This speech was given at the Conservative Environment Network's Sam Barker Memorial Lecture, 28/3/2023: https://www.cen.uk.com/post/former-chancellor-sajid-javid-mp-calls-for-…
A ‘New Deal’ for Nature’
Benet, thank you for that introduction.
It is an honour to have been invited here to speak today.
Many who join us here tonight will have known Sam personally.
Some of you will have known him as a respected colleague…
Others as a dear friend…
You will all have known him as someone committed to his faith…
And of course, to a special few, as a loving husband; father; and son.
This event is testament to the high esteem and admiration in which Sam was held.
And it is clear that CEN would not be the success it is today, without him.
Although I did not have the pleasure of knowing him personally, I’ve read through some of his work….
And been struck by how much common ground he and I shared.
Unsurprisingly, we both held the firm view that Conservatism and Environmentalism go hand in hand.
After all, it was the Conservative philosopher, Edmund Burke, who famously said:
“Society is a contract. It is a partnership not only between those who are living - but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”
He understood, as all Conservatives should do, that this contract extends to how we conserve the natural world…
And that our responsibility to preserve and replenish the health of the nation, applies to the environment too.
I believe that successive Conservative Governments since 2010 have been delivering on that responsibility.
The UK has been decarbonising faster than any other country in the G20.
Renewable electricity generation has increased five-fold since 2010.
Our emissions have been brought down by almost 50% since 1990…
and ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gasses have been signed into law.
And we know that a national effort on this is not enough.
So, on the world stage, we have brought to bear our diplomatic and convening power, to help secure stronger climate action from the rest of the global community.
90% of countries now have Net Zero targets, up from 30% from when we started our presidency of COP26.
90% of countries have now committed to halt deforestation by 2030.
And more public and private finance than ever before has been mobilised to support developing countries.
Now I don’t say any of this because I need to sell the Conservative Party to this audience.
Although let’s be honest, there have been some times recently where our self-confidence and competence has been a little shaky.
And I’m sure many of you would have liked to have seen even more action on the environment, given the scale of the challenge.
But let me remind you of this:
None of this was a given.
These would be huge achievements during any period.
Not least in a decade that came in the wake of a major financial crisis…
that saw division in our Union…
disruption in our relationship with the European Union…
multiple changes of political leadership…
and growing challenges to the rules-based international order…
Amidst all of that, we still made the choice to prioritise our stewardship of the environment.
Many other countries and governments did not make that choice.
So, whatever happens at the next election, or the election after that…
I believe we will be able to look back and take pride in the actions we have taken.
And it’s thanks to many of you in this room that we can.
So - thank you.
Now, of course this is no time for a victory lap.
It is just the start of another lap, in our race against the clock.
We still face what is the pre-eminent challenge of our time.
Our planet’s average temperature is already 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels…
and the last seven years have been the warmest on record.
While the COP26 commitments could limit warming to 1.8 degrees by 2100, their actual policies are still only consistent with warming of 2.7 degrees.
This was reinforced once again last week, when the IPCC published a report showing we are approaching “irreversible” levels of heating.
Their message was clear: If we want to have any chance of keeping 1.5 alive, we need to act now.
The risk of catastrophe also applies to our natural world, as the Dasgupta Review - which I championed as Chancellor - made clear.
Ecosystems across the world are at risk of collapse – and that’s what I want to focus my remarks on tonight.
Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history.
one million species face extinction.
And species populations have fallen by an average of 70% since 1970.
The consequences of this decline for the global economy and human life would be nothing short of devastating.
So keeping 1.5 alive, meeting our 2050 target, and doing more to protect the natural world is essential.
But to do that, our political system will need to deliver monumental change on an unprecedented scale.
However, if we are to speak candidly…
we know that for politicians, agreeing to targets far off into the future is the easier part of the equation.
What is more difficult, but now essential…
is creating a workable strategy that can deliver them.
You invited me here this evening, in part, because of my experience as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Though my tenure at the Treasury was relatively short…
the events of the last year mean I am now in fact one of the longest serving Chancellors in recent times.
