Economics and climate change

You might be wondering what has happened to the environment in this blog… It has started off rather politically, but then this week is a big week in EU politics, as the new Parliament starts its work.

However, tonight I’m at an event organised by the Green Alliance in London, as part of the celebration of their 30th birthday and the launch of a new publication From crisis to recovery: New economic politics for a low carbon future.

I can’t report most of the discussion – for one thing I am typing on my iPhone! – but here are some snippets:

One of the panelists, who is also one of the few politicians who is really active at both UK and EU level, is Caroline Lucas. One of the points she makes is to challenge the importance that Governments (and others) give to economic growth. This is a very complex issue, but the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission recently produced a very interesting report called “Prosperity without growth” which clearly lays out the arguments.

Another panelist, Lord Adair Turner who is both chair of the Finanacial Services Authority and the UK’s Climate Change Committee.

He argues that prices don’t work by themselves, for example home insulation is viewed as ‘low hanging fruit’. Yet in reality people have to find builders, put up with dust, stay at home etc. (and finding reliable builders is a big issue in the UK).

He therefore suggests that it’s not just about government grants, but about further government involvement in making things easier (better regulation of builders would be a start!).

There’s a lot of agreement on the panel about the idea that the banks that the UK Government now owns (as a result of the credit crunch) should have to invest in low carbon technologies – and not in high carbon ones. This is not currently UK policy….

Lord Turner has the interesting suggestion that there could be border tax adjustments – ie tax those products that come into Europe from places that don’t have high carbon prices – but with a twist… the tax would be sent back to the origin country, to be used on greening their economies.

Caroline Lucas takes the opportunity of a question on Europe to point out that, as of yesterday, the Green group is one MEP larger than the Conservative’s new group (Peter Ainsworth, ex-Conservative Shadow Environment Minister is also on the panel).

There’s also a very interesting final discussion on growth, with Lord Turner arguing that growth should not be the aim of policy, even though it may still happen as a side effect of improving society. He also argues – along with others – that population is important.

[Update: Green Alliance have now put a recording of the event on-line]

Finally, here’s a not particularly good photo of the panel in action….

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