More than any other single person, Zac Goldsmith - or The Right Honourable Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park as he is properly known – is responsible for the UK Conservative Party’s relatively recent conversion to the cause of the environment.
Zac Goldsmith has devoted his entire professional life to the environment – first as editor of the Ecologist magazine, then as an MP and London Mayoral candidate, and now as a Conservative life peer in the House of Lords, where he serves as Minister for Pacific and the Environment at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
As Minister of State, Zac Goldsmith is responsible for forestry and biodiversity, biodiversity and climate and illegal wildlife trade as well as the Pacific region. As Minister of DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Goldsmith is currently working on getting COP15 on Biodiversity and COP26 closer. He recently formed the Global Ocean Alliance that grouped 30 countries to sign a pledge to improve the protection of the ocean by devoting 30% of area of global oceans covered by protection.
Zac Goldsmith was awarded a life peerage in 2019. Before that he was MP for Richmond Park between 2010 and 2016 and between 2017 and 2019. Zac Goldsmith worked at The Ecologist magazine – founded by his uncle Edward Goldsmith – for 9 years and was editor between 2000 and 2005. He cites Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough as early influences.
Click here for Edited Highlights
My name is Michael Liebreich and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Zac Goldsmith, or as he's more properly known, the Right Honourable Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park. He's a Conservative peer sitting in the House of Lords where he's also Minister for the Pacific and the Environment at the Foreign Office, and DEFRA. Before that he served two stints as MP for Richmond Park, and was a candidate, the Conservative candidate, for the London Mayoral Election in 2016. He's probably the single person most responsible for the UK Conservative Party's conversion to the cause of environmentalism and climate action. Please welcome Zac Goldsmith.
Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. So Zac, welcome to Cleaning Up. Great to see you.
Thanks for having me, Michael.
Extraordinary times! For our audience, I should point out that we're just filming this as the results come in for those two vital Georgia Senate races. And it just looks as though both of them are flipping to the Democrats. So extraordinary times we live in, really.
Yeah. And it's I think it's almost impossible to exaggerate how big an impact that actually is already having, this sort of shift away from the Trump administration. In the context of the environmental agenda, we're seeing, I mean, obviously, as presidents of COP, we're doing a massive amount of diplomacy, and the body language of countries around the world has visibly shifted in recent weeks. Some of the laggards, some of the foot-draggers are beginning to change their body language in such a way that they're bracing themselves to get on track with this agenda. So I mean, it is from the point of view of the environment, by the environment I'm talking specifically climate change, as opposed to the broader environmental concerns, which are often left off, unfortunately. But from a climate point of view, things are moving, there's no doubt.
Absolutely. What I'd like to do is let's come back to COP and climate, because that's really only a part of your current ministerial responsibilities. You are right across a much wider range of environmental issues, and of course, the Pacific. And I'd like to, you know, get on to that as well and talk a little bit of trade. But just maybe just kick off by talking about what is it that... how have you been spending your time? What is it that you're currently pushing and working on?
So my job is mostly an international one, it covers DEFRA - Environment Department, and it covers the Foreign Office of the FCDO as it is now. And it used to include the DFID, before that was absorbed into the FCO. And I do have a domestic role: forests, trees, and animal welfare here in the UK. But all the rest of my responsibilities are international. So what I'm trying to do is to generate as much energy or sense of urgency around the natural environment, as we've seen around climate change and carbon. And the reality is that you can't tackle climate change without supporting nature, restoration, protection on an unprecedented scale, there is no pathway to net zero. Now, technology will get us a big chunk of the way but it's not gonna get us all the way. And despite that nature-based solutions have been a long distant second, when it comes to international political focus. All global finance, that goes into tackling climate change, only about two and a half percent goes to nature-based solutions, like forests, mangroves, seagrass, and so on. And so my principle if I had one aim, it's about shifting that ratio, getting countries to commit to do much more around the natural environment. And I'll just make one other point, if I can. And this is that, you know, a lot of this is about how governments flex their muscles. Clearly there's a huge private sector component as well, but a lot of it's about aid. It's about how governments invest their international budgets. It's about using whatever levers government's uniquely control. When it comes to the cleantech shift that's happening, and with or without politicians. The market is racing ahead of the politics, you only have to look at things that have happened in the last four years under President Trump. You know, coal use declined faster under President Trump than it did under President Obama, despite huge subsidies poured into the sector by President Trump. So the market is there and it's happening with or without politicians. Yes, we can accelerate it but it's going to continue. That's not true of nature. There is no, yet at least, there is no market dynamic, which is anywhere near big enough to begin to flip the tide in favour of the natural world. So if there's a gap to be filled, a hole to be filled, in my view that's it.
