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A response to Lord Lawson

    Following on from last month's online debate "Is there a valid economic case for 'going green' in an 'age of austerity'?", Tim Yeo MP hits back at Lord Lawson on the environment. 

    Fossil fuels may be superficially cheap, but they actually come at a heavy price. It is extraordinary that you cite the costs of slower economic growth, but ignore the much greater human, economic and ecological costs of climate change. The fact that we ignore these costs is the world’s greatest market failure. If we were to price in the true costs of CO2 pollution, even expensive low-carbon generation would look attractive.

    The cost of many low-carbon technologies seems higher than fossil fuel generation, but fossil fuels continue to receive over $400 billion in subsidies each year and have been supported by governments for over a century. Let us not pretend that they compete in a free market.

    True, the ill effects of Nigel Lawson’s dirty diet of oil and coal may not be immediately apparent; the temptation to feed our addiction to cheap conventional energy is hard to break. But in the long term, creating a low-carbon energy mix is a much healthier option. Investing in renewables, CCS and nuclear will not only improve the UK’s energy security and guard against rising fossil fuel prices, it could also help to rebalance the economy and create jobs if we can create the right conditions for low-carbon companies to flourish.

    So let us consider the opportunities. You helpfully remind me that there is a world outside the EU, but you seem to imagine that countries like China are doing nothing. On the contrary, the Chinese consider the green economy a chance to make a technological leapfrog and capture the markets of the future.

    My Committee has just returned from China, where investment in a low-carbon economy is growing at lightning speed. We saw efforts in energy efficiency, low-carbon generation, clean buildings and green vehicles. The expansion of coal continues, but this is a country that plans a much greener future.

    So why are the Chinese investing so much? Partly it’s because climate change is a risk, but mostly because they believe that growth depends on a low-carbon economy. For now, British companies are at the front of the pack, helping to build that future. By keeping our own green development on track we can lead the world in the race for a green future, rather than be left looking back at the smoggy glory of our polluting past.

    If going green is a fashion, then I would much rather be a trend-setter than behind the times.


    To comment, head over to our debate 'Is there a valid economic case for 'going green' in an 'age of austerity'?

    Tim Yeo has been MP for South Suffolk since 1983