Now, as I was preparing my remarks, I was reminded of the words of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States:
“The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem.
Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.”
To solve the “fundamental problem” that Roosevelt spoke about, our economy in turn will require fundamental changes.
And our ambition to deliver restoration and renewal to nature should be on the same scale as the ‘New Deal’ of the later Roosevelt in the 1930s.
After years of losses to global ecosystems, it is clear to me what is now required is a ‘New Deal for Nature’.
One that is focused entirely on addressing the decline in biodiversity...
And that consists of three essential pillars:
First, a new approach to how we see economic growth.
Second, unleashing the power of private finance and investment to protect nature.
And third, securing UK leadership on the technologies of the future.
The first component of this ‘New Deal’ is a systematic change to how we approach economic growth.
The Dasgupta Review was the first review into the economics of biodiversity to be commissioned by any finance ministry in the world…
And the final report released by my friend Sir Professor Dasgupta in 2021 was both ground-breaking and shocking.
He found that extinction rates are between 100 and 1000 times higher than would naturally occur…
And eco-systems across the world are at tipping points, which if crossed, cannot be corrected.
The analysis as to why this has happened points to a simple truth.
Which is that for too long, our economic system has traded environmental interests too much against the accumulation of physical capital and growth.
And because of that, the rate of consumption we enjoy today is increasingly unsustainable.
Professor Dasgupta’s report made clear that ecosystems across the world are under immense strain…
And once they collapse, so do the foundations upon which our economy is built.
After all, nature provides the goods we depend on…
and without the “maintenance services” nature provides
- from climate regulation to maintaining a genetic library -
life itself would not be possible.
Huge changes and policies in a variety of areas are needed, but what is central is reconfiguring how we approach economic growth…
and breaking the false choice of either having growth…
or supporting the environment.
To achieve this in practice, we need a systematic change in how we measure it…
and that is through pricing nature.
By pricing our natural assets, we can provide the market and institutions much needed information about how we value them.
Both in terms of their intrinsic, social and moral value today…
but also, their economic value to the GDP of the future tomorrow.
If done effectively, this can then unleash the economic forces to drive conservation, protect our natural assets and the economic inheritance of future generations.
To make this a reality, we need the ONS to accelerate its work on measuring natural capital.
The UK can and should be a world leader in setting the standard for natural capital accounting.
But progress so far has not been quick enough.
By accelerating our work, we can demonstrate to others the positive impact it has and inspire greater collective action.
Once this is done, we should then include an annual stocktake of UK natural capital in the national accounts, so we can monitor and assess progress on conservation and recovery.
And lastly, to hold future Chancellors to account…
we should instruct the OBR to include dedicated forecasts for these assets in the Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
I realise that some in my Party would recoil at the thought of more accountability to the OBR.
But we must not forget that we are the ones who established this institution…
and we therefore must not shy away from the accountability it provides.
Instead, our responsibility as Conservatives is to empower and strengthen institutions to the benefit of the British people.
Ultimately, if we want to continue on the path of long-term growth, then we have to find better ways of ensuring that it is sustainable for our natural world.
And I believe that pricing natural capital is essential to that.
The second pillar of this New Deal for nature is unlocking investment.
If we are to reverse global nature loss by 2030, the Paulson Institute estimates we need to fill a funding gap of over $700billion - per year.
Contrary to the scale of solely public investment seen in the 1930s…
we need to ensure the private sector and all of its financial power can take the lead now.
That’s why I’m very pleased to hear the Government is set to publish a second Green Finance Strategy in the coming days.
The objective for this strategy should be very simple: to help build a financial system where every decision takes climate change and nature into account.
To do this, HMT should set out a clear, robust, and ambitious approach to disclosure, standard setting, and scaling up green finance.
As part of this, the Government should announce that it plans to legislate to mandate the disclosure of nature-related financial risks by large businesses and financial institutions.
These disclosures will support a framework for financial institutions to report and act on nature-related risks…
supporting a shift in financial flows from activities which deplete nature, to those which restore it.