But you've not just come at it from the perspective of sort of carbon offsets and the climate, because you've also worked on... And a big part of your work is on oceans, is it not?
Yes. Yeah, it's I mean, climate is just one reason to be tackling nature. But you know, ultimately, you know, there are a billion people who depend for their livelihoods on forests. So if you wipe out the world's forests, we're plunging people into terrible base poverty or destabilising societies. The illegal wildlife trade decimates communities where it prevails and about 250 million people, probably a bit more, depend on fishing for their livelihoods, about a billion people depend on fish as their main source of protein. So, you know, destroying natural systems automatically plunges those people, who most depend on the systems, which tends not to be you and me, it tends to be people right on the frontline who depend most directly on nature's free services. They are undermined fundamentally. So it's not just about climate change. The ocean work. I think, genuinely, I don't think any country in the world is doing enough on all this. But I do genuinely think the UK is now, I think we are the world leader on ocean protection. On any number of different fronts, whether it's individual issues like tackling plastic waste, and trying to prevent it entering the ocean or whether it's marine protected areas. We have now protected, fully protected, an area slightly more than 4 million square kilometres, roughly the size of India. We added 700,000 square kilometres just a month ago around Tristan da Cunha. And there are other opportunities we're looking for as well. These are large ocean areas around our tiny little overseas territories, which pepper the world. So I think in terms of ocean protection, in terms of ocean politics, I think the UK is a really positive force. And I think a lot of other countries look to us for leadership. And the only thing, last thing I'd say on that in the context of climate change is that, you know, the best thing you can do for the world's ocean is to minimise emissions, those emissions have a direct impact on ocean ecosystems. And one of the best ways to help some of the climate vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, because we know that climate change is going to happen, whatever is to build up and reinforce their coastal areas. And you do that best with nature, things like mangroves. So if you talk to some of the small islands that I deal most directly with through the Foreign Office in the Pacific region, there's a big emphasis there on mangroves as a way of mitigating climate change, but also as a way of enabling coastal communities to feel more protected against surges and storms <inaudible>. So there is a big crossover between the two.
Yeah, the marine protected areas, there's this kind of 30% club, I'm not quite sure what it's called, where we are pushing to get 30% of the world's oceans under some kind of marine protected areas. And that's something that I think you've been, that's what you're referring to, and the leadership role that UK has played in that. But I have a question. Because it's always very easy. You know, particularly we sit in a very privileged part of the world and privileged roles, it's easy to say, oh, you know, we should rewild this, and we should protect that. Nobody must shut down anything in the Amazon, etc, etc. But how do you deal with the pushback that says, you know, we have, in our own environments, we've got a completely unnatural environment in the UK, the worst in Europe in terms of survival of original nature. And now what we want to do is sort of almost a kind of nature-based colonialism where we're going to tell other people they mustn't fish, and they mustn't chop down this, and they mustn't do that, because we've all become concerned about the environment. How do you deal with that?
Well, look, I get the premise of your question. But that's not how it's panned out with the... Just to be clear, the 4 million square kilometres, that's water that we have proactively protected, water that technically we control through the Overseas Territories, The 30 by 30 campaign that's protecting 30% of the world's ocean by 2030 is an international one. So we spearheaded it, we started it, but it's a much bigger thing than the UK now. And I would say most, if not many, I would say most of the members of that campaign are either climate vulnerable or developing nations. It's not, you know, a bunch of colonial countries wagging their finger. And there are a number of reasons for that. Number one is that many countries feel completely defenceless when it comes to protecting their oceans because illegal fishing is absolutely vast. Even if you talk to giant countries like Indonesia, with 17,000 Islands and God knows how many miles of coastline, they are pretty much defenceless when it comes to illegal fishing. You talk to small island states like Fiji or Palau. This is a major issue, they can see these gigantic operations just hoovering life out of the oceans. So for them protection is not about not continuing to derive a living from the ocean, many of these islands, many of these countries depend fundamentally on ocean economics. It's about protecting that source of their economy for the future. And there are lots of different ways of protecting. So if you go back to, remember, in Europe, when marine protected areas first became a thing. And there were lots of campaigns springing up. And one of the first to be established was off the coast, off the west coast of Spain. And it was huge resistance is called <inaudible>. And there was huge resistance there from the fishing communities, they thought this was an attack on them and their livelihoods. If you go there now, the greatest defenders of those marine protected areas of that piece of coastline is the fishing communities because their yields have gone up. You protect certain areas of the ocean, you then are able to yield more from other areas. And the same is true of Costa Rica, one of the principal champions of marine protected areas. Same is true in New Zealand. In fact, the same is true, as far as I'm aware, across the board. So marine protected areas are good, a good way to boost local economies. They also enable us to develop a mechanism for tackling some of this really big stuff that's happening further out to sea, and which is rendering life in the ocean, more or less obsolete. And a lot of that comes from China, but not all of it.
