The Left Should Not Dominate the Conversation on Climate Change
Washington, DC, February 10, 2021
By: John Curtis & Alicia Kearns
In both of our countries, the left has historically dominated the conversation on climate change. In recent years, conservatives have crafted new ideas that will allow us to be better stewards of the environment, create new good-paying jobs, and ensure energy security for future generations.
In the UK, Extinction Rebellion has demanded the UK reach net zero by 2025, blocking public transportation and preventing the delivery of right-leaning newspapers.
In the US, progressives on the left have called for a “green new deal.” The concept has huge public spending implications, not only for clean energy but also for non-climate-related domestic liberal priorities. Ultimately, this proposal would cost trillions of dollars while not addressing the core issue, increasing international emissions, particularly from China.
Neither of those paths constitute sensible, deliverable climate policies. We agree that addressing climate change will require bold and innovative policies, but the left’s approaches would put our countries at an international competitive disadvantage, which neither country can afford, and increase the government’s involvement in citizens’ lives, which is unacceptable. Simply put, those approaches are a threat to both our prosperity and liberty—and would hamper the very innovation required to reduce emissions.
Instead, we need pragmatic solutions that empower individuals and businesses to innovate and invest in clean technologies that will cut emissions while supporting jobs and spurring economic growth. That requires recognition that private markets are uniquely positioned to deliver at the scale necessary to address climate change and that the principal role of government should be to create markets that incentivize individuals and companies to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.
In the UK, despite the environment being a key component of the Conservative Party’s policy agenda, and successive Conservative governments having cut emissions by almost 30 per cent over the past decade while growing the economy, climate change is still regarded as a left-wing issue. Meanwhile, many Republican legislators in the US have often evaded grappling with the issue altogether.
The truth is, on both sides of the Atlantic, many of our colleagues on the right have been absent from the climate debate because they have been unsure of the conservative solutions or have been deterred by a movement that too often couches its argument in anti-free market rhetoric. We need to stop the culture of “shaming” where any effort to reduce emissions is labelled “not enough”. Many small actions can lead to big change, and applauding positive efforts will result in more momentum for change than shaming ever could.
Indeed, some policy progress has already been made in recent years. The Conservative government in the UK has legislated to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. In both of our countries, the use of renewable energy is increasing, which has dramatically brought down costs. Meanwhile, coal use is declining — in the UK through deliberate policy and in the US as a consequence of cheaper alternatives and falling demand. The US, abundant in natural resources, is in a perfect position to cleanly develop natural gas that could be deployed around the world. This will not only support our allies abroad with a cleaner energy source, but also ensure they don’t become reliant on less reliable foreign sources such as China or Russia.
Do not doubt our commitment to the environment or our ability to meet the scale of the challenge. Conservative leaders from the UK and US have worked together to solve environmental challenges before. It was Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who spearheaded the Montreal protocol to cut chlorofluorocarbons to protect the ozone layer. True conservatives value conservation and the environment, it is in our name after all.
The future prosperity and security of our countries, as well as the political success of our parties, require conservatives to lead in tackling the greatest environmental challenge of our time. If we do so, we have the opportunity to forge effective and durable climate policies in both of our countries, determine how those solutions can be scaled globally, and drown out the voices of extremism that threaten people’s livelihoods and our economies.
Alicia Kearns is a Conservative MP on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the National Security Strategy Joint Committee. John R. Curtis is a Republican Congressman representing Utah’s 3rd District and serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee