The centre-right is front and centre in the climate debate

John Flesher

November 15, 2021

This week in Glasgow, politicians and guests from across the world joined us at the Conservative Environment Network for the launch of the Centre-Right Climate Action Declaration.

We heard messages from Boris Johnson and former Norwegian PM Erna Solberg, and rousing speeches from former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed and Jamaican Minister Pearnel Charles Jr., all of them putting forward the case for serious climate action based on economic growth and prosperity instead of degrowth and sacrifice. 

Gatherings and declarations are commonplace at climate COPs, which regularly act as the launch pad for all sorts of new campaigns, but this one was different. Too often, as world leaders get together to negotiate steps to tackle climate change, the centre-right has been silent, or else absent altogether. Not any more. 

This declaration, which sets out a positive pro-market vision for how to tackle climate change and reach net zero by mid-century, is supported by well over 300 national-level legislators from over 50 centre-right parties in 46 countries across every region of the world. Its signatories span the whole breadth of our wing of politics, from conservatives and Christian democrats to classical liberals and free marketeers. Never before has such a diverse range of right-leaning politicians come together to accept the need to act on climate change and, crucially, to set out a principled case for how to do so. 

Why does this matter? For a start, almost a quarter of global CO2 emissions come from countries where centre-right parties are in government, and many more nations have influential centre-right parties in opposition – we simply will not meet the goals of the Paris Agreement without the committed support and action of the right. 

But even more fundamental than that are the solutions that we on the centre-right bring to the table. Whoever is in power, we cannot and will not reach net zero without the private sector. From electric vehicles to nuclear power, and from heat pumps to regenerative agriculture, it is private businesses that are driving the innovation, providing the finance and creating the jobs that we need to decarbonise our economies. 

Uncomfortable though it may be for the ideology of our political opponents, the fundamental truth remains that the knowledge and ingenuity of individuals, companies and markets holds many more of the answers to the barriers we face in cleaning up the global economy than the state does. A top-down, government-dominated approach to this issue is doomed to fail. 

The facts are on our side. The message in the global economy since the Paris Agreement is clear: go green or go home. Technological innovation has gathered pace. Renewables are now delivering the cheapest energy available, smashing all predictions on cost. The cost of batteries has fallen by 90 per cent, in turn driving down the price of electric vehicles.

Capitalism has a proven track record of delivering innovation and cost reductions; something we will no doubt see more of with nascent technologies like green hydrogen and heat pumps. This is not about pleasing Greta Thunberg or surrendering to Insulate Britain; but it is about staying competitive in the 21st Century while delivering the better future people are consistently voting for. 

Those countries which clean up their act will thrive in the new global economy and gain first mover advantages in new key industries. Those who delay and try to hold back the tide will miss out and end up importing the technology anyway, inflicting greater costs on their citizens. 

It is here that the right has a huge role to play too. For many years, those who are responsible for making hard decisions have understandably been worried about the damage that cutting emissions might cause to the well-being of their constituents. The solutions on offer from many on the left (cutting back, degrowth, doing less, taxing more) have never been palatable for ordinary people and those they elect into office, not to mention their impact on society. 

The approach envisaged by this declaration is drastically different. Our fundamental message is that legislators must work with the grain of consumer choice and deploy the power of the free market rather than try to suppress it. Done right, this is the recipe for an approach that cuts emissions and maintains popular support for doing so. 

Every country necessarily has different circumstances and different plans for a greener future, but what unites the supporters of this declaration is our recognition of the realities of science and economics. This issue is too important to allow ideology to threaten progress – our political tradition has succeeded before we work with the world as it is rather than how we would like it to be, and climate change is no different. 

The Centre-Right Climate Action Declaration will not solve climate change, but it is a meaningful commitment on the part of those with the motivation and the solutions to act. While we may have hidden in the background before; now we’re here to play our part. The future of the planet really does depend on it. 

Author

  • John Flesher is Head of International Programmes at the Conservative Environment Network. Follow him on Twitter @johnflesher90

Written by John Flesher

John Flesher is Head of International Programmes at the Conservative Environment Network. Follow him on Twitter @johnflesher90

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