Bright Blue’s Green conservatism conference will be an opportunity for centre-right politicians, opinion formers, experts, and industry practitioners to discuss and shape future conservative policies and strategy on the environment. 

The conference will be held in the summer of 2017 in Westminster. There will be two keynote speeches, one delivered by Nick Hurd MP (Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry) and the other by Lord Deben (Chair of the Committee on Climate Change). Three panel sessions will explore the future of agriculture, strengthening the energy market, and rethinking conservation, with a range of influential centre-right decision makers and opinion formers as speakers. 

The UK’s climate-sceptic fringe has been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump in the US and by Brexit to argue for weaker environmental protections. There is an urgent need for a countervailing conservative movement arguing in favour of protecting the environment. Environmental issues are too often seen as exclusively the concern of the political left. Not only does this harm the political appeal of conservatism to voters that care about the environment, but it also risks losing vital pro-market voices from environmental policymaking.

Yet Conservatives intuitively understand that each generation has a responsibility to the next to hand on a preserved environmental inheritance. We also understand that concern for the environment is properly rooted in people's concern for and responsibility towards the condition of their local communities. Conservatives in power have a proven track-record of delivering action on the environment. A Conservative Government in the UK led the world in introducing a Clean Air Act in 1956 to tackle urban air pollution. Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made one of the first major international speeches on climate change to the UN General Assembly in 1989. And David Cameron's Conservative Government announced that it would close the UK's remaining coal-fired power stations.

There are three suggested key areas where green conservatives can be influential in shaping the political narrative on the environment:

  1. The future of agriculture. Assessing the effectiveness of agricultural subsidies, and developing a new domestic farming policy that increases agricultural productivity and improves the natural environment.
  2. Strengthening the energy market. Discussing the role of the state and private enterprise in the energy sector, and developing policies that could strengthen private markets, while also cost-effectively tackling climate change.
  3. Rethinking conservation. Evaluating different approaches to preserving and enhancing the state of the natural environment, and understanding the implications of conservation policies across government departments.

Following the impact and profile of Bright Blue's Green conservatism project, this conference offers a unique opportunity for delegates to build a network of centre-right environmentalists and to discuss the development of centre-right ideas and policies for protecting the environment.

Proposed programme

08.30am    Registration
09.00am    Introduction from Ryan Shorthouse
09.10am     Keynote speech from Nick Hurd MP
09.30am    Q&A session
09.45am     Panel discussion one: The future of agriculture
10.45am     Coffee break
11.15am      Keynote speech from Lord Deben
11.30pm     Panel discussion two: Strengthening the energy market
12.30pm     Panel discussion three: Rethinking conservation
13.30pm     Networking lunch  
14.30pm     Conference ends

Proposed panel discussions

1.    The future of agriculture

The agricultural sector in the UK will be particularly affected by the UK leaving the EU. After Brexit, there will be an opportunity to reform farm subsidies, which as part of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy currently provide over half of farmers' income, redirecting funds to ecosystem services like natural flood management. And there will be other impacts, besides changes to subsidies. On the one hand, there could be a possible reduction in seasonal migrant labour and increases in export tariffs for trade to the EU. On the other, there could be the opportunity to reform controversial regulations such as the three-crop rule and the ban on GM crops. In addition to these Brexit-related changes, farming practices are being modernised by increased digitalisation, facilitated by the roll-out of superfast rural broadband, and new agricultural technology, offering significant potential productivity gains. 

Key questions:

  • Should agricultural subsidies continue being paid to farmers post-Brexit?
  • How can farmers be incentivised to provide ecosystem services, such as tree planting?
  • How can the Government use skills and infrastructure policy to boost the agricultural sector?
  • What are the opportunities from Brexit for the farming industry?
  • How can the Government encourage more exports from the agricultural sector?

 

2.    Strengthening the energy market

The need to tackle climate change has forced major changes in the energy market, reversing some of the reforms of then Energy Secretary Nigel Lawson when he privatised the industry in the 1980s. Some of the policy interventions to enable the necessary rapid deployment of clean energy capacity have weakened the role of markets in the energy sector, introducing distorting subsidies and regulation. But as clean energy deployment becomes driven more by innovation and falling costs, subsidies should be phased out and more market-based solutions could be adopted, such as effective carbon pricing and technology-neutral capacity auctions.

Key questions:

  • How effective are carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes at encouraging investment in clean energy?
  • Should the government offer taxpayer- or billpayer-funded subsidies to stimulate the early market for clean technologies?
  • How can the government ensure a level playing field for both demand-side and supply-side measures for decarbonisation?
  • Do auctions enable governments to avoid 'picking winners' in the energy sector?
  • How can the UK ensure it is a global leader in selling low-carbon products and services?

 

3.    Rethinking conservation

Conservatives make natural conservationists. From the creation of a ‘Blue Belt’ of marine reserves around some of the UK’s overseas territories, to the ban on the modern ivory trade, to its pledge to plant 11 million trees in this Parliament, the Conservative Governments since 2010 have made some good progress in this area. However, these are too often isolated successes which fail to join up the work of different government departments. Further improvements are possible, from encouraging more sustainable livelihoods for local fishermen in marine reserves, to doing more to tackle Britain’s role in global supply chains for illegal wildlife. There is also concern that departing the EU threatens the conservation of Britain’s natural environment through political pressure to weaken environmental protections.

Key questions:

  • What are the benefits of forestry, and how can coverage be increased in the UK?
  • How should conservatives approach tackling the illegal wildlife trade?
  • How can marine reserves be made more effective at protecting the marine environment?
  • Is natural capital a useful framework to drive conservation?
  • Should conservatives support rewilding to reverse the decline in biodiversity?