Joe Porter: Conservatives need to take climate change more seriously

Earlier this month, an international, multilateral deal was finally reached after the long Climate Change talks in Paris. This marked a monumental moment in the debate around protecting our planet.

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Earlier this month, an international, multilateral deal was finally reached after the long Climate Change talks in Paris. This marked a monumental moment in the debate around protecting our planet.

I know a lot of people who believe that we face a choice: a prosperous economy or preserving our environment. I completely disagree. We need a healthy environment for a stronger economy. Without the natural environment, there can be no economy. As Conservatives – the party of economic competence – this should be a good reason for us to place a monetary value on natural capital.

Natural assets such as peat bogs, woodlands, water supplies, pollinators, soil and the air we breathe are estimated to be worth £1.5 trillion to the UK economy. Protecting the environment is a fundamental part of our health, wealth and security.

To return to the COP21 talks – which will no doubt shape history – climate change directly affects those assets that we often take for granted. The detailed outcome of the global climate deal is not by any means perfect for everyone, but mainly includes: keeping global temperatures well below 2.0C above pre-industrial times; limiting greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally; reviewing each country's contribution to reducing emissions every five years; and rich countries agreeing to help poorer nations by providing ‘climate finance’ to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

We need to tackle climate change head on. We see the effects of climate change in our everyday lives. The Environment Secretary Liz Truss recently said that climate change "potentially" caused the floods affecting England, Scotland and Wales. We are experiencing drier summers and wetter winters. One of the reasons for the latter is that warmer air holds more water, meaning that the amount of rain dropped during individual storms can increase. Whilst I recognise that scientists cannot have the monopoly over every issue, 97% of them hold the consensus that global warming is unequivocal due to human activity since the industrial revolution.

Annual temperatures are predicted to rise by 2C to 5C by 2080 under the current status quo, based on a medium emissions scenario. Whilst it would be difficult to feel the effects of average temperature change in your own everyday routine, the experts claim that we will in a century from now.

In terms of rising sea levels, we are expecting a rise of between 13cm and 76cm for the UK by 2095. In addition, the number of extreme high sea-level events on the south coast of England could become between 10 and 1,800 times more common by 2100.

Not having a healthy environment has big implications for our health services too. Increased temperatures will mean a rise in heat-related mortality of 70% by the 2020s. Back in 2003, over 52,000 Europeans died – including 2,139 deaths in England and Wales – from heat during the summer, making the heat wave one of the deadliest climate-related disasters in Western history. As many of us know though, cold kills people more people than heat in the UK so due to milder winters we could see the level of cold-related mortality fall.

Climate change will affect everyone’s cost of living, for instance, food prices will (eventually after the current period of very low inflation has ended) rise. After all, our big consumer demands for healthier diets are already resulting in higher production costs for the food industry. The changes in agriculture could make the cultivation of some traditional crops more difficult. But, as former Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman pointed out in 2012, this could present an opportunity for farmers to grow more grapes, peaches, almonds, maize and sunflowers!

Let’s also not forget the affect climate change will have on our beautiful British wildlife which has a massive cultural and economic value to our country. Many species struggle to adapt to such rapid changes. Butterflies are a sad example of this because they have suffered a 76% decline over the last 40 years as result of climate change. Due to their sensitivity, they are the best indicator of whether an environment is healthy or not. The potentially larger storms and increases in global temperature are bound to negatively affect ecosystems as an imbalance between predators and their prey will be created.

We therefore have to think about future generations and what other long-term effects it might potentially have on the UK and the rest of the planet. Paris is hopefully the catalyst towards a low-carbon future that is both pro-business and pro-environment. Most importantly of all, though it will help to ensure a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

The ultimate key to tackling or mitigating the effects of climate change is not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is also about incentivising individual consumers to make smarter and greener choices. I believe that, unlike the central state solutions of the left, this is more practical, effective and realistic as we need to fundamentally change our behaviour, rather than to radically overhaul our global capitalist economic system.

As Conservatives, let’s wake up and take climate change more seriously. As our Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher once remarked: “We must remember our duty to nature before it is too late.” Let’s get businesses, individuals, communities, faith organisations and all levels of government working together to tackle this fundamental issue of our time. This might be a moral issue currently dominated by the fringes of the left, but, as a party of government, we need to be the practical and realistic voice of reason. Let’s make Lady Thatcher proud and provide the statesmanship of a rare order that others can’t offer in this debate.

Joe Porter is a parish councillor in Staffordshire Moorlands and Chairman of Staffordshire Moorlands Conservative Future. He studies ‘Marketing & Politics’ at Keele University, where he is a Trustee of Keele Student Union. He has just completed a module on ‘Environmental Politics & Policy’, and explored free market environmentalism.

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  • commented 2015-12-23 19:38:51 +0000
    This is all well and good but how do you propose the Conservative government tackles climate change (bearing in mind the cuts to renewable energy subsidies)?