The speech made by Claire Coutinho, the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, in Manchester on 2 October 2023.
Our nation – its people and its businesses – are going to succeed in the decades ahead if – and only if – we source enough energy.
Energy that is home-grown, clean and cheap.
If we get this right, the British people will enjoy greater prosperity in the decades ahead.
If we don’t, we lose jobs and investment and our path to a greener future.
I first want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Grant Shapps, who was relentless in making the case for energy security.
He rightly said we cannot be at the mercy of tyrants like Vladmir Putin who seek to weaponise oil and gas against us.
Our best defence is ensuring our own energy independence.
And that energy independence is exactly what the Conservatives are delivering.
We don’t just have the world’s largest off-shore wind farm,
We have the second largest and the third.
And, yes, we have the world’s fourth and imminently the fifth largest too.
All built under our watch.
We’re investing in solar, in fusion and in hydrogen.
And rather than relying on imports, as Keir Starmer would have it, we’re backing our own North Sea.
And we are delivering the first large-scale nuclear project since Margaret Thatcher’s government.
In fact, each and every operational nuclear power plant in Britain began its life under a Conservative government.
And we have done this all whilst meeting our climate change ambitions and growing the economy.
Over the last 30 years, we’ve cut our emissions by half.
We now get close to half of our power from renewables, up from just 7% when Labour left office.
Let’s never forget – Ed Miliband described the idea of the UK getting to 40% renewables as ‘pie in the sky’.
It is this Conservative Party, delivering for our people and our environment.
Our leadership is also bringing wealth to our economy and to British workers.
Since 2010 we have secured £200 billion in low carbon investments with up to £375 billion on the way.
Carbon Capture will see 50,000 high-skilled British jobs in places like Teesside and the Humber.
Our world-leading offshore wind farms will see 100,000 jobs by 2030, from Aberdeen to Cornwall.
And our pioneering hydrogen industry is bringing jobs right here in the North West of England and over the border in North Wales.
And Conference, we’re not just creating energy, we’re saving energy too.
When Labour left power, less than 12% of homes were considered energy efficient.
Now that figure is 50%.
It is we Conservatives who are delivering the practical solutions to ensure we have secure, cheap energy – reducing bills and protecting the environment.
Yet despite our success, we need to be honest about the challenges ahead.
The transition to clean energy should be a cause of optimism for the country.
It should mean jobs and opportunities and pride that we are playing our part in a global challenge.
However, for too many people it had started to feel like an intolerable cost at a time when after the last few years, they felt they could least afford it.
Across Europe, we are seeing the consequences when the public feel that they are being forced into the wrong decisions for their homes and their families.
In Germany, the climate sceptic AfD is now polling in second position in Europe’s largest economy.
In France, over a quarter of people think that climate change is a conspiracy.
In the Netherlands, the rise of a new net zero sceptic party stormed their local elections.
Meanwhile in the UK, only 7% of people think Net Zero is going to be good for them and their family in the near term.
Uxbridge showed us what happens when you tax people for using their cars without thinking about how they would be able to get around otherwise.
Conference, I have worked with families running on a tight budget. I know the difference £12.50 – Labour’s ULEZ tax – can make to people whose finances are stretched.
If we are to succeed, Net Zero can’t be something that is done to people, by a privileged elite.
We cannot force people to make the wrong decisions for their families.
And it is immoral to put forward policies that will impoverish people here, when emissions are rising abroad.
Conference, Labour are the party of tax and condemn.
We Conservatives are the party of aspiration and the environment.
And we should be clear: In the UK we account for 1% of global emissions.
While we’ve reduced rapidly, other countries are polluting more. Their emissions are rising and rising fast.
In China emissions are up over 300%.
We will play our part and we will support other countries to do more, but we can’t do that off the backs off struggling households here at home.
However, the likes of Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, funded by the same people who fund Labour, do not get this.
For them Net Zero has become a religion.
For us it is a practical mission to be achieved.
They want to force people to behave a certain way or face punitive taxes.
And more than that, they show sheer condescension about people’s normal way of life.
Do you eat meat? How dare you.
You’re flying away for a week in the sun? How selfish.
You’re driving to work to put food on the table for your family? Well, you should’ve chosen a different job.
It is these zealots that would see the cause of climate change lost.
More concerned with signalling their own purity then with energising the cause of climate change.
They don’t seek to persuade, only to disrupt.
They don’t want to engage, only to silence.
Conference, that’s the Labour Party for you.
And what do we see?
It’s no wonder Labour seems so relaxed about taxing meat.
Sir Keir Starmer doesn’t eat it,
And Ed Miliband is clearly scarred by his encounter with a bacon sandwich.
Conference, Keir Starmer’s only green credential is his recycling of Ed Miliband.
A man already binned off once before by the great British public,
A man who’s working in lockstep with Just Stop Oil,
And a man who has clearly radicalised Keir Starmer.
