Blueprint for a Green Economy
Submission to the Shadow Cabinet
Quality of Life Policy Group
Chairman, Rt Hon John Gummer MP
Vice-Chairman, Zac Goldsmith
About the Quality of Life Policy Group 5
Chapter 1 Introduction: A Confident Society 7
Chapter 2 The Wellbeing of a Nation 39
Chapter 3 The Built Environment 59
Chapter 4 Rural Life; Food and Farming; Fishing and
the Marine Environment 135
Chapter 5 Water: The First Essential 215
Chapter 6 Waste: Towards a Zero Waste Economy 253
Chapter 7 Energy: Low Carbon and Credible 271
Chapter 8 Transport: Connectivity 307
Chapter 9 The Imperative of Climate Change 359
Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations 537
The Quality of Life Policy Group was set up by David Cameron to recommend policies to the Shadow
Cabinet. What follows are our recommendations for consideration by the Conservative frontbench, the
Conservative Party more widely, and the large number of people outside who are looking for solutions
that break away from current political restrictions.
It is not for us to define Conservative policy but what we have proposed here sits firmly in the Tory
tradition. Since its inception the Conservative Party has recognised that, if it is to uphold its continuing
principles in a changing world, those principles have to be applied in a contemporary way so that they
are relevant to a new generation.
The remit of the Group was to consider holistically the issues of the built environment; rural life; food,
farming, fishing and the marine environment; transport; energy; waste; and water.
All these are fundamentally affected by two significant concerns: Climate change and social unease.
Climate change is the most significant material threat to our future, while the degree to which our
society has become dysfunctional, inhibits our ability to succeed as a nation.
We cannot go on as we are, ignoring the effects of the world’s misuse of its resources while, at the
same time, pretending that we have a society at ease with itself. The Policy Group has become
convinced that radical change is essential. More of the same is not an option. What follows provides
the basis for that necessary change.
It is only the beginning. There is much more to be done to refine and extend the proposals which we
offer. They are fundamentally Conservative proposals, even though we have drawn on the help and
expertise of people of all parties and none. They rely on the strength and power of the market even
though they reflect values that reach above and beyond it. They recognise the imperative of prosperity
but acknowledge that growth is unsustainable without social justice. They concentrate on a programme
for Britain but present that programme in the context of Europe and the wider world.
This Report is fundamentally optimistic. In the face of the threat from climate change, we believe that
Britain is capable of again rising to the challenge of leadership. We shall not be able to do it alone but,
without us, it will be difficult for it to be done at all.
However, our optimism is tempered by a realisation of the size of the task and the shortness of the
time. Action and urgency are its recurrent themes. Britain has delayed too long. It deserves a
government with the clarity of vision and the strength of purpose to act and to act decisively. We
present these proposals for action in the hope and belief that the next Conservative government will
provide the leadership and the delivery that our nation has lacked for a decade.
About the Quality of Life Policy Group
The Chairman of the Board of the Policy Group was Rt. Hon John Gummer MP and the
Vice-Chairman was Zac Goldsmith. The other members were:
Jules Peck (Director); Tim Eggar; Nick Hurd MP; Ali Miraj; Steven Norris; Benet Northcote;
Tom Oliver; David Strong; Kay Twitchen; Kim Wilkie.
Their declaration of interests may be found on our website www.qualityoflifechallenge.com.
Members of the secretariat to the Policy Group were:
Susan Davies; Clare Devereux; Clare Kerr; Michael Lunn; Nat Mason; Tara Singh; Nikki
Talbot; Harriet Williams.
Members of the Board chaired a whole series of study groups over nearly two years. They brought
together as members, advisers or witnesses, hundreds of people from all over the country, drawn from
a wide range of backgrounds and political affiliations.
We would like to thank all the individuals and organisations who generously gave their time to
participate in this review, and to extend and enrich our understanding, especially members of the
various policy working groups. While these groups were an important part of the consultative process,
the final Report is necessarily a synthesis and none of the participants can be held accountable for all,
or part, of it. That remains the responsibility of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman. We would like to
reiterate that participation in the working groups of the Quality of Life Policy Group does not imply
affiliation to the Conservative Party.
A full list of acknowledgments can be found on our website: www.qualityoflifechallenge.com.
Chapter 1. Introduction: A Confident
Section 1.1. A Confident Society 8
Section 1.2. Conservatives – Redefining Progress 15
Section 1.3. The Journey 26
Section 1.1. A Confident Society
‘The great Error of our Nature is not to know where to stop; not to be satisfied with any reasonable
Acquirement; not to compound with our Condition; but to lose all we have gained by an insatiable
Pursuit after more.’
Edmund Burke, 1757
‘Modern compassionate Conservatism means recognising that there’s more to human life than getting
and spending money.’
David Cameron, 2005
1.1.1. The case for change
Two centuries of industrialisation and economic growth have brought humanity huge material
progress, from which Britain has benefited enormously. The post-war period, in particular, has been
one of unprecedented prosperity. We have better homes, jobs, cars, education, and health care than
ever before. We go on holidays to places our grandparents could only dream of. We have more money
and more things to buy with it, than ever before in our history.