And the reason I push on this question of, you know, whether it's kind of an imposition of our will on developing countries. It's not an accusation, so much of colonialism, it's more examining something that's very important, I think, to both of us, which is the kind of core principles that enable conservatives to become good custodians of nature. And, you know, in a sense, the easy situations are where there's no sacrifice, because, you know, you protected, you know, a marine area, and then the yields go up, and so everybody's happy. But there are situations where you where you do actually have, or maybe I should phrase that as a question. Do you think there are situations where there truly is the tragedy of the commons, where self-interest would never take over, and we are just going to have to have either some kind of, you know, enormous self restraint, which is perhaps a, you know, questionable concept, or we need some top-down global government or some top-down intervention,
I definitely wouldn't go for the global government approach. I dread to think what horrors would result from that. But no, I think I think you make a absolutely valid point. And the short answer is, yes, there are lots of examples. I think the oceans are probably the best example of a win-win. I mean, it's almost impossible to lose in there. It's such a no brainer, it's measurable, you can look at any example over the last 50 years. Actually going back to the Second World War, where military activity prevented fishing in certain areas and yields went through the roof very quickly. And it's, I think, very optimistic, allows one to be very optimistic. Nature, given half a chance comes back very quickly, particularly the oceans. But there are difficulties. So you mentioned deforestation in the Amazon. Take the DRC, for example, Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is still a very heavily forested nation, but it's got a huge, it's facing huge risks. But those risks on the whole are not coming from small subsistence farmers encroaching into the forest cutting, growing, cutting growing. Of course, that happens. That happens all over the world. But that's not the principal risk, the principal risk is concessions handed out often in a dodgy manner. But as part of a sort of corruption package. And outside companies are often then invited in to cut and sell and move on. And in those circumstances, there's no benefit really, to local people. In many cases, people lose their homes. In other cases, they may not lose their homes, but they lose resources that they've been using. And in a sort of more broader way, the government's tend not to get much revenue at all. If you look at the total amount of money that ends up with government to be reinvested in services in countries that are where deforestation is happening at a pretty big rate is tiny sums, and really tiny sums. It'd be very easy for countries like ours to step in. If only it was so simple, and replace the revenue loss to government. In terms of jobs, you're talking miniscule number of people involved in these sectors. So, there's a legitimate and valid argument that says you've got to let these countries catch up, you've got to let them make some of the mistakes that we made in order to get a foot on the ladder. In order to at least open themselves up to the opportunities that we have had available to us for so long. But in practice, that's not really how it pans out. The greatest losers, when you annihilate ecosystems are those people who depend most directly on those ecosystems. And, you know, there's many, many different middlemen between you and me and nature on the whole, except when it comes to recreation. Going for a walk and picking a flower growing something in your garden. But for billions of people around the world, there's no middleman at all, that dependence on nature is absolute. So destroy nature, you destroy livelihoods.
It does strike me. I've been working on these, you know, issues, I guess for probably more than 15 years, more than 15 years, nearly two decades. And I will say that the word corruption which you've just used, it rarely comes up. And I've worked, you know, quite closely with the UN, I've been an advisor to the Secretary General. And you'll sit there, you know, with groups of political leaders, who are themselves, you know, subject to investigations and whom you later find out they've been syphoning off vast amounts of money. And they sit there, and they, you know, happily talk about climate change, and how this has to happen and that has to happen, of course, you know, somebody else has to pay for it. But the word corruption is almost never present in those discussions. In my experience.
