Kwasi Kwarteng at #Smartenergysummit

I’ve had several pieces published on the excellent reneweconomy.com.au recently (see here, here and here).

One I wrote which I think didn’t make the cut (#themomenthaspassed) was about the performance and reception of Kwasi Kwarteng, UK minister for business, energy and clean growth at the recent Smart Energy Summit.

It would be a tragedy if these stellar observations were not published, so in the interests of tragedy-avoidance, here they are.

At the Smart Energy Council’s Smart Energy Summit, Kwasi Kwarteng , UK Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth had the audience  – desperate to believe that there are countries taking real action on climate change – eating out of his hand.

It was a masterful performance, definitely a case of “mission accomplished.”

He began with the usual pleasantries about  in the time of Covid there is nonetheless “never a more important time to drive investment” and sprinkled in the usual buzzwords (resilient got a run).

He mentioned the “leader level event celebrating the  5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement”.

In words that won’t endear him to Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor, he said “we need all countries to submit more ambitious nationally determined contributions” (indcs- the pledges that countries made in Paris and were supposed to review in Glasgow this year).

He also called on all countries to set net zero emissions targets, to provide certainty for business (this is something that Mike Cannon-Brookes, who is speaking in the last session of the summit, tried to explain on Q&A on Monday night, without visible success.)

Kwarteng pointed to China’s 2060 zero carbon announcement as a  “hugely significant moment,” but seems not to have been watching the earlier presentation of Laura Williamson of REN21,  who had  out what a lack of investment is happening, and just how ungreen the covid recovery plans are.

Inevitably, Kwarteng repeated the highly misleading claim that the “UK’s recent history has shown low growth  is possible”, with economic growth up by 70% while emissions are down by 40 since 1990.

This is an artefact of how emissions are counted (on production rather than consumption based metrics).  Basically, the UK shut down its manufacturing base (shipped it to China) has barely decarbonised at all. To quote from something Dr Joe Blakey and I wrote last year.

“The UK economy is primarily driven by its service sector, and the value of its imports is roughly triple that of its exports. The production and transport of these imported goods are a direct consequence of the UK’s consumption habits, but these emissions aren’t counted by the committee because they occur beyond its shores. Including these emissions and excluding emissions from exports to other countries, the UK’s carbon footprint is 70% higher than the figure used by the committee.”

Kwarteng then inevitably pointed to  the enormous growth of offshore wind (the UK has the most installed offshore wind per capita) without mentioning that this is partly in response to the Conservative Party’s de facto ban on onshore wind).

Pointing to Covid response and the UK’s role as host of the next COP, he said there were five key elements – energy, transport, nature based solutions, adaptation/resilience, and finance

He mentioned the new Green Homes grant as  “right at the centre of our ambition” without mentioning the failed Green Deal his party brought in and then abandoned

In a statement that is certain to get him off Scott Morrison’s Christmas card list, Kwarteng said.

“the sooner we set targets, the sooner we can plan, the sooner business can act… reap the rewards of transition,” with new jobs and opportunities for our people

He lamented the missed opportunity to bring in green transformative action in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis In 2008, hoping that it won’t be missed again. He mentioned a “Green Jobs Taskforce” with the  Department for Education before answering a question about where the UK bipartisan support comes from by saying that is part of the competition between parties over an electorate that has a large section motivated people, with climate change coming up on the doorstep during last year’s General Election.  He quite sensibly dodged the question by claiming ignorance of Australian situation. Nonetheless, his advice that parties should “listen to the young, be serious about their future, the future, the green agenda is something people will take seriously” had the mostly Australian online audience swooning.

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