Yet, despite that material progress, the UK seems to be experiencing a ‘social recession.’ Social
cohesion is under increasing strain. Levels of trust, in each other and in our institutions, are dwindling.
Rates of mental illness, drug abuse, ‘binge-drinking’, family break-up, and other symptoms of an
unhappy society are rising inexorably. That is not to say that things were better in the ‘good old days’
but simply that material prosperity has not made us a contented society.
Meanwhile, the damaging impact of our economic growth on the environment is increasingly obvious.
Most urgently, global climate change tells us that our reliance on fossil fuels must be brought swiftly
to an end. But climate change is only one symptom of the damage wrought by today’s lifestyles. There
are others too: on a global level, we are seeing desertification, soil erosion, the destruction of forests
and the continued extinction of unique species. At a national and local level we suffer air, noise, and
light pollution, thoughtless development and the destruction of valued wildlife sites.
What is going wrong? Standard economic theory tells us that there is a direct link between material
wealth and human happiness. The more we have, in material terms, the more content it was thought we
would be. The reality, however, seems to be more complex. When a nation is already wealthy, the
continued pursuit of a very narrowly defined economic growth can have the effect of degrading the
quality of life even while the figures show that it is increasing the standard of living.
In other words: beyond a certain point – a point which the UK reached some time ago – ever-
increasing material gain can become not a gift but a burden. As people, it makes us less happy, and the
environment upon which all of us, and our economy, depend is increasingly degraded by it.
This paradox poses a key question: can we continue to be an economically successful nation and, at
the same time, an environmentally and socially healthy one? By following the current model we
clearly can’t. Yet, the authors of this Report believe that there is a way through, given leadership and
resolve. We need, however, to rethink how we measure our progress as a country. We need vigorously
to tackle climate change and the other symptoms of our misuse of the planet, and we need also to
commit ourselves, not just to economic, but to social and environmental growth.
We believe that doing so is entirely consistent with long-standing Conservative principles. We believe,
also, that the pursuit of this aim can provide Britain with a new national purpose – true 21st century
politics – a regeneration of our society and its values.
1.1.2. Hitting the buffers?
John Maynard Keynes1 calculated that between 2000 BC and the early eighteenth century, the
standards of living in ‘civilised countries’ doubled. Yet, between those two dates, the material basis of
society changed surprisingly little. In 2000 BC we already had fire, language, the wheel, the plough,
sail, banks, governments, maths, and religion; in the 18th century, these things still formed the basis of
The industrial revolution and the limited liability company changed all that. Mankind had a powerful
source of energy, the means to harness it, and the financial mechanisms to exploit it. At the same time,
modern advances in medicine, beginning with the smallpox vaccine, led to ever increasing life
expectancy and ever falling infant mortality. The population would begin to increase exponentially.
The industrial revolution, and the stunning economic progress which followed it, were based on one
key discovery: the wide availability of coal, oil, and gas – the fossil fuels. In effect, we were mining
millions of years of concentrated sunlight and putting it to use to fuel our economies. What we didn't
know then was that the mass burning of these fuels would begin to change the climate of the planet.
The energy that had made our rapid progress possible was also capable of destroying us.
In those early days of industrialisation such environmental considerations were far from anybody's
minds. The services provided to us by our natural environment – raw materials, assimilation of waste,
and maintenance of biodiversity, clean air and water and a stable climate –came free and seemed
inexhaustible. The overriding concern of capitalist economists was to maximise material welfare,
expressed through the ever-increasing production and consumption of goods.
Now, that assessment has been reversed. The world is awash with capital-rich investors but
increasingly denuded of natural resources. People are aware of the immense, often irreversible,
damage done to our one and only life support machine – planet Earth. Air and water pollution, habitat
destruction and species loss became widespread. In the late 20th century, the iconic images of the
Earth from space, beamed down from the Apollo moon missions, helped to galvanise a new
environmental politics. Through them we recognised the fragility of our natural environment and our
dependence upon it. Increasingly, the mass media has brought faraway events such as the deforestation
of the Amazon, the melting of the polar ice caps and desertification in sub-Saharan Africa into our
At a more considered level, the UN’s Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, which reported in 2005,
marshals with frightening effect the evidence of human abuse of the rivers, oceans, soil, and forests of
this planet. ‘Over the past 50 years’, it tells us, ‘humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and
extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing
demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely
irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.’
The report’s facts tell their own story:
1 John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, London 1987 (1930) – from Bill McBibben Deep
xbetween 10 and 30% of all mammal, bird and amphibian species are currently threatened with
x60% of the world's ecosystems have been degraded by humans;
x20% of the world's corals have been lost in just 20 years;
x50% of the world's wetland ecosystems have been destroyed in the last five decades;
xmore wild land has been converted to agriculture since 1945 than in the 18th and 19th centuries
xthe world's fisheries and freshwater resources are already so degraded that they cannot sustain
current human populations, let alone projected future increases; and
xup to 70% of the rivers of the world’s largest country, China, are dead or dying.