Yeah. I think there's a reason for that. I mean, even I, you know, I'm pretty hot-headed. Sometimes when it comes to these issues. I have a sense of outrage when I see what's going on in parts of the world, but I wouldn't, on this discussion with you, name particular countries, necessarily, in terms of specific examples of corruption, I certainly wouldn't name politicians, because we have to try and engage. And I work with countries around the world with some varying degrees of governance. And there are some countries that are doing extraordinary things where we could learn a great deal. You know, I mentioned Costa Rica, I know it's, it's a small-ish country, and but it went from being one of the poorest countries in that part of the world to certainly one of the most stable, if not affluent countries. And much of that journey has been based on nature, on protecting nature, restoring nature, advertising their nature to the world. You've got countries like Gabon, which have got done extraordinary work in relation to their forests, they've added huge value to their timber sector, which allows them to cut fewer trees down. In fact, it allows them to maintain tree level at current levels, while increasing jobs and increasing income. So there are countries that are doing wonderful things or other countries, which are miles behind. And there is no advantage to us, at least certainly to me, or the UK government, in wagging our finger. There are times when we are enraged things, but we have to be quite careful how we express those concerns.
Absolutely, I don't think I would be suggesting you know, that you should name and shame as a principal sort of, you know, tool of environmental policy in this case. But on the other hand, there are, you know, there is a whole piece around sort of institution building, and obviously DRC needs enormous help in order to, you know, just to eliminate things like the artisanal mining, or not eliminate, but to upgrade it. So it provides proper livelihoods for those cobalt miners, for instance, that are serving the EV and other industries. But there are also initiatives like, you know, Publish What You Pay, Transparency International, and I just think that they are working in this kind of very under-resourced, and, you know, behind the scenes way. And I can't help thinking that actually, a substantial push in that direction, would also help, because it does go hand in hand, does it not?
Couldn't agree more. I couldn't agree more. And I think there are, I mean... That is very much part of our approach, but through the private sector. So for example, you know, we know that in Brazil, in some places up to 90% of deforestation is illegal under Brazilian law. Around the world, it's around 55%. 55% of all the world's deforestation is illegal. So we can go into Brazil and wag our fingers and be angry, we'll just be thrown out. But what we can do, more effectively, and what we have done is to pass laws in this country, they're still currently going through Parliament, they're not going to be rejected. Laws requiring the biggest businesses in this country, the main importers of commodities, a forest-risk commodities, to prove that when they import those commodities, they're not also importing illegal deforestation. And we figured it out. We've got those private sector players on board, about 140 companies or so that will be principally affected by this. And by beginning the process of introducing that law that sent a very powerful signal, not only to the producer countries like Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia and others that the market is shifting. And if they want to continue to have markets to sell their commodities to, they're going to have to clean up their act. But it also sends another signal, a signal to other consumer countries. So China, by far and away the biggest importer of commodities, forest-risk commodities, is now that there are very serious figures in China who are talking about emulating the policies that the UK have just brought in. That would be huge. And that would have the effect I think that you're describing, but in perhaps slightly secondary or roundabout way.
Now, that legislation that you're talking about is that in the Environment Act, that is currently working its way through. Are you spearheading getting that through the House of Lords?
I will be. It hasn't been introduced to the House of Lords yet, but the answer is yes. That was brought in as a government amendment about two months ago. So that's gone through the Commons and it's been approved.
Okay. And that brings us on, you know, sort of nicely, to the reforms that we are currently engaged in in the UK domestically. Around agriculture, this whole, you know, payment for environmental services. That was spearheaded, I would... I suspect you were in the background, pulling the strings, but that was, you know, Michael Gove as the Secretary of the Environment pushed that through, and that's working its way through the system. How radical is that? And you remember, a lot of our listeners or viewers around the world won't really have kind of heard very much about it. How radical is it?
