Think-tanks think sustainability
Reg Platt talks to Alex Blackburne of sustainability advocacy website, Blue and Green Tomorrow, about IPPR's work advocating policies that help to accelerate the transition into a low-carbon economy.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) is the leading progressive think-tank in the UK, favouring social, political, and economic reform or changes. Devised and established in 1988 by Lord Hollick, former owner of the Daily and Sunday Express, and Lord Eatwell, a leading economist, it “[produces] rigorous research and innovative policy ideas for a fair, democratic and sustainable world”.
“Our role is to advocate policies that help to accelerate the transition into a low-carbon economy, at a pace which is appropriate for the rate at which we need to be reducing emissions to avoid calamitous changes from climate change”, Reg Platt, research fellow for climate change and energy at the IPPR, says with regards to sustainability.
“We are interested in doing that in as fair a way as possible, the most-cost efficient way as possible, and also in the way that helps us to bring the country back into an era of prosperity from the current economic malaise that we’re experiencing.”
Unlike his predecessor in this series, Philip Booth of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Platt and the IPPR are strongly behind government intervention when it comes to climate change and sustainability policies.
Until recently in the UK, the Government did have a dedicated quango that dealt with sustainable development. It was called the Sustainable Development Commission but was scrapped in March this year.
Now, the work load has been transferred to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which has introduced a Sustainable Development in Government section, “to ensure all people throughout the world are able to satisfy their basic needs, while making sure future generations can enjoy the same quality of life”.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific intergovernmental body. It provides global comprehensive assessments of current scientific, technical and socio-economic information on the risk of climate change caused by human activity. It explores potential environmental and socio-economic consequences, and possible options for adapting to these consequences or mitigating the effects.
“We wholeheartedly support the position of the IPCC, and the UK Government, and the vast majority of scientists in the world who say that climate change is caused by man-made industrial activities and the greenhouse gases that we emit through those”, says Platt. “We’re fully on board that the fundamental principles of the science are no longer disputed.”
That’s a start. One of the biggest problems in the fight against climate change is converting people to the balance of probability that human activity has greatly accelerated the effects on our planet and it’s us, and only us, who can do anything about it.
The IPPR, according to Platt, is focusing its current attention on innovation, in a bid to drive action.
“We think we need to be putting money into research and development, into universities, and into building our engineering capacities so we can develop the technologies that will help drive us into a new era of society, which will help grow our economy into a low-carbon one. We’re very much pro-growth.”
Platt continues, saying that whilst growth is the main priority, it’s imperative that it happens in the right areas.
“You need growth in those industries that are driving society towards a lower-emitting economy”, he says.
“To begin with, in terms of emissions reduction, but when it comes to the wider sustainability agenda, we need to grow those industries that help to recycle resources and outputs back into the economy again.”
As well as the need for Government and companies to grow sustainably, Platt also outlined the importance for individuals to take responsibility for their actions, but admitted that too many people live for now, as opposed for the future.
“We know that people are much more likely to value their quality of life in the present, so arguing to them that they should be changing their behaviour now and restricting their quality of life so that they have a better quality of life 20 or 30 years down the line when climate change impacts are occurring, is not going to hold water with most people.”
Platt added that the Government has a big role to play in propelling this group into action.
“The Government needs to be creating an ambitious policy framework that puts the UK ahead of other countries in the world, so we are moving into the new, low-carbon industries much quicker than our competitors, and so we’re stealing that competitive advantage on them.
“That means we need a very stable policy framework so we can get the investment in and so that companies and corporates feel they can invest the money in developing new products and services that fit into that agenda.”
Proposed rapid reforms to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) will halve the tariff and do not create the ‘stable policy framework’. This risks wrecking the nascent solar industry in the UK.
It’s clear that the IPPR are very much in favour of a balance of governmental intervention and personal responsibility. As Britain attempts to tackle the effects of global warming, though, this certainly isn’t a bad thing.
“There are very big limitations to what individuals can do”, explained Platt. “We therefore need a very strong government framework, but underpinning all of it, we need everyone to play their part, including companies in the public sector as well.”
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