The huge body of expert research behind the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment simply helps to
bring home what we have been slowly learning over 300 years: economic growth, like all human
activities, operates within environmental limits. The current Archbishop of Canterbury2 put it well
when he reminded us that ‘the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment’. When our
demand for resources and environmental services starts to outstrip the planet's capacity to provide
them, then the problems we are storing up for ourselves become exceptionally serious. We have
reached that point, and moved beyond it.
The underlying cause is a way of life which is out of step with the long-term health of the planet. The
solution requires us to dig deep into our reserves of human ingenuity: to challenge our own cultural
beliefs, economic assumptions, and policy frameworks. It need not be as difficult as it sounds. But the
first step must be to understand the severity of the problem, and act accordingly.
1.1.3. Climate change: The canary in the coalmine
When Newcomen devised his coal burning steam engine in 1712, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the
atmosphere sat at 275 parts per million (ppm) – much the same as they had for hundreds of thousands
of years3. Today, they are at 380ppm, and rising fast. Changes in CO2 levels of this magnitude seem to
be causing major shifts in the Earth’s climate. Climate change is now the ‘canary in the coalmine’: it is
telling us that something is badly wrong.
The most recent findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change4 concluded that its
global impacts could include:
x75-250 million people across Africa facing water shortages by 2020;
xcrop yields increasing by 20% in East and Southeast Asia, but decreasing by up to 30% in
Central and South Asia;
xthe global potential for food production increasing as temperatures rise over a range of
between 1 and 3°C, but decreasing above this;
xagriculture fed by rainfall potentially dropping by 50% in some African countries by 2020;
x20-30% of all plant and animal species at increased risk of extinction if temperatures rise
between 1.5ºc and 2.5ºc; and
xglaciers and snow cover declining, reducing water availability in some countries.
Scientifically, a consensus has been reached that any increase of over 2°C in the Earth's overall
temperature is likely to have unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences, including the
death of the world's rainforests, a major rise in sea levels and a potential ‘tipping point’ in global
species extinction. To prevent this, climate scientists tell us that we must stabilise atmospheric
2 A planet on the brink: article for the Independent on Sunday, 17th April 2005.
3 McKibben 2007ibid.
4 YUN IPCC, Fourth Assessment Report February 2007.
concentrations of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent) at a maximum of 450-500ppm, by the year 2050
at the latest.
Globally, politicians are beginning to respond to these warnings. What we know is that our actions
over the next 10 years will determine whether we can hit this crucial target. Atmospheric emissions
have a time lag associated with their final effect. We have now just 10 years in which to set in place a
trajectory in which our emissions will peak and then decline by 2050. If we fail then we will over-run
our ability to keep our climate stable – with potentially disastrous effects. Hitting it will require a
transformation of our energy and transport infrastructures – not just because those sectors represent
approximately 60 per cent of current global emissions, but because these emissions are set to grow
sharply as a result of economic development in the giant emerging nations.
Economists, too, are adding up the costs of inaction. The ground-breaking Stern Review spells out the
potential for significant dislocation of the economic system, social disruption, and the destruction of
human and animal life on a major scale. Even so, we believe that Stern was actually too complacent,
both in terms of the high emissions target he recommended as acceptable and his calculations of the
likely cost of climate change impacts. Nevertheless, we accept his fundamental case: that the cost of
inaction is likely to be significantly greater than the cost of precautionary action now.
Already there is evidence that parts of the economy are responding to these pressures. In the UK,
insurers are reassessing the risk profiles of floodplain and coastal properties. Investment houses are
downgrading the credit ratings of inefficient, energy-intensive companies. Business is recognising the
opportunities for ‘green growth’. Large utility companies have brought renewable power into millions
of homes. Consumers are fuelling demand for lower carbon products. Supermarkets are taking the
carbon battle to their customers and their suppliers.
But on top of the economics and politics, our response to climate change has a strong moral
dimension. It brings humanity face to face with its responsibilities, both to those sharing the planet
now, and to the generations to come; recepting such responsibility is entirely in line with Conservative
principles. With it, comes the need to ensure that the global response is fair and just, and that those
countries most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change are helped to pursue a path of
sustainable economic development.
Within this context, the first duty of the British government must be to protect its people, present and
future, from the risks of climate change. This will of course demand international action. But Britain
will have to play a key role in securing an international consensus on emissions reductions targets as
well as helping to define delivery mechanisms for them.
It will also be important not to use any lack of international progress as an excuse for a lack of
progress at home. The often-quoted fact that the UK contributes ‘only 2 per cent’ of global carbon
emissions is highly misleading, referring only to emissions released directly within UK territories and
not taking into account the emissions associated with the overseas production of products and services
destined for consumption by UK citizens.
But the precise allocation of emissions responsibility is really beside the point. The issue of climate
change is going to intensify, not go away, and the UK needs to respond to it by developing policy that
demonstrates leadership and encourages British companies to help build a greener Britain. Committing
to a low carbon economy offers many advantages, both economic and social, to governments that are
far-sighted enough to seize the opportunities.
