How best can Jersey lead on climate change?

This week the States Assembly debated an amendment (from Deputy Rob Ward) to the Common Strategic Policy (the government’s strategic programme for the next few years) that related to Climate Change. This amendment called for the government to;

  • encourage disinvestment from “fossil fuel linked businesses” by “Jersey linked businesses”;
  • oppose fracking and
  • support sustainable finance.

The Council of Ministers proposed an amendment to Deputy Ward’s amendment which removed the first two clauses (relating to disinvestment and fracking), but strengthened the section on sustainable finance.

In the debate I argued for the government’s “amendment to the amendment”. I wanted to explain a little further – especially to my friends in the environmental movement – why I did that. In particular, it is important to emphasise that the wording of Deputy Ward’s amendment was far too sweeping and imprecise to achieve even what I believe he sought to achieve. The flip side of disinvestment is investment; we need colossal investment over many decades to achieve the energy transition. Some of that money is going to come from “fossil fuel linked” companies. It’s going to have to. They have the resources and – in some cases – the expertise. Therefore I cannot support blanket disinvestment from the fossil fuel industry. There may be a case for the government of Jersey to develop a detailed policy that sets out how we will use the power of our finance industry to push the fossil fuel sector towards green investment, but Deputy Ward’s amendment did not make that case.

It was striking in the debate that not a single Reform Jersey speaker attempted to answer the detailed points I made in my speech. Instead there was much silliness about “betrayal”; lots of emotion, no engagement with the argument.

For those who are interested (I accept they will be small in number), here is the speech that I wrote for that debate. This written version includes sections that I cut from the speech I gave to the Assembly, in the interests of brevity.

Those who wish to watch the speech will find it here, about 29 minutes in.

INTRODUCTION

Sir, I know that Deputy Ward’s amendment is born out of the passionate desire to do more to tackle climate change. I know that it is frustrating that progress is so slow, that COP27 ended with a whimper rather than a bang, that globally emissions are still rising. I appreciate that many people in this island would like Jersey to be a leader in emissions reductions. I share those feelings. I too would love to see faster progress. I too believe that Jersey should be a leader in the battle against climate change. Yet still I cannot support the first two parts of the Deputy’s amendment and instead I’m asking the Assembly to back the Council of Minister’s amendment. I want to explain why, but also to explain why the approach that we are taking as a government will actually achieve more in terms of real change and delivers more in terms of effective leadership. 

DISINVESTMENT

So let’s examine Deputy Ward’s amendment in more detail. The first part instructs us to “actively promote disinvestment from fossil fuel linked investments from Jersey linked businesses”.  Let’s leave aside the imprecision of terms like “Jersey linked business” and “fossil fuel linked businesses” and see how that plays out. 

Straight away we run into problems. I know that the Deputy is a big fan – as I am – of biofuels. He knows – because I’ve made this point in answer to a question in this Chamber – that the problem we have with biofuels is that they are very expensive, because there just isn’t enough supply at the moment. Therefore we urgently need more investment in biofuel production. Now, one of the bigger investors in biofuels is Shell – they’re currently investing in a new biofuels refinery in Rotterdam for example. So what do we do about Shell? Do we disinvest because it’s a fossil fuel giant? Or invest because it’s also investing in biofuels? And by the way, it’s also a big investor in wind power. And solar. If we kept in the first clause of the deputy’s amendment, I genuinely do not know whether we should be disinvesting from Shell or not.

There are many other examples like this, because fossil fuel companies are diversifying. I have no idea how you disinvest from just the fossil fuel parts of these businesses whilst supporting the other investment that we DO want to happen. So that would pose a real problem for our “active promotion” of disinvestment. What should we be telling the finance sector to do as they make investment decisions?

But it’s not just in the finance sector that this disinvestment policy might cause us problems. There are issues for other businesses operating in Jersey too. We are still dependent on petrol, diesel, fuel oil and gas in this island. We rely on companies supplying those products to keep the island working. Yes, we’re engaged in a plan to phase out those fuels, but we are still dependent on them. What if they need investment to keep operating? What if government investment is needed in critical fuel infrastructure? What if Jersey Electricity need to invest in backup fossil fuel generators to maintain our energy security? What if Ports of Jersey need to invest in fuel storage facilities at the airport? These are all “fossil fuel linked investments” are they not? Are we banned from supporting investment in companies on whom we still depend?

