George Freeman highlights the need to embrace innovation, science and good business to tackle the issue of climate change

1st May 2019

George Freeman welcomes the priority given by the Government to tackling climate change and highlights the important role to be played by innovation, science and good business to develop the new technologies needed.

I welcome this debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) and all who have spoken today in the spirit of cross-party urgency.

I welcome, too, the chance to highlight the importance of this issue at the heart of this Government and the urgency of us all working together—across party, across generations and across these Houses—in the interests of the next generation, who in much of our politics feel pretty dispossessed at present. Secondly, I want to highlight the importance of innovation, science and good business and insist that we do not pursue this in an anti-business spirit but instead harness the power of the market to help us solve these problems. Thirdly, I want to insist—not in any spirit of partisanship but merely to contribute to the debate going on on this side of the House for the heart and soul of conservatism, a debate similar to that on the Opposition side of the House—that good environmental stewardship and policy is central to good one-nation conservatism.

Before coming to this House I was lucky enough to have a career in the field of science and innovation, founding and financing companies with incredibly exciting solutions to some of the great, grand challenges we face, mainly in the field of medical, clean tech and agri-tech, and as an MP I have been lucky enough to work in the Department of Energy and Climate Change and as Life Sciences Minister. It is important that we all agree that there is an environmental emergency in the world, and that we send the message that we get it. It is also important that we admit that this is very complex and that, as the great David Attenborough himself put it to me, we should be every bit as worried about biodiversity and the damage to habitats around the world as about the impact of climate change and the importance of mitigating it. The truth is this problem is being driven across the world by massive industrialisation, deforestation and urbanisation, and those seeing their life chances transformed by the agricultural and industrial revolutions driving those changes do not want us in the west to hold back their prosperity; instead they want us to reach out and help them deliver a model of clean green growth.

I absolutely agree with those who suggested this should also be at the heart of our DFID strategy. I would like a much more muscular alignment of our aid, trade and security, including our biosecurity, because economic resilience is key to prosperity around the world.

Secondly, on science and innovation, I want to pay tribute to some of those who have not just jumped on the bandwagon but have spent their careers in science trying to develop the science behind this important debate. I am thinking of those at the British Antarctic Survey, the scientists I have been lucky enough to meet and work with at Cambridge and the University of East Anglia, and those who have been working on battery technology, which holds the key to unlocking the power of electricity and electric sustainable power. I am thinking, too, of those in agri-tech; I was lucky enough to launch the agri-tech strategy, and incredible work is going on to reduce plastics, water and soil impact in modern farming. I am thinking of those in the automotive and aerospace industries; I recently visited Lotus in Norfolk, which has developed a Formula 1 car powered by biofuel, made by genetically modified bugs breaking down agricultural waste. This is great science holding great potential for our green economy. Indeed, the aerospace industry is currently embarked on taking 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide out of its footprint. Let us not criticise those on the cutting edge of trying to develop the technologies, and let us neither be complacent.

Thirdly, on the Conservative party’s track record and legacy, may I support the Secretary of State in his work and remind him and my colleagues on this side of the House that it was this party that led the first Clean Air Acts, it was this party’s leader Lady Thatcher who first put this challenge on the agenda of global leaders, and it was this party that, through its values of stewardship, conservation, incentives and responsibility and its belief in prosperity—in giving and taking responsibility and in the principle of mutuality and harnessing rewards and incentives—has used the market to drive an economics of shared values as much as of share value?

This party understands how we achieve green growth and, at the risk of going all Monty Python on you, Mr Speaker, and asking “What have the Conservatives ever done for the environment?” let me say that this year we have reached a high in renewable energy, we are reducing emissions faster than any other G20 nation, and we have put £92 billion into clean energy and created 400,000 jobs. I do not mean to be complacent for a moment but let us inspire the next generation by resisting tribal politics, being led by science and being inspired by what innovation can achieve.



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