It has the capacity to be world moving. I mean, it's almost it fills me with almost limitless optimism. And the reason for that is that, you know, obviously what we're doing is what we have control over. And that's a UK subsidy system. And in short, we're switching a system which incentivize disruption, you were paid on the basis of how much farmable land you had, didn't matter what you did with the land, as long as it was farmable. So if you have beautiful wetlands, or woodlands, or habitat, you weren't paid anything. Grab it out, turn it into low level farmland, and you suddenly paid a lot of money. It was an appalling system, is an appalling system. And we are replacing it with a system where all the money that's paid out to landowners, big or small, is conditional upon delivery of public goods like environmental stewardship. So it's a fairly simple principle. It's more complicated in practice. But the reason this is so huge is we're, as far as I know, the only country to have embarked on this. And if you consider that the top 50 food producing countries in the world spend $700 billion a year, every year, subsidising land use, often destructive land use. If we, on the back of what we're doing, can build up a global coalition of countries committed to doing something similar. That's your solution right there. And it's huge. If you ask, I know a number of scientific bodies have been... set the challenge of figuring out what's it going to cost to turn the tide on environmental destruction. And the figure they always come up with a 700 billion, God knows how. But that's a figure that they come up with. By coincidence, that is how much government spend subsidising environmental destruction. So it has the capacity to be huge. And one of our campaigns in the run up to COP, I know we're going to speak about COP later, but one of our campaigns is to try and use what we're doing here in the UK to build a global coalition of countries committed to doing something similar. And that was gonna have a much bigger impact than... Even if all the world's aid agencies combined were to get their houses in order, it wouldn't be a patch on the effects of changing their subsidies. So yes, huge, if we get it right.
And I have to segue from that to ask, you know, is that the Brexit premium? Is that change that you've just described to paying not for low grade, you know, not to grab out the the hedgerows and turn things into low grade agricultural land, but actually to pay for environmental services? You know, do you see that? Could we have done that, had we remained in the EU and not gone through the process of Brexit?
No, categorically not. I mean lots of countries in Europe have been campaigning for something similar, including us, over the years, but the dial is hardly moved on this issue. Actually, ironically, because of what we're doing in here, in this country, there's a lot more pressure in the European Union, among member states, pressure on the Commission to look very seriously at what we're doing, with a view to doing something similar. And I think that pressure will yield eventually quite a big result, but it will take some time because everything does in the European Union, but the answer is no. We could not have done this without Brexit. And you ask if it's a Brexit dividend? Absolutely. This is a huge, I mean, if we get this right, I say 'if' because governments can get things wrong, not surprising. But if we get this right, this will be the biggest boon for our domestic environment. In any of our lifetimes. It'll be absolutely huge. You're talking about three and a half billion or so being taken away from actively incentivizing destruction towards actively incentivizing renewal, restoration, protection. Harmonising our agriculture with the natural world. And as you said earlier, as a sort of an aside in one of your questions. We are fundamentally nature denuded country. So this is needed. And it's just one of them. There are many environmental benefits. I've never really understood why environmentalists in particular, have been engaged in such hyperbole around Brexit. I mean, of course, there is a risk when you do something like Brexit, that you have a government that comes in and does things you don't like. That's the nature of democracy. But there's no reason, inherently, why having more independence, becoming an independent country should translate to lower standards for the environment. Everything the government's done so far, everything I would say points us in the direction of this country wanting to be world leader on animal welfare, on environmental standards, on biodiversity, on climate change. And there's nothing the government's done to suggest otherwise. And because of Brexit, there are things now we can do that we couldn't do before. Not least what we've just been talking about now, but many other issues as well.
Very few figures who are in the clean energy, climate, environment sort of community who believed that Brexit could sort revitalise the democratic accountability. And as a result the UK would not undertake some bonfire of the regulations, but would actually be an environmental leader, we believed it. At what point can we start to say, 'told you so', 'we were right', 'we're vindicated'? You know, are we there yet? Or do we need to... Do we need to keep the government, you and others, honest for another few years first?
I think we've won the argument in principle, in a sense that it is clear, there are things that if we want to do we could do now, things that we couldn't do before. And you're seeing a different, you know, hearing people now who were bitterly opposed to Brexit, you know, lapping up the opportunities and using those opportunities to pressure government to do things that they would not have been able to pressure governments to do without Brexit. So there is a bit of a shift there from some of those organisations and some of those commentators, but we've got to do it. And until we do it, we can't say we won. So for example, we, you know, we are going to have to deliver this new mechanism, this new subsidy system, we've designed, we've described the principles, and they've been accepted. But there is some granular details that need to be presented. Until they are, nothing's in the bag. So, you know, my view, even as someone who's in the government, is healthy pressure to perform, healthy pressure to deliver to all these promises is a very, very good thing.