Sir, there’s one further problem with the first two parts of Deputy Ward’s amendment. It is so imprecise, so general, so lacking in clarity, that it can mean anything to anyone. There are no metrics for success, no measurable outcomes, indeed no specific actions. This worries me. I’m sure the deputy would never seek to do this, but it is possible that an amendment like this would become a stick to beat the government with. What have you done this week to encourage disinvestment? What have you done to oppose fracking? Last week I was at a dinner for EU Ambassadors, perhaps I would face questions as to whether I had spent my time opposing fracking in those discussions. To which the answer would be no, on this occasion I was too busy talking about fishing – the stuff that makes a difference to people here in Jersey. Without clear goals and measurable outcomes I fear Deputy Ward’s amendment sets us up to fail. We can never do enough.

This part of Deputy Ward’s amendment is far too sweeping, far too ambiguous, far too unclear and in the end likely to be counterproductive to government policy. That is why we cannot support it.

FRACKING

Now let’s look at fracking – a part of Deputy Ward’s amendment that again I’m afraid we cannot support. 

I want to make clear that I’m not a fan of fracking – for the same reasons as the Deputy. But what would be the effect of this amendment in the real world?

Once again there is a problem of clarity, before we even get to the content. Where do we “oppose” fracking? The government of Jersey has no intention of fracking, there is no fracking potential in Jersey, so there will be no investment in Jersey in fracking. It’s easy to oppose investment in fracking if it just applies to Jersey. If that is all that this amendment stood for then it would be harmless. Pointless, but harmless. 

However, it is clear from the Deputy’s speech that he intends this amendment to go further. We are to oppose investment in fracking all over the world.

I’m not quite sure how as a government we would in practical terms “oppose” investment in fracking, but presumably it means we are supposed to tell people and governments that we oppose investing in fracking. So what would that achieve?

We might get some applause from some quarters. I can see the gallery that such a policy would play to. But we might also be heavily criticised for naïveté and a lack of understanding. This winter – and the next few winters – are going to see a huge energy crunch in Europe. Because of the war in Ukraine and the need to replace Russian gas in Europe’s energy system, the EU is rushing to buy as much gas as possible. It’s a national imperative that I’m afraid trumps in the short term the need to reduce emissions. The lights have to stay on. (And before we get all high and mighty about this, let us remember that if for any reason we lost our connection to the French grid, we too would be firing up our fossil fuel powered back up plants to keep the lights on.)

And where is this gas coming from? A large chunk is going to come from the USA, from fracked gas supplies. Are we really going to turn around and tell our friends in Europe that we do not think that you should have that gas? That our moral purity says that the money spent investing in fracking is wrong, even if it means that they lose the ability to provide energy to their people? And are we to tell the USA that whilst they’re stepping in now with fracked gas to help Europe through the winter, we’d really rather they didn’t keep on investing in that?

Might those countries not look at us and say something like: “It’s all very well for you to sit there smugly lecturing the rest of the world on what they should and shouldn’t invest in, you’re just 100,000 people sitting on the end of an extension cable from the French zero carbon electricity production. Good for you. What about the rest of us?” 

The reality is that for the short term, the world needs gas, and some of it is going to come from fracking. That is a reality we may not like, but we will win few friends and little influence if we use our privileged and unique position to lecture the rest of the world. Far, far better to show that we understand the difficult decisions that are necessary to get our friends and allies through the energy crunch for the next few years.

There’s one more point to make. Do we really think that people like me telling other people – whether that be businesses or other governments, whether it be in private talks or public speeches – that they should not be investing in fracking will make the blindest bit of difference? No sir, I fear my powers of persuasion are unlikely to be that great, and it is likely we would – as I’ve said – be accused of virtue signalling and ignoring the realities that many other countries face. 

So Sir, what would work? How could we best be a force for good in the world? How could we use our “soft power” to advance the case for emissions reductions? There is a better way to give us the leadership role that we all crave, and it’s one that will be much more powerful than lecturing from on high. It is to be an inspirational example of change. 

SHOW NOT TELL

Sir, I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but in my previous life I worked in television, making Science documentaries. We had a mantra when it came to writing our scripts which was “SHOW NOT TELL”. In other words, don’t tell someone that something is amazing, show them how amazing it is. Use pictures not words. I would use the same mantra now in the battle to tackle climate change: SHOW NOT TELL. Our greatest contribution to this huge, era defining, generational struggle is to be an exemplar. The best thing we can do is to deliver the change that we need to make, not to lecture other countries about what they should be doing. To show how we have tackled the hard choices.