Doing so will involve transcending party politics and building a cross-party consensus on a radical but
realistic long-term framework for emissions reductions. In the UK, all three main political parties have
already committed themselves to cutting emissions by at least 60 per cent by 2050, and a draft Climate
Change Bill, the first of its kind in the world, has cross-party support. As a nation, we are well
positioned to meet our moral responsibilities on climate change and build a successful, profitable, low-
carbon economy as we do so. All that is needed to make this vision a reality is the encouragement of a
1.1.4. The problem with growth
No one could sensibly deny that economic growth has brought us enormous benefits. Yet those
benefits have come at a great cost to our environment. This cost will continue to rise, as fossil-fuelled
growth continues around the world. Over the last 20 years, an extra billion consumers have joined the
world's population, and rapidly developing nations like China, India and Brazil will increasingly claim
a fairer share of the world resources. We are already perilously close to causing runaway climate
change. However we fuel our civilization from now on, we need to recognise that fossil energy was, in
the words of writer Bill Mckibben, ‘a one-time gift that underwrote a one-time binge of growth.’
In terms of the scale of action required, we have worked on the assumption that developed countries
need to be reducing cumulative emissions by at least 80 per cent over the next fifty years. In effect the
science is requiring us to ask ourselves: ‘what would a low-carbon British economy look like, and how
do we get there? It seems a very daunting task but the alternative is even more frightening and the
drivers for change are not just associated with global warming.
The social cost of material growth is becoming increasingly clear. Even as the global economy
continues to consume beyond its ecological means, the long-assumed link between increased financial
wealth and increased social wellbeing is showing signs of stress. Levels of income and consumption
have soared over the last three decades in most developed countries. Yet consistently, the people of
those same countries report no increase in their sense of contentment or wellbeing. In many cases they
report a decline. It seems that in wealthy countries, a continued increase in economic growth, is not
Here in Britain, the signs of this are everywhere. Levels of mental illness, drug abuse and ‘binge
drinking’ are rising even as our economy continues to grow. The Samaritans report that five million
people are ‘extremely stressed.’ Unicef research suggests that British children are the unhappiest in
Europe. Crime levels continue to rise. Meanwhile, surveys show that nearly nine out of ten members
of the public think British society is ‘too materialistic’, and that a quarter of 30 to 59 year-olds have
voluntarily ‘downshifted’, accepting less income in exchange for more free time5.
Yet, according to standard economic and political thinking this ought not to be. Economic growth,
measured as an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should bring a correlating growth in our
happiness and wellbeing and any attempt to prioritise environmental social health over economic
growth is widely supposed to make people less content.
The truth, though, is beginning to seem more complex. Evidence from many quarters suggests that
human wellbeing does not rise indefinitely alongside gains in material wealth. In fact, that once we
reach a certain level of income and material wealth, gains beyond that level can actually begin to
exacerbate social problems, from ‘status anxiety’ to a deteriorating work-life balance. These findings
challenge the assumption that environmental and social wellbeing parallel economic progress and raise
questions over the very nature of economic growth and its role in society.
Our increasing awareness of the need to phase out fossil fuels rapidly is accompanied by an awareness
that economic growth based on them is only part of what improves human lives. The real questions
5 For details on these statistics see our Chapter on Wellbeing.
now are beginning to focus on what defines ‘progress’, what is ‘quality growth’ and what determines a
1.1.5. How government has failed us
One of the lessons of the past two decades has been that governments of all stripes have been too slow
in recognizing the magnitude of the environmental challenge and in responding to it. Often there
seemed good reasons. Governing is a complicated business and easy solutions are very rarely
forthcoming. Nevertheless, it is clear that any future Conservative government will have to buck the
trend and commit to a step change.
In the last 10 years, New Labour has brought some progress, particularly in the prominence of climate
change as an international political issue. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair must be given credit for
forcing it up the international agenda. However, the Government at home has pursued contradictory
policies. While promoting international action on climate change, it has advocated the building of
thousands of miles of new roads and motorways and backed the rapid expansion of aviation: policies
which are set potentially to cancel out any emissions reductions made in the UK over the next few
decades. It has often seemed that Britain has had two governments – one committed to preventing
climate change, and one committed to causing it.
Another governmental problem has been the gap between the setting of policy and its implementation.
New Labour has been notorious both for setting targets and for failing to implement them. It has
created some innovative policies on the environment, but they have too often been complex and badly
implemented. Setting targets for the use of renewable energy, for example, was the right policy.
Unfortunately, the implementation of this policy was chaotic. As a result, instead of being a leading
innovator in renewable energy, we are now the country with the most expensive wind energy in
Europe and the country condemned to building the first new coal-fired power stations for thirty years,
despite our commitments to tackle climate change.
Part of the problem has been that too much weight has been placed on the power of central
government to drive change almost unaided. There has been insufficient engagement of key partners –
local government, the world of business, local communities, and individuals. As a result, people feel
disempowered and disconnected even from the Government’s good intentions on green issues. There
is no doubt the Government needs to pursue a radical green agenda over the next two decades. But
there is also no doubt that unless this agenda is carried through not only with the consent, but the
active participation of the British public, it is bound to fail. It is an unhappy reflection on the
inadequacy of government that one film of Al Gore and the evident commitment of David Cameron
have done far more to engage the UK public with the scale and urgency of climate change than ten
years of Tony Blair.
