renewables, we are seeing the costs of wind and solar tumble. And I am sure they will go down much more.

And by being open to different low carbon technologies like nuclear and CCS, we are creating the biggest technology race and competition of recent times.

That's what our Electricity Market Reform proposals are all about.

That's what the Green Investment Bank will help deliver.

And it's what our competition for carbon capture and storage projects will help make happen.

I'd like to say a little more about CCS - because it too often gets overlooked in our debates.

I know there was disappointment over the decision not to proceed with Longannet, because it would have been too expensive - but Longannet did make some real progress. It showed that commercial scale CCS is technically feasible - and for the first time made complete engineering designs for end-to-end CCS freely available for the whole world to see.

As we approach the revised competition for CCS - which I hope to announce later this Spring - I hope Scottish projects like Peterhead will come forward to compete.

Already we have invested in Doosan Babcock's oxyfuel pilot project at Renfrew

CCS is a huge investment even for a large economy like the UK's. In these difficult times, to put £1 billion into a competition for such a development shows we are serious. The UK Government has found the cash and we will proceed with CCS.

Like our massive investment in renewables, we believe it is simply irresponsible and reckless to do otherwise.

Now as energy Minister, I'm also conscious that we are some way off our low carbon economy. In other words, we still depend on unabated coal, oil and gas, and will do for quite a few years.

And when we are successful with carbon capture and storage, we will be able to exploit these resources for many many more years. In the low carbon future.

And that means we have to think about, work for and nurture these industries too.

So, for example, on oil and gas. I will be working with George Osbourne and Vince Cable, to make sure our growth strategy considers their needs too. From this budget on.

From new production and exploration to the important decommissioning industry, it's vital our oil and gas regimes in the UK are and are seen to be stable and attractive for investment.

Let me briefly return to renewables - where stability has already brought huge investment and can bring even more in the years ahead.

Because I believe renewables are a classic case of how England and Scotland need each other - indeed, how devolution in the union has worked and is the best future for us all.

Meeting our renewables target of 15% of energy by 2020 for the UK is a tough ask already.

If England has to do it for itself, by itself, it will probably be even tougher - given Scotland has relatively more renewable sources.

Yet the economics of renewables is that Scotland needs English consumers to help pay for the renewables, as the technology develops.

The truth is, we need each other.

Sometimes, you know, the debate in England about Scottish independence annoys me and saddens me.

For there are voices in England - let's be frank - who either seem indifferent to the idea of Scotland separating from the union. Or worse, who seem to relish the idea.

Speaking as an English MP, I want to make it crystal clear that I reject such views. I care deeply about the union, and believe in their hearts the vast majority of English people care deeply too.

And not because of the economics - the currency, the central bank. Or because I think we need stable integrated energy markets - as that works in our mutual interest. Or because we need to tackle climate change together, not separated.

Or indeed, because of some other rationale, some policy, some pounds shillings and pence argument.

I really care about the union - because it's my family.

Just like the Liberal Democrats, where I served under Scottish Leaders, was given my first job by a great Scottish MP or have made lifelong party friends.

You know, a few years ago, a certain Liam McArthur lodged with me and I've still got some of his university junk in my attic.

You see, this debate for me, as an Englishman, isn't about facts and figures. It's about emotion. It's about kith and kin. It's about what really matters.

Remember last year. When the Queen went to the Republic of Ireland. When somehow the hurt, the suspicion, the misunderstanding of decades was magically put to rest. To me, that was a family coming together.

And our union has something very special - that we must recognise, on both sides of the border, before it's too late.

Being British, as an Englishman, I see Scots not as distant cousins but as blood brothers. I don't want to see my family broken up.

Conference, in a world that is coming closer together. In a world that is more energy interdependent than ever. In a world that must face the threat of climate change together.

I think we should stick together. Thank you.