Jesse’s Ross Gazette column: Environmentally Friendly

Gazette readers will have seen the protesters of Extinction Rebellion campaigning recently--not just on Oxford Street in London, but in front of the Shire Hall in Hereford.

Local Extinction Rebels had congregated a couple of times to campaign outside my office, but unfortunately without checking whether I was there.  So I arranged to meet a representative group of young people from the Rebellion the other day to talk through the issues.  Their friends and parents kindly waited outside with placards and banners as we talked.

Reader, it was a terrific session. They were warm, engaged, passionate and searching in their questions; concerned to highlight their fear that "the house is burning" from climate change, and keen to get the Government to do more to combat its effects. We talked for almost two hours!

Fear can be a great spur to action, but it can also be a source of huge error.  To take one notorious example, Germany's energy transition or Energiewende is sometimes cited as a great triumph; but its rapid withdrawal from nuclear energy has caused much more burning of brown coal, pushing carbon emissions up, not down.   

It was not clear that the Rebels knew how quite how much the Government is already doing in this area. On electric cars, for example, we have already spent some £500 million of taxpayers' money on subsidies to buyers, to get the market going; we will shortly launch a further £400 million electric charging infrastructure fund; and we have supported billions of pounds of private sector investment in renewable energy.

As Transport Minister, I was closely involved in the development last year of the Government’s pioneering Road to Zero low-emissions transport strategy, including a commitment with industry to phase out new fossil fuel-powered cars and vans by 2040. I have led on our Future of Mobility work, which plots a way forward in using new technologies to create safer, greener and more inclusive modes of transport.

I have also pressed very hard to support cycling and walking, spending on which has risen by almost three times since 2010; promoted a new strategy for light rail and tram systems; and launched a fund to support e-cargo bikes, which can move away from diesel vans and make last-mile deliveries cleaner and greener. 

There is scope to do much more, and we certainly don’t have all the answers. But this may give some sense of how active we have been in this important area.