In other areas, too, there are serious inconsistencies. If a Government is serious about the risks of
climate change, it doesn’t build homes in flood zones. If it is genuinely concerned about the growth in
emissions from aviation, it doesn’t adopt a ‘predict and provide’ approach to airports. The confused
state of environmental policy results in a failure to engage the British people in a vision of a green
future. A future Conservative government will need to be resolute in its determination to infuse all its
policies, at home and abroad, with clear environmental purpose. Only then will the British people join
in with the wholehearted enthusiasm that the task demands.
The ground has been prepared. The public is more concerned about environmental issues than ever
before. The danger is that the debate about environmental policy is becoming combative rather than
consensual. Suggestions of higher taxes on polluting products and activities are greeted with hostility.
Regulation and efforts to provoke behaviour change are derided as the actions of an over-zealous
To change this atmosphere, a future Conservative government will need to be open about its objectives
and motives and must sustain an honest dialogue about why measures to advance a sustainable future
are important for all of us. It will need, for example, to make a clear, transparent commitment to use
environmental taxes to reduce taxes elsewhere. It must justify regulation where it is necessary and
remove it where it isn’t. Above all, it must engage and share with the whole of society so that this
becomes a common endeavour and not a state enterprise.
The scale and depth of the change which will be needed will not be easy to achieve. It will require true
leadership from government. As the Sustainable Development Commission puts it:
‘…the truth of it is that taking resource productivity seriously (ie, systematically driving
down resource and energy consumption across the entire economy) is not as pain-free as it
first appears. Decades of perverse subsidies and the licensed externalisation of costs to
keep prices low has left a mountain of market failures that people have got used to and
resent having taken away from them. The fuel tax protests of 2000 are etched in the
memory of civil servants and ministers alike, as an example of what happens when an eco-
instrument is deployed insensitively or punitively.’6
Sustained and inspirational political leadership is precisely what will be required of a future
Conservative government. It will be hard and often very challenging. There is, however, no serious
6 Sustainable Development Commission, Redefining Progess,
Section 1.2. Conservatives – Redefining Progress
Conservatism and conservation are in fact two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of
husbanding resources … It is as obvious to a conservative that our reckless pursuit of individual
gratification jeopardises the social order as that it jeopardises the planet.’
Roger Scruton, 2006
‘I believe passionately in the free enterprise system as a creator of wealth, but markets know no
morality. It is our responsibility, as it has been the tradition of our party throughout its long and
distinguished history, to bring a balance to the books of life.’
Michael Heseltine, 2006
It is increasingly clear that the global economy must be retooled in order to ensure that it operates
sustainably, within environmental limits. In this urgent task, it will be the world’s developed countries
which lead the way. Over nearly three centuries we have grown ever richer but we have done so at the
expense of the environment upon which our lives depend. We have therefore both the means and the
obligation to repair the damage.
Here in Britain, in the last 18 months, one major political party has made the running in debating these
issues and seeking to redefine progress, development, and wellbeing for a new era. That it has been the
Conservative Party should not have come as a surprise. The notion of treating our natural environment
with the same care that we treat our social and institutional structures is an inherently conservative
Already, over three decades, the Conservative Party has ensured that the central role of the market is
accepted by all sides of the political debate in the United Kingdom. Part of that role is to enable
society to move on to a sustainable footing. But its effectiveness is inhibited because GDP, the
measurement of progress that we have adopted, is limited and increasingly perverse. It does not
adequately measure the health of our environment and society. While it remains crucial as a
measurement of economic output and productivity, it is ill designed to rate our progress and wellbeing
in the round. A future Conservative government should adopt new measurements of progress,
alongside GDP, that measure the other factors which are crucial to human and environmental
wellbeing. Economic growth is a vital factor in the equation but so is social wellbeing and
environmental wellbeing. We must therefore look to a leaner, cleaner, more efficient economy which
respects environmental limits in delivering maximum wellbeing for all. This move to green the
economy gives us enormous opportunities. The Low Carbon Revolution is our century's equivalent of
the Industrial Revolution. Now, as then, Britain should be in the vanguard.
1.2.2. Green conservatism
In 1990 Chris Patten, in his White Paper This Common Inheritance, laid out Britain’s first throrough-
going vision of sustainability.The year before, Margaret Thatcher had delivered her ground-breaking
speech on climate change at the United Nations. Both were working within the same Conservative
tradition as Disraeli in his commitment to a clean public water supply and Eden in introducing the
Clean Air Act. It was what Ted Heath understood in setting up the Department of Environment and the
National Rivers Authority,. Later, Margaret Thatcher would continue that tradition creating the
Environment Agency and English Nature and becoming the first major Prime Minister to commit to
the Rio Environment Summit.
Environmental issues have all too often been colonised by the rhetoric of the left . Yet concern for
continuity, for preserving the stability and protecting the beauty of the natural environment, is a deeply
Conservative approach. As Roger Scruton writes, ‘Conservatism, as I understand it, means
maintenance of the social ecology. Conservatism and conservation are in fact two aspects of a single
long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources. These resources include the social capital
embodied in laws, customs and institutions; they also include the material capital contained in the
So, in adopting a green agenda, David Cameron is placing himself in the centre ground of the
Conservative tradition. What is new is the urgency of his mission. Climate change, pollution, and the
bio-degradation of the planet demand action and demand it now.
