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The Environment and Climate Change: A relentless focus on delivery

From left to right: David Wood – ITV Political Correspondent (Chair), Tessa Munt – former MP for Wells and current Somerset County Councillor, Sir Tim Smit – Co-Founder of the Eden Project, Chris Fayers, Head of Environment at EDF Energy, Georgia Stokes – CEO of Somerset Wildlife Trust and Rebecca Pow MP, Minister for Nature Recovery and the Domestic Environment

Live from Taunton, Levelling Up the Conversation broadcasted a lively panel discussion on some of the most important issues facing the world today – the environment and climate change.

Over the course of an hour, a live studio audience and members of the public from around the country heard from a panel of experts on topics ranging from water pollution to sustainability and the expansion of Bristol Airport.

In this, the first of three features, Chamber will cover the key issues discussed, the solutions identified and a whole host of new questions that need to be answered.

Thank you to the hundreds of questions from around the country who watched as Chair and ITV West Country’s Political Correspondent, David Wood put questions to panellists Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister and local MP for Taunton, former MP for Wells and Somerset County Councillor, Tessa Munt, Head of Environment at EDF Energy, Chris Fayers, Chief Executive of Somerset Wildlife Trust, Georgia Stokes and Co-Founder of the Eden Project, Sir Tim Smit.

View the complete event here. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for future videos.

Tackling climate change:

The first question to the panel came from an environment specialist at South Somerset District Council, Cara Naden who asked whether the Government will bring forward the target to be zero carbon by 2030 – in line with local councils and whether the Government will stop supporting fossil fuels through financing, tax breaks and expansion planning?

As Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow said she represents the first government to commit to net zero by 2050 which was an “enormous undertaking, with serious consequences to business.” She said that that this was a significant signal which is backed up by policies. The Government is phasing out coal by 2024 and already reduced reliance on coal from 24% to 2% and is increasingly relying on renewable energy production.

“The fact that we have set ourselves a target gives the signals that business needs”, Minister Pow said.

In defence of green targets and citing her recent visit to Grimsby to see an offshore windfarm, the Minister said “the Government is totally committed to green energy.” The added bonus being a kick start in thousands of green jobs.

In a candid assessment based on her travels to various parts of the country affected by extreme weather events, she said that these were all caused by climate change. She warned that we should expect more to come. The Government has introduced the Environment Act to help us adapt to living with impacts of climate change.

In one of the most important points of the night, Chief Executive of Somerset Wildlife Trust, Georgia Stokes said that targets are useful, but that it is crucial that they are delivered. Nature can play a key part in getting us to net-zero, but that we must reduce our emissions first and then look at how nature can play a key role.  Stokes said we are facing two environmental emergencies that need to be tackled simultaneously as they are interrelated, the climate crisis and ecological crises. Stokes called for a legally binding set of targets to restore biodiversity and ecosystems.

However, in a more pessimistic tone, Somerset County Councillor and former MP, Tessa Munt said that she thinks there is “no chance” that the Government will bring forwards its targets from 2050 to 2030. She called on more support to be given to councils to achieve their targets: “the Government isn’t doing what it could do.” She gave the example that the Conservative Party was the only major party not to mention tidal power in their manifesto, despite the opportunities that it can bring.

COP26: Will we boil to death?

Speaking about his two-year-old grandchild in the Maldives, whose mother is the Minister for Climate Change there, Co-Founder of the Eden Project, Sir Tim Smit said that climate change is existential, not a lifestyle choice.

Confronting a difficult subject, Sir Tim said “that we are to blame for this. We can’t point our fingers at government to say that they are not doing enough. The problem is us; we are not embracing a future that still remains ours to make but has different consumption patterns.” He hopes that as a collective, we will be so influenced by the pandemic to realise that we are citizens first and consumers second. In a hopeful sentiment, he added that he is confident that there is a quiet revolution going on.

Warning against those who still communicate net-zero, Sir Tim says many top scientists think it is a “lie” as there is still 35 years of carbon that still need to be taken into the system. Instead, he thinks we are heading towards a 3.5 degrees net rise where in some parts of the world, people are going to boil to death.

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Sir Tim Smit explains the Eden Project’s work with geothermal energy

Nuclear:

Head of Environment at EDF Energy, Chris Fayers said that nuclear power is “essential” for the greening agenda. Agreeing with Minister Pow, he said that there is a need to balance renewable energy production with nuclear, particularly on the days when there is no wind.

Talking about Hinkley C, Fayers said the project will bring secure energy and take away the reliance on gas – providing clean energy to six million homes across the West of England. He said when you look at the entire life cycle of the new power station, carbon intensity is low and is a key anchoring of that journey to net-zero.

As a long-standing opponent, Tessa Munt highlighted the problem of nuclear waste. She said that Hinkley will only last 60 years and that the UK should instead be focussed on renewable energy production including tidal, solar and wind, as well as getting around to insulating people’s homes.

Windfall tax on energy companies?

In response to a question from East Devon District Councillor, Jake Bonetta on whether now is the time to reintroduce a windfall tax on all energy companies and invest in the move towards a green new deal, the Minister said oil and gas companies already face 40% tax and “they will keep us going until we can go completely renewable.”

Optimistic about the future, Sir Tim talked about how the Eden Project will become energy independent through deep geothermal and solar – providing energy for 34,000 houses. He says that it is “actually easy” to do this.

David
David Wood takes questions from the audience

Bristol Airport Expansion:

In one of the most heated exchanges of the evening, a question was taken from the studio audience on the recent approval of the expansion of Bristol Airport. The Minister said that the approval is about “balance.” She said “I don’t think tackling climate change is about stopping people from doing things” to which the audience responded with shouts of “of course it does!” Instead, it is about changing people’s patterns of behaviour and harnessing tech and innovation – highlighting that R&D spending by the UK Government is the highest that it has ever been. The Minister is keen to see the UK move towards ‘sustainable aviation’ and highlighted the reviews underway into new forms of fuel.

Final Thought:


When you cut through the political point scoring, there was much more consensus from the panel than many in the audience expected. Everyone agrees on the fundamentals that more needs to be done to tackle climate change and decarbonise our economy.

It was certainly a colourful start to the discussion in Taunton, and not just the language.

There are some excellent examples of innovation, including deep geothermal energy production in Cornwall and the delivery of one of Europe’s largest nuclear powerplants. However, Georgia Stokes was absolutely right – it is all about delivery.

Targets are all well and good, but unless governments adhere to them and demonstrates real change, we are all going to, in Sir Tim’s words “boil to death.”

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