Labour’s hated ULEZ expansion,
Their plans to borrow £28 billion a year which would drive up inflation,
To take us much further and faster than any other country, no matter the cost on ordinary people.
Their plans are toxic and would collapse popular support for net zero.
Simply put, it is not the climate change deniers who threaten net zero – it is Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.
They choose ideology over reason at every turn.
Alongside the SNP, the Labour Party opposed further development of the North Sea.
A plan that would export 200,000 oil and gas jobs abroad.
A plan that has been rightly condemned by the unions.
Even our Climate Change watchdog says that when we reach Net Zero in 2050, we’ll still need oil and gas as part of our energy consumption.
Yet Labour would shut down the North Sea.
They would have us more dependent on foreign regimes for longer.
Jobs lost, investment lost, and our national security jeopardised.
Well, we Conservatives are going to do things differently.
The UK can benefit – and is benefiting – from the jobs and investment that the energy transition brings.
From climate finance to generating new technology, we have a leading role that will see us beat climate change.
But conference, we will also ensure we take our own people with us.
Indeed, that is the only way we can achieve this.
That is why we have made sensible adjustments to take a new approach to climate policies.
Of all the major economies, we have set the toughest targets – and we have exceeded all of them.
We are raising our ambitions on clean energy and innovation.
But we are making it financially easier for people to change their boilers, and – crucially – this will be by choice not coercion.
Gone are bans for those in rural communities for whom there is no realistic alternative to their boiler.
For those who can convert, we’re increasing the grant for cleaner heating to one of the most generous schemes in Europe.
We are also moving to a phase out of petrol and diesel engines which is in line with France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada and California.
Our carbon emissions will continue to fall, but people will be able to make the transition when the price is right for them.
We’ve taken the bold decisions because they are the right ones for our people.
We will be ambitious, but we can also be practical.
And above all we must be compassionate.
It is we Conservatives who will deliver both for our people today and for generations to come.
This is a decades’ long endeavour, and we are in it for the long haul.
As part of this long-term strategy.
One that focuses on energy security, lower bills and decarbonisation.
I am today announcing the next phase of our new, practical approach.
Firstly, we are boosting our long-term resilience and will set out our nuclear road map this autumn.
A crucial element of this will be how we deploy the exciting new technology of small modular nuclear reactors.
I am therefore pleased to announce today the six companies we have shortlisted to build these reactors.
Rolls Royce, an iconic British company,
Who have been powering our nuclear submarines for 70 years.
A company founded by the genius of our Union of nations,
Formed by the Welshman Charles Rolls and the English apprentice Henry Royce.
Who formed a partnership right here in the Midland Hotel in Manchester 120 years ago.
They have been selected alongside 5 other world-leading companies, each with cutting edge technology, including GE-Hitachi, EDF, Holtec, Nuscale and Westinghouse, with the final decision to be taken early next year.
Together with Hinkley, Sizewell and our commitment to accelerate other emerging technologies and bring them to market,
It is we Conservatives who are acting now to secure our future.
Now our quest to tackle climate change means taking people with us.
We know that many are hesitant, for example, about solar farms covering our countryside.
Conserving our green and pleasant land is a personal priority for me – from the Surrey Hills to the Derbyshire Dales.
We are therefore working to reduce pressure on rural communities, by making it easier for solar panels to be installed on industrial rooftops, warehouses, car parks and factories.
We’ll cut through the planning red tape that limits the amount of solar businesses can currently install.
Protecting the countryside, boosting renewables and according to industry, saving businesses up to £3 billion pounds a year
Finally, maintaining public support for net zero also means showing compassion.
Rather than clobbering the public and forcing them to make the wrong choices for their families, this government is supporting people as we reduce emissions.
That’s why my last announcement is targeted at those least able to make the transition.
So today I can announce we’re allocating a further £80 million to insulate thousands of social homes, saving families on average £240 each year.
Supporting the most vulnerable, reducing their bills, protecting our environment.
Today’s announcements, taken together –
New nuclear, sensible solar, insulation investment.
It is the Conservatives with the practical, long-term solutions for our country.
The contrast with Labour could not be starker.
Their approach concerns me because it risks public support in the very endeavour they claim to champion.
And it also imperils our mission as Conservatives.
I am a Conservative because I believe that we are custodians of the things that we cherish.
We must deliver abundant, cheap energy so that the next generation can benefit like we did.
We must preserve and protect the environment for those yet to be born.
Since Mrs Thatcher stood up at the United Nations in 1989, it has been this country that has reduced emissions faster than any of our competitors.
I believe that if we place ourselves at the forefront of this latest energy revolution we will reap the rewards just as we did in the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago.
We will be ambitious,
We will be innovative,
And we will be pragmatic.
These are, after all, the attributes that the world associates with Britain.
So let’s take the fight to short-term Starmer.
Let’s not allow Labour to play politics with our energy security.
For it’s only the Conservatives who can save our environment, grow our economy and secure our children’s future.