1.2.3. A Conservative society
Yet, the green agenda cannot be seen as narrowly ecological or merely the necessary response to
global warming, important as all that is. It is also a recognition that human worth cannot be measured
by material wealth. It is intrinsic to any notion of conservation that greed distorts our values and limits
our horizons. Of course, Conservatives have always extolled the social importance of ambition and
seeking to better oneself. The drive for improvement is a crucial component of a healthy society. But it
is not the only component. Happiness is a much more complex matter than that. The things that
motivate individuals – family, friends, faith, and enthusiasms – are often served by economic
advancement but they are never defined by it. We recognise in them a value and importance that can’t
Our vision of a good society therefore goes well beyond what is measured by economic indicators. It
will function well and be at ease with itself if there is widespread recognition of the importance of
social and economic wellbeing. That’s why Tories have always been more concerned with obligations
than rights. Individual obligations derive from the recognition of the intrinsic worth of oneself and
others. A concentration upon rights can all too often descend into selfish demands which admit no
concomitant duties. The recognition of one’s obligations, however limited, itself confers worth.
Through it, the individual sees that, whatever his personal economic situation, he matters.
Those obligations are both social and environmental. We owe them to each other and to the planet that
sustains our life. Together they are a recognition that a healthy and flourishing environment is essential
for a healthy and flourishing society and both are preconditions for sustainable economic growth. So,
to try to measure wellbeing as if it could be summed up by Gross Domestic Product is to
misunderstand the nature of the human condition and to ignore our dependence on each other and our
It is this that David Cameron has recognised so clearly. Quite simply, a flourishing Britain must be a
greener Britain in which we all play our part. As he told the audience of his Scarman Lecture in 2006,
‘we are all in this together’. Only if all parts of society work together can change be truly effective.
Government action is clearly crucial but Government action alone is not enough:
‘Government can't on its own deliver a sustainable environment. It can set the right
frameworks - and I believe that there's far more that government can and should do. But
sustainable development also depends on the billions of personal decisions that are taken
every day - in businesses, in communities and in individuals' lives.’
This is a vision in which our values as a society are realigned. We judge our progress, not simply by
the economic numbers, but by the strength of our communities, the health of our social relationships,
and the health of the natural environment upon which they are based. Rather than an econo-centric
vision, it is a socio-centric one. This, we believe, will be the context of British politics in the 21st
1.2.4. Society and Conservative principles
Mrs Thatcher’s rollback of the State was an essential part of ‘rolling forward society’. Until we had
established that wellbeing was not a matter of ever more invasive state control, we could not begin to
show the reality that, instead, it is best fostered by ever more pervasive individual responsibility. The
State has a role – but it is about enabling and not corralling. It needs to deliver frameworks for
individuals and groups in which they are encouraged to act for the common good. At its lowest, it
means ensuring that it is easier to do the right thing than to act selfishly. At its simplest, it is engaging
people and organisations so that they seek voluntarily to promote those things that enhance and protect
the environment and our human society.
It is also about our market approach. Instead of wanting the State to intervene and control,
Conservatives seek only to ensure that the market framework is capable of delivering the nation’s
requirements and that people, communities, and organisations, whether for profit or not, are
empowered and trusted to play their proper and fullest role.
18.104.22.168. Government and the market
As Jonathon Porritt says, capitalism is the only show in town. No other economic system has been so
successful at lifting people out of poverty and no other economic system has harnessed so creatively
the individual aspirations and intellects of so many. Just as the Internet would never have developed in
the hands of a state planner, so free choice does not exist where state planners decide economic
choices. That’s why free enterprise has been the harbinger of democracy and continues to be its natural
Yet, although Conservatives understand the vital role of markets, they recognise too that markets are
mechanisms not gods. The market is crucial to our vision, but cannot deliver it alone. The strength of
the market is its unique ability to meet economic needs. Its weakness is myopia. The market lacks the
dimension of time. Unrestrained, it will catch till the last fish is landed, drill till there is no more oil,
and pollute till the planet is destroyed. Its efficiency in creating material wealth is both its strength and
its weakness. Strength because there is no more efficient way of delivering the goods, weakness
because it is nothing like so timely and effective in taking account of the human and environmental
resources upon which that delivery depends. If markets are not to master us then Governments have to
intervene to ensure that they keep their place and remain our servants. That is a role that Margaret
Thatcher understood very clearly. ‘Never call me laissez-faire,’ she once insisted. ‘Government must
be strong to do those things which only government can do.’
