A speech to remember: Lord Deben at SGEA23
Guests at The Scottish Green Energy Awards were bowled over by the passion and power of the evening’s keynote address, delivered by The Rt. Hon. The Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee 2012-2023.
The peer, who until June 2023 oversaw the work of the UK Government’s independent climate change advisor, had the 1,250-strong crowd hanging on his every word, with his zeal about how we make the urgent transition to green energy cementing his messages as take-home ones.
We’ve taken some snippets from his 15-minute oratory to give readers a flavour of a speech that set the tone perfectly for an evening focussed on climate dynamism.
To begin, Lord Deben brought the urgency of the transition into focus by reminding us of what it’s all about: protecting our planet.
We need to make the transition as easy as possible, but we mustn’t pretend it isn’t going to have difficulties. You cannot say to people what is being said: that we are going to deliver net-zero in a way that nobody notices. That is just not possible. What you have to do is first of all to recognise that we have to deliver it. And secondly you have to recognise that we have to deliver it in a way which is fair to the people of Britain as a whole.
"Climate change is the symptom of what we’ve done to the world, not the disease. What we’ve done to the world is to pollute its water, seas, its air and its earth. Our harvests are declining because we have reduced fertility in soil. We have treated people in a way that is unacceptable and that’s why we have modern slavery. Those are the things that we’ve done, and what climate change is is the earth crying out for healing. We human beings have got to listen to that and make the changes which we are capable of."
Lord Deben makes the point that green energy is not just a solution to our environmental problems, but also our economic ones. Investment in the green energy industry was rightly identified as the route to a fair transition and prosperous economy.
“I have to say to political parties of all kinds and trade unions: chasing after the retention of old jobs is a recipe for disaster. What you have to do is get new jobs, and what you have to do is support the growth of the new economy which will provide those jobs.
“We really do have to learn the lessons. Closure of the coal mines was absolutely necessary, what wasn’t necessary was that we didn’t actually follow that up by resuscitating those communities with new jobs in new industries. We have to learn from that: that is part of the lesson that we have to learn about climate change.
“The battle against the cost-of-living crisis is the same as the battle against climate change. We need to expand renewable energy as fast as we can. We have to shift the measurement of our energy from a gas-based one to an electricity-based one.
“Offshore wind, onshore wind and photovoltaics provide for our country the best answer. Not an inferior answer, but the best answer.”
Despite his realism about the urgency of transition and the systemic issues preventing it, Lord Deben’s speech was full of positivity about Scotland’s existing capacity to achieve net-zero:
“I am entirely optimistic. I believe that first of all we have already got all the technology to meet this challenge. We don’t have to hang around for things that might arrive. The ridiculous nature of the government’s 3,000 pages of explaining how it’s going to reach net-zero is that there’s far too much of it based upon things we haven’t got, that we don’t know whether they’re coming and which they’re relying upon.
“We ought to be doing what we can do now with what we’ve got now and it’s here in this room, and in this country of Scotland. It’s here that the future lies, with the technology that is already here, which we have to support and extend.”
To finish, the former CCC Chair delivered a punchy call to action that spoke to every individual in the room at the EICC.
It was refreshing to be reminded that every individual has the power and agency to make a difference in the climate crisis, despite the issue’s complexity and globality:
“So I end with asking all of you to do the following 4 things.
1) Everything we do should be done through the lens of climate change: what we eat, how we travel, everything that we do.
2) We have to take that personally. If we wait for system change we’ll be underwater. The fact is we’ve got to change in this system, and let’s be clear about it, nobody’s going to do what we want them to do unless we do it ourselves. We have to set an example.
3) I want you to get out there and explain to people everywhere, not just in your industry but in the golf club, in the church, in whatever organisation you are in and get them to change because that’s going to be crucial. Every part of our system has got to change, this is a transition for all of us and all of us are part of it.
4) I want you to be tougher, ruder and more insistent on government and the opposition. They must know that their decisions are not just about the next generation or our grandchildren, climate change is happening now and it’s affecting us now, and we have to make governments realise that this is not something to be put off, it is not something that is in the context of 2050, it’s in the context of 2023.”
The effect of his words on our 1,250 guests showed that they had a power that ought to be shared and serve as a reminder as to why we celebrate the hard and pioneering work across the sector at The Scottish Green Energy Awards each year.