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Student Peace Debate: November 2019

Thank you, Mr Bailiff, it is a great privilege for me to be invited to speak to you today. 

Not just because I currently have political responsibility, but for more important reasons.
The late Colin Powell was a close colleague of mine in our civil service for nearly ten years, and I saw his very strong support of our environment and the sustainable policies which Jersey introduced in the 1990’s and early noughties. He sought in those policies he developed to ensure as well as a strong economy, Jersey balanced this against strong environment policies. Sadly, these Sustainable Policies have since lapsed. I believe our community must refresh and strengthen them as Jersey faces big decisions from the pressure of unsustainable economic growth.

Secondly, I believe we are now seeing “a new generation arisen" (as John Masefield, poet laurate, said) of young people rising to the challenge of the environmental emergency. A generation which recognises that climate change is the biggest threat to our planet and our future civilisation. A generation which will become the politicians and lead citizens who will be making the decisions and choices.

It has happened before. My parents, your grandparents, who faced the horrendous hostilities of World War 2, transformed the quality of peacetime life in the 50s and 60s, in housing, health, education, decent jobs. I see a parallel with the rise of our young people who are making their voices heard on today’s issues, demanding changes to better care for and respect our environment. As an older person brought up the 50s, I find that so very inspiring.

Your influence has already had huge impact on politics.

From a “nice to have" consideration, our environment has now become a major issue with the public and politicians everywhere have had to respond.

In the last 2 years not a day goes by without a news story, either of extreme weather events, new scientific understanding of the long-standing damage caused from human activities, in such things as waste plastics accumulating in our food chain. But more encouragingly we also hear community initiatives to make changes and new scientific innovations to help us reduce our impact to our planet. Our business world is starting to respond too, recognising the importance to consumers.

I expect you may see the development of a new economics, one in which environmental and community well-being feature as strongly as financial economics currently does in our priorities. I believe that will help of us in our future choices.

I want to highlight Jersey’s Global reach; we are part of a dimension of international effort and the environment is no exception. As a young person, I can recall being excited by the international geophysical year in the late 1950’s which led to a massive growth in international planetary and global science in the 1960s and 1970’s from which climate change amongst many discoveries, was first identified.

International agreements in the 1980’s resulted in the United Nations taking the initiative to reduce the environmental risk and the first climate change agreement at Kyoto in 1997 set target reductions in carbon emissions. That treaty was later extended to Jersey and in 2014 Jersey States adopted the target of 80% carbon reductions against 1990s carbon levels by 2050. I was pleased to lead the scrutiny review and contributed to this excellent energy plan.

I want to highlight Jersey’s performance against that plan. We have significantly reduced our carbon emissions, largely by our decision to replace local oil-fired electricity generation with interconnectors to France, via which Jersey receives certified renewable energy from French hydro and nuclear powers sources. But we cannot be complacent. There is much more to do, particularly in our use of vehicles where we have seen only a modest move to low and no carbon vehicles, and our uncontrolled growth in the number of private cars continues unabated.

We currently report our emissions and compare favourably. We generate 3.5 tonnes of CO2 per person, Guernsey 5.7 and UK 7.0.  51% of our emissions comes from our use of vehicles, heating of homes and businesses is around 35%, but this does not include embedded energy, in air and sea transport in an out of Jersey, in all food and products we import to Jersey. We simply do not know these figures. Our extrinsic carbon emission is likely to be many many times more, highlighting that no nation can disregard the bigger international picture, no matter how small and insignificant our own emissions are compared to other countries.

International science has now identified that climate change is at a tipping point, leading to the Paris agreement in 2015, which identified the emergency, seeking to limit the irreversible temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. The UK has signed that agreement and extended to Jersey.

Local responses have been very significant. The IPCC international report and reaction especially to Sir David Attenborough’s TV documentary led to major public call for action. Jersey States has declared a Climate Emergency in May 2019, from a back-bench member (Deputy Ward) which I am pleased to have supported. I am delighted to say this has set a lead for other Crown dependencies, both Isle of Man and Guernsey are set to follow our lead. Our aim is to achieve target of carbon neutrality by 2030.  Our jurisdictions are working closely together on this work.

The adoption of a climate emergency by many nations has led to the rise of carbon credits and taxes elsewhere, and agreements made for carbon sequestration to link the consumption of carbon to carbon fixing projects, such as investment in reforestation overseas and growth and operation of a carbon market (the current price $40 per tonne).

It is very likely in the longer future that Jersey will need to buy carbon credits for its own residual emissions. I think Jersey will have to consider carbon taxes too.  This is such a fast-developing area and may offer an opportunity for Jersey with its great expertise in global financial services and regulation to lead internationally in this area.

As Minister I am tasked by the States with producing a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and we have expert helping us. We are due to publish this plan in the next few weeks. It will be a strategic route map setting out the significant implications and potential cost. The States debate due early next year will test the public appetite for the changes and interventions required.

In the meantime, we have made provision in the 2020-24 government plan for £18 million of government investment, money which will have to be carefully targeted. The Climate emergency fund will receive £13 million from vehicle fuel duty and £5 million from reserves. There is no question that the capital investment required by the whole community will cost many times that amount.

This is a huge challenge for Jersey. The cost will be strongly linked to the timescale we adopt to achieve carbon neutrality, it can be expected that the quicker the change, the higher the cost. We will need to avoid adversely effecting members of our community who cannot afford to make the investments and changes required and they will need help and support and subsidies. This is likely to require a carrot and stick approach to government financing and our taxes.

We will need to gain community support for these future decisions and actions your voices will be vital. Our survey soundings within our 15-21-year olds, has shown 88% support for declaration of climate emergency and approx. 80% are concerned about the threat of climate change.

I want to encourage you to keep going in expressing your opinions and call for measures to mitigate climate change. In the meantime, we have all to think and act positive. There are a few people who hold contrary views, unfortunately and most notably the President of the United States, but they are in a small majority. Remember, politicians come and go, the messages of “the last generation arisen“ is that major and global challenges can be overcome. They are overcome by people working constructively together as a community, listening, respecting and valuing each other and the contribution each of us makes to the greater good. I promise you while I am still a politician I will be listening to your views as we embark on this journey and will continue to do my best to make progress.

I congratulate each of you for participating today, and on the broad and interesting topics you have selected for debate, If I have touched on points on which you are planning to speak repetition is good for emphasis - as we know in the States or alternatively please challenge if you disagree. We all enjoy public speaking, so please don’t hold back, the island is listening live, and I hope can watch it back on web replay. Enjoy the morning. I am so looking forward to your debates.

Thank you again for allowing me to speak to you.

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