What about, there are also plenty of Conservatives who have sort of gone a lot quieter about these issues, but I don't believe they've been persuaded. Am I right? I mean, do you think that if there's any faltering, if there's, you know, because, you know, governments don't get everything right first time, do you think if as soon as there's any kind of problems or issues that pop out. Whether it's, you know, as we had with diesel, you know, promoting the wrong solution, or as soon as something like that happens, that there'll be a whole backlash? Or do you think now the generations have shifted, and Conservatives now just get it, and they understand their role as custodians?
I think the overwhelming, if we're talking about MPs, who are kind of the most obvious people, members of the party. They are, I think, overwhelmingly, they are now not just on board, but enthusiastic about the agenda. In the sense that, putting aside some of the stuff we've been talking about in relation to nature, but looking at the clean tech revolution that is happening. The fact that you know, every year you're seeing more new money into new renewables than you are into old fossil fuels. I think people can see that that's where the opportunities are, that is where the jobs are, it's where the growth is. And it would be economically mad, let alone ethically stupid to for Britain not to want to be surfing that wave, not to be owning that agenda. And I think people now get that. There are some people who don't, there will always be some people who don't, who take the kind of Trump approach that you want to pour public money into propping up stuff that really should be standing on its own two feet by now. But they are, I would say, in a very small minority. The area where I think we need to do more work is probably still around this issue of the natural environment. There needs to be a... I mean, the Prime Minister has made it very clear that this is a personal priority for him, so that helps a lot. You know, he wants us to be the world leader on turning the tide on extinctions, turning the tide on biodiversity loss. That is a passion of his, and that has filtered through the party. And that is a good thing. But I can't tell you how deep that is yet. I would say it's probably deeper than it's ever been. But is it deep enough? We'll see.
And let's move from the sort of the potential refuse mix within the Conservative Party to the other side. You know, it doesn't matter what you do, what we do, there is a strong sort of push back, degrowth, Extinction Rebellion, School Strike for Climate, you know. You've said, well, keep the pressure on. But you know, do you want to encourage that sort of extremism? Is that the right way for pressure to be kept on government?
No, I think, I mean, there are different types. But I think Extinction Rebellion, for example, I think, personally, I think is unhelpful and not fundamentally. I mean, there's masses of that energy which has rubbed off on parliament, there's no doubt that it had an impact. But it is, I think, held by a relatively small group of people, who seem to favour... They seem to favour those solutions, which are least attractive to the majority of people. And they seem to relish in doing things that are going to cause maximum inconvenience to the majority of people. Now we know we're not going to get to where we need to get to, unless what we're talking about becomes mainstream, one way or another. This stuff needs to be in the DNA of how we do everything. And you don't achieve that by alienating vast numbers of people blocking roads, blocking ambulances stopping electric power, electricity-powered trains, from going about their business. It feels to me that there's a sort of an anarchical component, which relishes in the destructive part of protest, without being particularly interested in the productive, or the, you know, the outcome of those protests.
But are those tactical issues? Because, you know, they would say, okay, well, those are tactics to gain attention. But their fundamental message is that capitalist economies are regulated market economies, I don't think we're particularly capitalist, we're regulated market economies, are unable to course correct and have to be broken. And you know then there's the tactical, but you could say, well, maybe they're using the wrong tactics. But do you? What do you think about their fundamental message?
Yeah. And that's true. And I think that's partly why that part of the movement won't ever accept that good things do happen sometimes. So, you know, when we shift our subsidy system that is revolutionary, but it won't be celebrated by those people. Because those people do not see the solution in incremental change. They want a revolution. They want to smash capitalism, because they don't believe the market in any way at all can provide meaningful solutions. And I understand where that's coming from, you know, the market is the most powerful force for change on earth, other than nature itself. I mean, it's huge. And if the market can't see the value in nature, and doesn't see the cost in pollution. If the polluter isn't paying, for example, in real terms, across the board, then that power, that awesome power of the market, will cause destruction, there is no doubt. But the answer is not to then chuck out the market. In my view, the answer is to try and write those rules into the market, so that the market can recognise the value of nature, can recognise the value, or the cost of pollution and the use of scarce resources. Because once the market, and we've seen many, many examples, hundreds of examples of this, where the market, the informed market is the most powerful friends and the most powerful solution we have. I think the earliest and most obvious example of that is probably the landfill tax, where for the first time waste became a financial liability. Immediately, businesses began doing whatever thing they could to avoid that liability. That had a big impact. And if it had continued, has progressed, we'd probably be in something like a zero waste or a circular economy now. But it was politicised at a certain point, and that link was broken. But I think immediately it showed the power of the market, if correctly informed., I agree with you. We're not in particularly a capitalist economy, we're in a highly regulated market. But that I think, lends itself even further to what I've just been saying.
