With all eyes on the elections in Greece and the future of the Eurozone, the Earth Summit in Rio is unlikely to be headline news. But it should be. As Nick Clegg wrote on LDV last week 'sustainability and growth go hand in hand, and it's for us as Liberal Democrats to make that case loud and clear.'
As Liberal Democrats we have been making the case for decades, and over the last two years Liberal Democrat Cabinet Ministers have been forceful advocates around the Cabinet table and around the world. We may know that tackling climate change is essential for the future of our planet and our way of life, but the truth is that the move to a low-carbon economy is also essential for the future of our economy.
In the past global recessions have led to dramatic falls in energy and material prices, helping to kick-start the economic recovery. Uniquely during our current recession the high costs of accessing remaining resources and booming demand from Asia have led to no reduction at all in commodity prices. McKinsey predict high and volatile commodity prices for at least the next 20 years, and urge businesses to put resource efficiency at the heart of their business model. If Britain is to compete as a world economy it is essential we also put resource efficiency at the heart of our economic recovery strategy. Chris Huhne made this argument strongly in the Guardian last month claiming that 'the real choice is between green growth and no growth at all.' On the eve of Rio two recent studies make this case even stronger.
Firstly a report last week by the Centre for Economics and Business Research on the macroeconomic benefits of investment in offshore wind found that it could lead to an increase in UK GDP by 0.2% by the time of the next election in 2015, and add 0.4% to GDP by 2020. Importantly the report also found the offshore wind industry could wipe out nearly three-quarters of the UK's current balance of trade deficit. There is a real UK economic advantage to replacing imported fossil fuels with investment in British manufacturing and export in the offshore wind supply chain.
Secondly the highly respected International Energy Agency recent report Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 bluntly set out that investing in an energy mix likely to lead to global warming peaking at 2 degrees will be expensive, but a lot cheaper than the alternative. From now until 2050 the IEA say it would globally require $36 trillion more in investment than under a scenario in which controlling carbon emissions is not a priority. But in two sentences that debunks the views of many economically illiterate as well as scientifically illiterate climate change sceptics, the IEA goes on to say:
"However, investing is not the same as spending: by 2025, the fuel savings realised would outweigh the investments; by 2050, the fuel savings amount to more than USD 100 trillion. Even if these potential future savings are discounted at 10%, there would be a USD 5 trillion net saving between now and 2050."
Even using a conservative discount rate and fuel prices the IEA finds a net saving of $5 trillion dollars. And we might just keep climate change under control too.
As Liberal Democrats in government we should be proud that we are leading the fight for tough energy efficiency standards and investment in offshore wind and other renewable technologies which are in our clear economic interest as well as the interest of the planet.
Unfortunately the fact that, with some notable and honourable exceptions, our Conservative colleagues just don't get it might make us look longingly at the Opposition benches, with the freedom it gives to say what you truly think. So be under no illusion that the Labour party are no better. Ed Miliband is the only party leader not to have made a speech about climate change since the election. And Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor who some paint as a new economic sage, has not made a single reference to green growth, climate change or even the environment in all of his appearances at the opposition dispatch box.
Only the Liberal Democrats stand by our commitment to act on the environment - as Nick Clegg has said, it is not always easy but we will remain the green party of government.
* Photo of Rhyl Flats Offshore Wind Farm provided under a Creative Commons license by FreeFoto.com
* Joel Kenrick is a Liberal Democrat member and independent climate change consultant. He was Special Adviser to Chris Huhne at DECC from 2010 - 2012.