Perhaps for some this focus on the specifics of what we can deliver isn’t enough. It doesn’t paint a picture in primary colours, it’s just a bit too dull. I disagree. It is in the details of how we deliver reductions in carbon emissions that the battle against climate change will be won. These are the hard miles, the tough slog of how we will deliver carbon reduction. This is where we need to put our efforts. Because it’s not easy and I say very frankly that so far we haven’t achieved enough. Getting our emissions reduction schemes right matters, because ultimately the credibility of the whole transition to net zero depends on those schemes working well and being seen to deliver for people. We know it’s not easy because other countries aren’t doing well at it. To give just one example, if we look at the UK, their attempt to introduce a home insulation scheme, the Green Home Grants Scheme, was a total flop.

We have to do better. Here in Jersey my colleague Deputy Jeune is working with officers on a scheme to incentivise the shift away from fossil fuel home heating systems. There’s a lot of detail to sort out. What are the criteria for people to qualify for help? Do we need different schemes for people on different incomes? How do we make sure that people get the right advice – and we don’t end up installing a heating solution that doesn’t work for them? Which low carbon technologies should we support? Do we need to increase the number of qualified fitters able to install equipment and if so, how? What’s the comeback for the public if something goes wrong with the installation? And so on. A lot of detailed questions that need answering before we can launch a scheme. That’s what I want us to be spending our time doing. Sweating the details. Getting it right. Making real progress.

And there is another positive way in which we can show our leadership in the climate struggle. Through our great strength in finance. So now I come to the third part of the Deputy’s amendment, to do with sustainable finance. This we can work with, which is why we have sought to amend his amendment rather than delete it. We are determined to promote sustainable finance, and I’m sure that colleagues will talk about that later. We do not think there is a need to introduce legislation to enable sustainable finance – indeed, I’m not sure what meaningful legislation would be in that context, so we have removed that reference in our amendment

But yes, in terms of the principle of the Deputy’s amendment, we DO want to promote sustainable finance, because we all recognise that there is a huge prize here, both for us as an island – because we’ll be at the cutting edge of where finance is heading – but also for the planet – because we can play such a significant role in enabling other jurisdictions to achieve the changes that are needed.

So let us concentrate not on rhetoric but on what is deliverable, what is in our power to achieve, what will make a meaningful difference to islander’s lives and what will make us a genuine and inspiring beacon of carbon zero achievement. I want to be able to walk tall when it comes to our policies on net zero, but I want to do it on the basis of our actual achievements, not on lecturing from the sidelines.

SHOW NOT TELL.

Thank you Sir.


3 thoughts on “How best can Jersey lead on climate change?

  1. Interesting. Initially I agreed with Rob Ward, but listening to you made me re think. It makes sense, you have shed a different, more rational perspective.

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  2. Thank you, many care (thus vote for change) but struggle with time.

    Dr Chambers Blue Carbon (BC) report states that the impact of destructive fishing methods on sediment reduces our ability to sequester. Hopefully your European meeting focused on this? Have you had time to review the BC impact of ocean rewilding?

    Understand that UK scheme a flop because of lack of real skilled labour. Less people in policy/finance more trained to install? Our panels bought in the summer are still in storage because of private sector capacity issues (not rich just prioritising this). Please can the focus be on micro energy generation away from commercial interests? Finance/capitalism not your friend because no long-term profit to be made. Green job training schemes for graduates and school leavers?

    Equally the legal obligation of trustees to maximise profit risks making finance a false friend…and it desperately needs decolonisation. It could be argued that we are already lecturing in the language of capitalism and financial gain over community and sustainability because of what we dedicate our people and legal resources to and how we allow our tax system to be used.

    Please can Deputy Ward be seen as an ally…passionate and effective. Please can we see collaboration, this is so much bigger than any one of us. Also, please can there be cross ministerial collaboration, much blindness within health because of firefighting and narrow focus.

    Thank you again for sharing and making this easy to access.

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    1. Thanks for these comments, much appreciated. The Blue Carbon report by Paul Chamber’s was published by my department, so I am very familiar with its contents. We hope to have more on how we can exploit this resource for carbon drawdown when the Marine Spatial Plan is completed in about a year’s time. We’re working on the skills base we need for changing carbon based home heating to electric – more on that in the new year. And as for Deputy Ward, I have always seen him as an ally. I finished my summing up speech in the debate by saying that once it was over, I wanted to bring us all back together to push forward on our shared agenda.

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