Okay, but so that that message of degrowth, anticapitalism, anti globalisation, you reject categorically. But you do have a soft spot, do you not for Greta Thunberg?
Yes, I do. I'll tell you why. Because I think, look. One, I think her approach is very different to that of the kind of headbangers I've just been describing and Extinction Rebellion. She's a more measured figure, in the manner in which she behaves, the manner in which she protests. She has done something extraordinary in terms of capturing the imagination of young people around the world, in a way that politicians would dream of, but have never succeeded in doing. And I think her intentions are fundamentally pure, in the sense that she has set out to try to do something on climate change. Now, my critique of Greta Thunberg, would be that she is too reluctant to recognise progress when it's made. I can't remember her having done so. And I think she should, because without doing that, you create a sense of utter despair and hopelessness. And there are a lot of young people and I meet them all the time in my work, who are utterly, profoundly depressed about the future of the planet, and don't see any glimmer of light at all. But that light does exist, it's very hard for governments to tell that story, we do lots of good things, we created a 700,000 square kilometre reserve in Tristan da Cunha. It didn't get picked up in any of the newspapers at all. It is just one of many, many examples. But where you have a platform as someone like Greta does, my view is that she'd be doing even more good, were she able to provide an honest take on those examples of progress that are genuinely happening. I also think that governments, I mean, look, governments are made up of politicians and politicians are made up of quite fragile people often. And those fragile people aren't always doing what they're doing, because they believe in it. They're often doing what they're doing, because they think there's political gain in doing so. And on that basis, it makes sense for campaign groups to say 'well done' to a government when it gets it right. Because then when they come in with their stick and whack it over their head for getting something wrong, they have much greater potency in doing so. I remember when I was a backbencher and trying to support people like Greg Barker, Energy Minister at the time, who, you know, was very much on side with these issues. And was very, very keen to do whatever he could to advance renewable energy. And I don't think it was a single moment where that struggle that he was engaging in within a government that wasn't that excited by this stuff, despite some of the things that were said... That was never recognised by any environmental groups outside. He was just a nasty Tory, like every other nasty Tory. And I thought that was unhelpful because I think politicians need to feel that when doing the right thing, that there's going to be some glow that they're going to benefit from and it may sound superficial, it probably is superficial, but it's also a fact of politics.
it's a fascinating question, because you know, I agree I sort of listened to some of the things that Greta Thunberg says about how you know, 'you grown ups have done nothing'. And I think well hang on a second, you know, the economy has grown by 23%. By 2019, the global economy had grown 23% in six years. Emissions have grown 3%. I meet people all day long bankers, innovators, policymakers, civil societies, who have... They've just worked ceaselessly to achieve that decoupling. And then it's very frustrating when somebody stands up, says you've done nothing. But then I also wonder whether her role is always to be the kind of, you know, the Cassandra, because if she started 'oh, that's actually pretty good. Yes, yes. You know, you're almost there, a bit more of the same', maybe everybody would sort of come off the accelerator.
Yeah, look, I get that. But I think that if, you know, if one country of a hundred, for example, were to do something really inspiring in their NDC, in their energy plan or in their plans for sustainable oceans, or whatever it is. Really to step out of line and do something special, that it makes sense for the world to recognise that and create a sense of competition and give other countries a target to follow. And, you know, the reality is that pretty much everything that needs to happen, is already happening somewhere. It's just not all happening under one umbrella, we don't really have to invent that much new stuff, there will be innovative new market mechanisms that emerge that we haven't even thought of, which are going to be incredibly valuable in the years to come. But on principle, fundamentally, everything we need is already there, we just need to activate it and make it happen. So I think pointing to best practice is a is a handy thing to do.