After allowing time for the system to become embedded, the UK should then aim to be among the first countries to mandate it for all listed companies.
London is already well placed to become the preeminent provider of capital and financial services for the world’s transition to Net Zero.
But to secure that position, Government and business are going to need to move quickly.
Both to limit their exposure to risk…
and take advantage of the opportunities of this transition.
The Net Zero Review described Net Zero as “the growth opportunity of the 21st century.”
And that is absolutely right.
The Green Finance Strategy must deliver on serious proposals to make that a reality
- unleashing the power of private finance and investment to protect our planet.
We need that same sense of urgency and initiative to ensure the UK can lead by example on the future of climate recovery.
And this brings me onto the third pillar - ensuring UK leadership on the policy and technology of the future.
Building biodiversity into the actions of both public and private sector decision making has been a valuable move in this respect.
The Environment Act introduced Biodiversity Net Gain for capital spending on infrastructure and housing projects…
and is helping foster private investment through Environmental Land Management Schemes.
But we also need to step back and consider our position at a global level…
including our response to the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States.
Last year, the US announced it was investing $370 billion to decarbonise its economy and attract global investment.
Whilst this commitment from one of the world’s biggest emitters is welcome…
From a UK perspective, it also presents a major challenge to our ability to attract investment.
For any ‘New Deal for Nature’’ to be sustained, we need a growing and resilient economy…
And one that delivers jobs and opportunities to the British people.
We don’t have the same fiscal firepower, but it is essential that we respond to this in a meaningful way…
so that UK leadership on the technologies and industries of the future can be secured.
That is why our approach must be to build on our strengths, take more risks and move faster.
When it comes to the opportunities presented by the transition to Net Zero, we need to ensure the UK is at the forefront of innovation.
Take the example of strategically important industries, such as electricity generation or battery manufacturing.
For these industries, we need to make the UK an attractive prospect for business and investment.
Planning regulations should be simplified, and applications accelerated, so businesses can build quickly.
Full expensing - a welcome announcement at the Budget - should be expanded and increased in its generosity for certain industries, so greater investment can be unlocked.
And the Government should make more long-term funding available to them, so they can have more confidence.
None of this comes without cost.
But neither does inaction.
Our impact on the environment is our “cost of living” in a very literal sense.
According to the WWF, biodiversity loss could cost the UK economy £16 billion every year.
When you put it in this context, it is easier to see how investment to mitigate this will pay for itself.
Some of the most impactful changes will also come through international cooperation.
So, the UK should build on the momentum of the Windsor Agreement and look to secure access to EU research programmes such as Horizon Europe and Copernicus.
These ideas are just some that could be announced in the coming days…
But at their heart is the ambition for the UK to be a country that leads this global effort.
One that looks forward, not back.
Outward, not inward.
And despite the massive challenges we face…
with optimism, not pessimism.
Margaret Thatcher once said “No generation has a freehold on this earth.
All we have is a life tenancy, with a full repairing lease.”
Her words and actions helped inspire me to enter politics…
and it is clear her words inspired Sam also, who used the social media handle “Repairing Lease”.
Progress on the environment is dependent on all of us continuing to make and win the argument for Conservative Environmentalism.
CEN has inspired so many excellent elected officials and campaigners to continue their work on environmental causes.
But we know there are a small number, including in the conservative movement, that would have us step back from our commitments.
Let me be clear, that would be a significant mistake.
It would not wash with the British people, who want us to take action.
It would be economically short sighted.
And it would be a betrayal of our responsibility to the natural world.
So rather than step back from our commitments, now is the time we need to step up.
And wherever I may be, whether in Parliament or outside it, you will always have my support.
We who stand here today have an unwritten contract with future generations…
to preserve the natural world and build a sustainable economy.
I have set out some of the measures I believe are necessary this evening…
and I am confident we can build a greener future that Sam would be proud of.
The foundations for a ‘New Deal for Nature’ can be set in place.
But now is the time for action to deliver it.