Richard Lambert: Stop hyping green jobs

The director general of the CBI, the British business lobby group, has been outlining this morning his vision of where exactly the UK business sector is in terms of meeting its climate change commitments.

Speaking at the CBI’s climate change summit in London, Lambert made a fairly downbeat assessment of what has been achieved over the past three years. And he had two simple messages for UK policymakers: be consistent and stop hyping ‘green’ jobs.

The second of these messages comes as something of a surprise from a spokesman for British industry, which has been told to expect a major boom from the creation of jobs related to tackling climate change.

Here’s what he said:

Stop hyping green jobs. This government, and particularly the last government, kept banging on about green jobs in the most vague way – to the extent that the British public thought this was a load of spin and not going to happen.

This may be a blow to politicians who have connected fighting climate change with economic growth, at least in their rhetoric, in an effort to get the business community on side.

But Lambert said the government would be better off making incremental regulatory changes if it wants to win the support of companies:

Companies that were right behind us.. are now saying, “My goodness not another rule, not another incremental tweak. Why can’t we have something simple we can get on with? That’s why the change to the carbon reduction commitment was so damaging. Incremental change is making it more difficult to do business.

Lambert insisted the CBI remained “fully committed” to tackling climate change but his words on the European target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 will disappoint some campaigners:

We feel that it is a target that has been pulled out of the air and there has been no impact assessment on it. We are not throwing our shoulder to the wheel. We didn’t think 20% was achievable.

That runs counter to a letter signed by some of the UK’s highest profile business people earlier this year supporting plans by Chris Huhne, the energy secretary, to push for an increase of that target to 30 per cent.

The doom and gloom was deepened by one of the things said by Irwin Lee, vice president of P&G UK, who said that consumer research showed:

When asked if they want to do their bit for the environment if they would change their behaviour to limit the impact they have on climate change two thirds of the UK population say yes.

But what we’ve also found is that they won’t pay much more for this or make do with less performance. They won’t accept trade-offs.

In other words, consumers want something for nothing.

But Lee also told Brits to stop being so hard on themselves, and that he found climate change dominated corporate culture much more in this country than in any of the many others he had worked in.

Perhaps my write-up hasn’t helped there then…

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