What are the first steps that countries like the UK need to take to build a green economy?
First, the prices we pay for goods need to tell the ecological truth. If a product has come from the other side of the world and a huge amount of damage has been done in terms of CO2 emissions, then that should be reflected in the price of the product. We also urgently need to redesign our energy sector and make real investments in green technology. Research into new forms of clean energy is important too, but we can’t afford to sit and wait for miraculous green technology before acting.
Can we have green globalisation?
I think that the globalisation of ideas, of friendships and of communities is a very good thing, but we need to separate it from the economy. Firstly, our trade system with poorer countries allows us to wastefully import goods that we could quite easily produce domestically. But also, in a globalised world, local regions don’t have enough control to reshape their economies to better suit the environment; people don’t feel like they have any influence over business practices if companies can just up sticks and move elsewhere.
Can developing countries go green?
There are two things that need to be done: firstly, developed countries need to demonstrate in their actions that they are serious about cutting their own emissions. Rich countries are disproportionately responsible for the climate change that has happened to date, and morally speaking it’s impossible to lecture developing countries about what they should be doing while our own record in cutting emissions is so poor and our ambitions for the future so limited. The second priority has to be technological and financial transfers, and we need to be serious about actually putting money on the table, which is exactly what has been lacking at past climate summits. We keep setting up climate funds and putting very little money in them; the architecture for change is there, but we still need to actually put the money in.
Do environmental reforms depend on government action?
We need to move away from a society that is designed for the production and consumption of more and more stuff, and if we are not focused on producing more stuff, then we need to be far more egalitarian about the goods that we do have. Redistribution has to be a political counterpart to a green economy. At the same time, there are strong local movements in the UK that are working to build more localised economies, in particular with regards to food, but the government has to create a legal framework in which these kinds of local initiatives can flourish. For example, our public procurement laws at the moment make it impossible for local businesses to take on large contracts and actually develop into viable enterprises, so building a localised economy will need government leadership.
Do you find that your policies are always in opposition to business?
Actually, I think that businesses are often ahead of the government on this. There are businesses that are seriously considering how their model would change in a green economy, and that are starting to find ways to operate without being dependant on a throwaway culture – companies that will rent goods, and recycle them once they are worn out, rather than simply throwing them away. I think businesses have to be part of the solution, but we need to focus on social enterprises and mutual co-ops. The shareholder model focuses solely on financial interest, which is very hard to reconcile with a green economy.