We must focus on environmental policies, not only as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change, but also as a business opportunity. Gone are the days when environmental considerations were seen as being in conflict with economic aspirations: many of the most exciting investment opportunities of the next few years will arise in the Environmental, Social and Governance (‘ESG’) space.
As an example, a large proportion of the huge sums that the EU has set aside for the recovery from Covid-19 are earmarked for climate change investments. Opportunities for green investment, including infrastructure investment, are being created for offshore funds. And Guernsey is a world-leader in Green Finance.
However, for the island to make a convincing pitch for this business, we must “walk the walk”, not just “talk the talk”. Guernsey must live up to its name as ‘the green island’.
Fortunately, we have made a good start. In 2004, in my maiden speech in the States, I argued against the construction of a 70,000 ton-per-annum incinerator on the Longue Hougue site at a cost of over £80m. I made headlines at the time, by suggesting that we could simply export our waste, to the consternation of members of the then Policy Council. I was told by senior politicians that this would be impossible, because “it would be illegal”.
In early 2017 I had the pleasure of taking the Waste Transfer Station project through the Assembly, as President of the States Trading Supervisory Board, and today the system for exporting our waste is fully operational. Guernsey now has a recvcling rate of 73%, one of the highest in the world, and we are a model for the ‘circular economy’. The £32m project was delivered on time and on budget.
If the 2004 project had gone ahead, the buildings on the Longue Hougue site would have been twice as tall as the present building, with 300ft chimneys in addition. Guernsey would be importing 40,000 tons of waste every year to feed the incinerator, and we would be £50m poorer.
So we have made progress, but we must now take bold steps to decarbonise our economy. We have immense resources of renewable energy all around us and can aim to replace hydrocarbons in most road transport and home heating applications over the next decade. This process will present the island with significant economic opportunities, along the road to carbon neutrality.
My normal mode of transport in Guernsey is an electric bike, which I ride most days. One of the better aspects of lockdown was seeing whole families out walking or on their bikes, taking their two hours of exercise. Everyone was so friendly, and I really felt the community came together during that period. There was less noise and the air was cleaner. We should try to capture and retain that spirit, and to encourage people to carry on cycling. I would like Guernsey to invest in a whole network of cycle routes, to make this a safer possibility.