Hurrah for a government green U-turn

Its not just welfare cuts the government has backed down on. Matthew Farrow EIC's chief executive is relieved to help bring about a change of mind on a progressive green policy.

Most surprising fact I learnt recently: Kazakhstan has its own emissions trading scheme.  I found this out when I was on a recent visit to Moscow as part of the work we do at the Environmental Industries Commission to help the UK environmental sector exploit opportunities in overseas markets.

I had last been in Russia in 2009, meeting with the Russian equivalent of the CBI in the run up to the Copenhagen climate summit. It was just after the 2007/8 global crash and the Russian economy was not in a good place – I remember the Moscow skyline studded with half built skyscrapers where construction had been abandoned after the developers had gone bust. While there was some recognition that in areas such as energy efficiency there were opportunities to cut costs and carbon, there was little enthusiasm and environment was a long way down the list of priorities of Russian business.

Seven years on, the Russian economy is still far from rosy due to low oil prices and western sanctions, but there is more interest in matters environmental.  This is largely because the Russian government, somewhat counter-intuitively, has decided to start to clean up its act on green issues.  At the Paris CoP Summit Russia committed to toughen up its national emissions reduction targets and I met Economic Ministry officials working on the national action plan needed to deliver these targets.  A raft of regulations are being drawn up, including some crude  producer responsibility taxes, the introduction of the ‘best available technology’ concept used in EU environmental regulation, a target for phasing out flaring in the gas sector and potentially a carbon tax or trading scheme.  

I met with a range of Russian businessmen, NGOs and government officials, and was reminded how in so many countries I visit the UK is admired as a leader in environmental policy.  There was real interest in our experience of introducing environmental legislation.  This is nice to hear in itself but also opens opportunities for UK environmental consultancy firms in particular.

All of which makes it even more frustrating that we are in danger of losing this progressive reputation.  Russian officials are drafting laws to require mandatory GHG reporting by large corporates, and quizzed me on how the UK had gone about this, yet on my return to London I was co-signing a letter, urging our own Government not to abandon this very policy (thankfully lobbying by EIC and others did persuade the Government not to go down this path).  And all green entrepreneurs, regardless of the specific environmental market they are involved with, will have comparable examples where policies that were world-leading when they were introduced, have been axed or are under threat.  

Progressive green policies are worth introducing for their own sake, but at a time when the Chancellor has set an export value of £1trillion we can’t afford to be undermining the existing advantages we have in a global green market of enormous potential.