It is in this spirit that George Osborne has made it clear he intends a future Conservative Treasury to
shift taxation policy towards the taxation of pollution and environmental damage. That shift from ‘pay
as you earn’ to ‘pay as you burn’ can happen only when a government understands that it cannot be
neutral in these matters of wellbeing – societal or environmental. It has to build the framework in
which the power of the market will more effectively contribute to the wellbeing of the nation and the
wider world. Margaret Thatcher saw that when, because of market failure, she recognised the need to
play a leading role in the Montreal Protocol. She thus helped to create the first successful global
environmental treaty, which led to rapid solutions to the ozone hole problem. The parallel with climate
change is exact. As Stern realised, it represents the ‘greatest market failure’ – a failure to put a value
on natural resources in general, and carbon in particular. Mrs Thatcher was one of the first to
understand the threat: it will be her lineal successors who must deliver the solutions.
22.214.171.124. Business and the market
Within the market economy, the role of corporations will need clearly to be defined. Corporations
wield significant power, and that power can sometimes be misused. It is government’s job to minimise
this without stultifying business’s ability to create material wealth. It is arguable that financial
regulators and the legal structure in the US have failed to strike that essential balance in the fallout
from Enron. It is also true that simply blaming corporations for our ills is a convenient way of ignoring
the fact that we are all – as consumers and as citizens – responsible for the decisions we make about
the impacts of the products and services these companies provide. Nonetheless, in the UK, it is clear
that New Labour has often made the opposite mistake and been charmed by the siren song of the least
progressive in the CBI. They have yet to learn that being business friendly means encouraging the
best not pandering to the worst.
This becomes the more important as we recognise that corporations have a responsibility to reduce
their carbon footprint as well as to ensure that their activities do not have other negative social or
environmental impacts. Corporations should expect government to set a fair and workable framework
for business. In this Report we have suggested ways in which government and business can work
together to produce the environment which is most conducive to achieving these ends.
126.96.36.199. The individual and communities
As with Conservatism’s enduring interest in a stable environment, this passion for a society that
functions fully at all levels, is part of a long held Conservative philosophy. It celebrates community,
relationships, culture and tradition and all that is which is conducive to the sustainability of human and
environmental wellbeing. As David Cameron said to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations
‘I want my Party to be one that says, loudly and proudly, that there is such a thing as
society – it's just not the same thing as the state. That there's a 'we' in our politics as
well as a 'me.' I want us to bring to the fore the Conservative insight that we're
stronger, more successful and more fulfilled as individuals, families and communities
when we do things together, not separately. And so in the years ahead, when developing
approaches to the big social, economic and environmental challenges our country and
our world faces, my instinct will not just be to say: 'what can government do about
this?' But to ask: 'what can we all do together?’’
The Conservative approach therefore emphasises the importance of community and social justice but it
also involves a healthy scepticism about the state’s ability to deliver these goods. Instead it has an
attitude based on trusting people and a belief that relationships between people and within
communities are crucial. It is this strand of Conservatism that led Nick Hurd to propose the
Sustainable Communities Bill whose principles underlie much of the work of this Report. As a Bill, it
is an excellent example of the kind of responsive community politics which the Conservative party
needs to promote. It seeks to give local people the power to drive the sustainable, community-based,
recreation of Britain.
188.8.131.52. National sovereignty
Conservatives have always viewed national sovereignty as a key principle and will continue to do so.
Instinctively, we do not want others to control what we perfectly well can do ourselves. It is clear,
however, that many of today’s environmental problems transcend national boundaries. Half the air
pollution we produce in Britain we export to the rest of Europe while, in turn, half of what we suffer
comes from the Continent. Only by having common standards can we hope to tackle the problem
successfully, just as clean beaches require a clean North Sea and English Channel – on both sides. In
these environmental issues we are in it together and we need to fashion the arrangements so that they
give maximum national flexibility while insisting on the necessarily high standards we need from all.
Nowhere is this more important than in dealing with climate change where the active policy that
Britain has pursued under both Governments has done much to establish the EU as the world leader on
these issues. Indeed, without that European co-operation it is difficult to believe that Kyoto would
have happened. It is therefore crucial that a future Conservative government should play a key role in
working within the EU and other international institutions if we are to create a sustainable future for us
David Cameron has made clear that the UK can far more easily confront sustainability challenges if
we stand with the EU as part of the world’s largest trading bloc enabling us to play on a far bigger
stage than we could on our own. He has also highlighted his agenda for the EU which demands that
together we focus on three things: ‘globalisation, global warming, and global poverty’. In 2006, he
proved that this focus could deliver with the support of his Party when Conservative MEPs helped to
ensure that environmental safety came before commercial interests in a crucial vote on chemicals
regulation. That regulation has since become the benchmark for many Governments and businesses
throughout the world, including much of the US.
The UN and G8 also play a key role. The UK has a strong position in this regard: as a nation and as
part of the EU we have been a leading player in climate change negotiations at the United Nations.
Previous Conservative Governments have helped to drive forward the agenda on sustainable
development at the UN and elsewhere. An incoming Conservative government will need to continue
this work. In this interconnected world, national sovereignty and international responsibility go hand-
in-hand, and governments which recognise this are far more likely to be successful in delivering for
1.2.5. One nation, one planet
In 1997, writing in Greening the Millennium, political scientist Neil Carter wrote that the Labour Party
‘has an ambivalent attitude to the environment…there is a long-standing suspicion that
environmentalism is the preserve of the middle classes who, in Crosland’s words, want to “kick the
ladder down behind them” by focusing on threats to the countryside while ignoring urban decay and
the material needs of the working class’.
