You probably haven't visited Marton in north-east England. It is a quiet and unassuming village, home to some 10,000 people, and I am proud that it is not only my birthplace, but part of the constituency I represent in the UK Parliament. Marton's most famous son, born there in 1728, is Captain James Cook - a controversial figure for some, but a reminder to me of the longstanding bond between the UK and our friends and allies in Australia.
Nearly 300 years after Cook's birth, that friendship is as strong as ever - from our healthy rivalry in sport to our shared resolve to stand up to China, and from our quest for a bold free-trade agreement to the huge number of our citizens who visit and work in each other's countries every year. Now, as we face the huge global challenge of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope we will soon have something else in common: a shared commitment to stopping our nations' contribution to global warming.
Tackling climate change has often been a tricky subject for those of us on the right. We are wary of suggestions that the whole state must swing into action to combat a future threat; we are protective of our constituents' jobs in industry; and we are alarmed at some of our opponents' calls to sacrifice economic prosperity for the good of the environment.
But it doesn't have to be like this. Conservatives across the world are realising that - with the right solutions - we can combat the threat posed by global warming and grow jobs and the economy too. In the UK, where we are in our 11th consecutive year of a Conservative-led government, we have cut carbon emissions by over 42 per cent since 1990, faster than any other G20 country, and we have grown our economy by 72 per cent over the same period, despite the recession of 2007-09, and achieved almost full employment before the pandemic hit.
And we are going further still. In 2019, the UK became the first major economy to legislate for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and we are preparing to host the major international climate summit COP26 later this year.
When I led the campaign amongst UK Conservative MPs for us to adopt that net-zero target, I did so not despite being a conservative, but precisely because I'm a conservative. There is of course a right way and a wrong way to do this - we will not cut our carbon emissions and boost our economy by going down the route of massive state intervention, for example, but by backing businesses to develop new, clean technologies and incentivising the uptake of solutions like electric vehicles and insulation, whilst making sure that this does not fall on the backs of those who can least afford it. We don't have to compromise our beliefs to protect the environment; we have to put them into action.
I am proud that our plans in the UK are forecast to create 2 million green jobs and grow the value of our low-carbon exports to over $A290 billion by 2030. For constituencies like mine, which have been too long ignored by the powers that be in London, there is a fantastic opportunity to benefit from this economic uplift.
Conservatives are understandably sceptical about targets, but the really good news here is that, in less than two years since being legislated, our net-zero target has proven highly effective in providing certainty about the direction of government policy, stimulating action and innovation from businesses that is, crucially, driving down the costs of zero-carbon solutions in a whole variety of areas. We still have a long way to go to achieve our goal, but every new analysis is showing that net zero is becoming the economically sensible option, as well as the one that's best for the environment.
Australia is better placed than almost any other nation to benefit from the transition to net zero, with vast potential for wind and solar power, a high-skilled workforce, and a longstanding commitment to free, global trade. I hope very much that the UK-Australia free-trade agreement currently being negotiated will make it easier for us to import critical minerals used in electric car batteries, as well as green hydrogen which could revolutionise heavy transport and industrial heating - both areas in which Australia could be a world leader.
Furthermore, with allies like the US, the UK and the EU now seriously looking at implementing border carbon adjustments - essentially, taxes on carbon intensive imports - Australia has a golden opportunity to join a growing family of nations committed to climate action and increasing the flow of clean trade. If implemented carefully, these border adjustments would stimulate inward investment into clean industries, and level the playing field with high-emitting producers like China.
The risk is that failing to embrace this potential to the maximum will soon leave Australia with an outdated and uncompetitive economic model at a time when its trading partners and rivals are accelerating in the opposite direction, as well as having to deal with the ruinous impacts of climate change itself.
It was heartening to hear Scott Morrison recently state his support for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, preferably by 2050, and his commitment to clean technology. I hope he is backed and supported in this endeavour by all Australians, and especially my conservative counterparts in the Coalition, by turning this admirable rhetoric into economic reality.
The challenge looks huge, and hesitancy is understandable, but we should reject the false choice between what is good for the environment and what is good for the economy. Our two nations have always stood alongside each other in facing the great challenges of our times. As we seek to build back from the destruction wreaked by the pandemic, I hope that the UK and Australia can together lead the way in a clean, green and prosperous recovery.
- Simon Clarke is the UK Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.