Extract from the Introduction

Chapter 1 New Directions:

Introduction to The Green Book
Duncan Brack, Paul Burall, Neil Stockley and Mike Tuffrey

This book presents the case for the Liberal Democrats to adopt a fundamentally different approach to economic and social policy – now, in government, for the coming general election, and beyond. We believe that the party must put centre stage the need to preserve the natural world on which our society and economy depends for its health, well-being and prosperity. We argue this for three reasons.

First, because low-carbon and environmental investment offers the UK a chance to create new jobs and prosperity – a route out of recession and towards a modern and competitive economy. Green technology, infrastructure and services companies now account for almost 10per cent of UK GDP and employ almost a million people. Even throughout the depths of the recession, they have grown between 4 and 5 per cent every year. Britain’s real strengths in technologies such as offshore wind and marine renewables, and in green finance, mean that the country is well placed to compete in new international markets; these sectors are expanding much faster than the sluggish global average. No other sectors are as well placed to give the economy the boost it needs in the short term and the competitive strength it needs in the long term.

Second, because environmental challenges, particularly those of climate change and finite limits on natural resources, are more serious and more urgent than most people think. There is no real chance that the world’s nations will succeed in limiting temperature rise above pre-industrial levels to the 2¼C that scientists say marks the boundary between dangerous and very dangerous climate change. Britain’s economy and society will have to adapt, in quite radical ways; if we start now the process will be more gradual, less costly and less disruptive. To believe that the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy can be put off until the country’s economic performance is stronger is not just short-sighted, it is counterproductive: all this does is store up more costs for the future and delay the recovery by ignoring a powerful instrument for economic revival.

Third, because green policies are a recognised strength of the party and, especially after a period in coalition, offer a clear distinguishing issue between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. At the next election the party will face the challenge of showing what difference it has made to government – never an easy task, as junior coalition partners elsewhere have found. But high-profile disagreements between Liberal Democrat and Conservative ministers over a wide range of environmental issues leave little doubt about the coalition partners’ differences. Liberal Democrats need a more radical approach to environmental policy, one that maintains our political strength as the greenest of the three main parties and provides us with distinctive policies and messages for building long-term economic prosperity. We need to stop treating ‘the environment’ as a separate issue and to stop focusing our green thinking only on energy or conservation policies, vital as they are. We need to consider economic, environmental and social policies as an integrated whole.

 

Our alternative vision: Green Liberalism

Most people realise that the last Labour government made serious mistakes in managing the economy; they want to support a party that spells out what it will take to get the economy on the right track in a way that is fair to all.

We believe that short-term fixes, such as blanket deregulation or ever more austerity, fail to face the reality of a global economy that has turned decisively to Britain’s disadvantage. Rising energy costs, increased raw material prices, growing competition, even fears over food security, all point to a more serious economic challenge than has yet been recognised.

We believe that there is an alternative, based on Green Liberalism. The policy ideas set out by the contributors to The Green Book aim to foster private investment in low-carbon infrastructure, use regulation and taxation to empower businesses, consumers and communities to behave sustainably, value natural resources, recognise that pollution damages human health, promote new business models which minimise energy and resource use, are open and constructive to international alliances, especially through the EU, and adapt to the reality of climate change while continuing to mitigate its worst effects. In short, they present an agenda for a government that puts the long-term interests of citizens at its heart.

New directions – a summary

The separate chapters in this book each make the case for change; they put forward proposals for the new directions that Liberal Democrats should promote in government and argue for at the next election. Here we draw together the arguments they collectively build up, in five main areas.

Modernising the economy and building long-term resilience:
To secure Britain's future prosperity, we need a more robust economic model, less exposed to volatile and increasingly expensive imported raw materials and energy; a modern ‘circular economy' based on zero waste and closed-loop production processes; and businesses that embrace the spur to innovation that government regulation and standard-setting can bring.

Rebuilding infrastructure and regenerating communities:
Contributors argue for a new approach to economic prosperity, recognising that a warming planet threatens the economy and the country's productive capacity, starting with a dramatic improvement in energy efficiency and a renewal of energy infrastructure based on renewables, carbon capture and storage for gas and a significant increase in decentralised and community-based efficient generation and new electricity interconnections with our European neighbours.

Putting citizens and consumers the heart of Green Liberalism:
The natural environment and building a resilient economy and a fairer society will not happen unless individuals that are enabled to commit to changes in their own lifestyles. The book proposes many different ways in which to empower consumers, including promoting the potential for information technology, digital and web media to open up access to information; improving product and service labelling with embedded carbon and full lifetime use costs; steadily increasing product standards; using a levy on advertising to fund media campaigns that encourage sustainable living; and the same weight to the new well-being indicators as it currently does to GDP.

Combating market failure and taxing pollution:
The contributors to this book argue that a sustainable market economy requires government intervention through setting standards; providing fiscal signals to promote behaviour that protects the environment; and extending producer liability. This includes a new approach to regulation, sweeping away anti-green rules that damage the economy (a ‘green tape challenge') while progressively tightening product and service energy efficiency standards and extending the polluter pays principle to establish legal liability for long-term health damage.

Reforming national government and making the best use of international alliances:
Contributors argue for four changes to the way in which Britain is governed: the creation of a single government department to champion sustainable development; the integration of long-term environmental costs into all major government decisions, including assessments of the impacts on health and social care costs; a fundamental rebalancing of power and responsibility to local, regional and devolved government; and, finally, a positive and engaged approach to international relations in recognition of the fact that environmental damage from pollution and greenhouse gas emissions is no respecter of national boundaries.