There is enough in this perception to underline the absolute need for green policies to be inclusive and
expressed in a way that is relevant to the whole population. Environmental and social issues must
continue to be part of the same vision not least because environmental damage often affects the more
disadvantaged members of society most. In 2005 a major study found that, although local
environmental problems are widespread, they are worse in low-income areas and people living there
are just as concerned about them as are their better off neighbours.
It is deeply unfair that the rich can largely buy themselves out of the worst of local environmental
degradation and the very poor suffer in a way which is simply not appreciated by their more affluent
fellows. It is frankly unacceptable that there should still be, in Disraeli’s words, ‘two nations between
whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts,
and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich
and the poor.’ ‘One Nation Conservatism’ has always recognised the importance of social justice –
delivered by community action and social cohesion, encouraged by the State and not stifled by its urge
to direct and control.
One Nation Conservatism should walk hand-in-hand with One Planet Conservatism. The prospects of
the poorest members of our society have not improved since 1997; arguably, they have got worse. In
David Cameron’s words, ‘a child from a family in poverty today is less likely to rise to the top of the
income scale than a child in 1970. The gap between life expectancy for the richest and poorest in our
country is now greater than at any point since the time of Queen Victoria.’ A decent quality of life
should be the right of everyone in Britain and a Conservative Government should be committed to
make environmental poverty history.
It is all part of the same issue. Economic, social, and environmental poverty are inextricably
interlinked and the solution to each is a necessary part of the solution to all. For that reason social
justice and sustainability – which might be summed up in the phrase ‘One Nation, One Planet’ – have
gone hand in hand throughout the preparation of this Report. In all of our work we have ensured that
our policy recommendations – on water, waste, energy, transport, building, food, farming and rural
affairs and climate change – are socially progressive. We believe that this is the way forward for a
future Conservative government. Only then will we bridge both the environmental and the social
1.2.6. Redefining progress
A new Conservative administration should seek to reaffirm the fundamental purpose of democratic
government – that is, to ensure the conditions in which the wellbeing of its people can best be assured
and enhanced. Defence of the realm and the rule of law are the first two preconditions but our
understanding of the wellbeing of the nation cannot be so narrowly defined. Peace and prosperity and
the pursuit of happiness demand a society at ease with itself whose citizens feel empowered to make
the best of their lives and free to contribute, as well as to benefit, from the community of which they
are part. GDP is thus not an adequate measure of genuine wellbeing. Economic growth is a vital
measure of a nation’s success but it is neither exclusive nor complete. As the Sustainable Development
Commission puts it:
‘We see [today] a society and a Government whose primary objective is still the
achievement of economic growth as conventionally understood and measured, with as
much social justice and environmental protection as can be reconciled with that central
goal. We envisage a society whose primary goal should be the wellbeing of society itself
and of the planetary resources and environment that sustains us all, with economic
objectives shaped to support that central goal rather than the other way around.’
Research shows that at any given level of income, a 20 per cent increase in wealth gives rise to only a
2 per cent improvement in subjective life satisfaction. Indeed relative income appears to be more
important to us than absolute income, as we compare ourselves to others and then actively consume as
a way of addressing what philosopher Alain de Botton terms ‘status anxiety’. The extra monetary
income needed to support increasing levels of consumption is won at the expense of activities more
strongly correlated with wellbeing, such as time spent with one’s family, community activity, exercise
and fulfilling leisure pursuits.
Such questions are not new to Conservatism. In 1757, Burke wrote in A Vindication of Natural
Society that ’the great Error of our Nature is, not to know where to stop, not to be satisfied with any
reasonable Acquirement; not to compound with our Condition; but to lose all we have gained by an
insatiable Pursuit after more.’ And in 1845 in Sybil, Disraeli observed that ‘Power has only one duty:
to secure the social welfare of the people.’
David Cameron has signalled the crucial importance of work/life balance to wellbeing, and the need to
tilt the balance back from ‘economy-friendly families to family-friendly economies’. He points to the
irony that whilst modern society damages the environment in its desire continually to speed up and
save time, people are often so busy saving time that they don’t get round to using it for the important
things in life. Emphasising the deep satisfaction that comes from belonging to people and to place, he
observes that if ‘so much of our modern globalised consumer culture ultimately seems unsatisfying
then it is because it fails to satisfy this deep human need.’ Thus lifestyles become what Hayek called
‘movement for movement’s sake’. From the slow food movement to the rise in ‘downshifting’, there is
a growing thirst in society to slow things down, for the sake of our wellbeing.
We believe that growth and progress need to be redefined for a new century. ‘Growth’ should also
encompass growth in the value and richness of society, of tolerance, diversity, and variety and of the
strength and empowerment of family and community As a leading American economist, Herman
Daly, has argued, economic growth is focused upon quantitative expansion and the notionally
‘limitless transformation of natural capital into man-made capital’. Sustainable development, by
contrast, is about qualitative improvement, promoting increased economic a