I'm conscious of time and I want to talk about a couple of other things. I want to get back to the COP26 at the end. But on this idea of sort of giving praise to people, there is also a real risk that a lot of what's being seen these net zero commitments. However many, you know, mayors and cities committing to net zero in very accelerated timeframes. There's a risk, is there not, that that's just seen as greenwashing and a lot of you know, a lot of I think the frustration that you feel is that in the UK, we're actually doing stuff, but being treated as though we're just greenwashing. Is that a fair characterisation?
I think that is very much. So I think the UK government takes those targets very, very seriously. And I know from you know our Climate Committees our Cabinet Subcommittees that, you know, the pressure on individual departments to come up with a plan and demonstrate how they're actually going to do it is immense. And it's not easy, you know, that requires a really big stuff to happen. And that is not true of all countries, which is why, yes, we're asking for strong NDC, nationally determined contributions, we want them to cumulatively to give us a sense of optimism, we can actually get there. But we're also asking for pathways, we want to know what countries are doing. So when I talk to countries now, I'm not just saying we want a good NDC. I'm asking about their coal use. So we've got a really good commitment from Pakistan, for example, no new investment in coal plants. Completely out of the blue, that was not expected. And that has been registered in the region, there are other countries now, looking at this decision that Pakistan's made on coal. I can't say it's translated into commitments in their countries yet, but I think it could. So you know, those kinds of actual meaningful decisions, which will help them achieve their NDCs, that's what's going to make the difference. The other thing is finance. You know, there's always been this commitment to raise 100 billion of climate finance. We need to have significantly more finance for nature-based solutions as well. We're starting from almost zero. And that is something which, for me, at least, that will be a very important part of whether or not we do a good COP, a successful COP. By November, where have we got those countries to in relation to their commitments on nature. And there again, I think we're going to have some good progress, possibly even in the next week or two.
And is there a stick as well as the carrot? In terms of, you know, when you deal with, whether it's in Pakistan or here domestically, you know. What is the stick that says, 'don't just make a promise that you have no intention of meeting'? And I'm thinking very specifically of, you know, a lot of city politicians and I'm you know, there's one fairly close to our heart, you know, in London, saying, net zero by 2030. Unachievable, ridiculous commitment, but apparently no downside. Is that right?
Yeah, that is a problem. It's so easy to... I mean, I remember, that you know, that this was the Extinction Rebellion call. I think it was 2025 they wanted. Which would have effectively meant just switching off the economy, it would have been almost impossible to do that. You know, if it were possible, I'd be pushing for that myself. And so would you. But it's not possible. So I think there will always be kind of cynical exploitation of an issue that clearly matters to a huge number of people in order to translate that into political upside. But at the same time I do think I think people will increasingly have little patience for those who are not interested or engaged at all. I think to be a serious politician today, you need to have serious answers to the biggest crisis we face as a species. But equally, I think people are pretty cynical about politicians. And on the whole, I think people are probably getting better at seeing through the bluster. I hope that's true, but I think it's probably true.
If I might though, you know, we're approaching another London mayoral election. You were candidate last time. And Sadiq Khan has promised net zero for London by 2030. Of course, Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, can't match that because it's an absurd and ludicrous target that can't be delivered, given that the Mayor doesn't control London's carbon footprint in any meaningful way outside, you know, Transport for London's procurement. And yet there appears to be no downside. There's no press attention. He's not getting quizzed about it. There's no raised eyebrows in the press at all at that commitment. And that feels wrong to me.
Yeah, no, I totally agree. But then don't forget, people, and I'm speaking from experience, people tend not to be that interested in those kinds of election or political promises until you get closer to the election. Whatever happens, scrutiny will increase. But look, I do agree with you, I think that, you know, a responsible media would want to know, if you've got plans to get us to net zero by 2030, how are you going to do it? And really drill down into the details, I'd love to subject that promise to a bit of Andrew Neil, for example. Or Michael Liebreich, you could do that, you know, why don't you take him on. Because it's nonsense. And it's, you know, and I get on one level, the intention there is to send a signal, that you know, I care about the environment, I care about climate change. And I prove that by making this outlandish pledge, but it trivialises something that's extraordinarily serious and I think it discredits a whole agenda. And it's wrong, and it does deserve the kind of scrutiny that you're describing. But it's not in my hands unfortunately.
I will say that, you know, obviously I'm sort of biased, because I am a Conservative, and I've been involved in some of the platforms that you helped to create, like Conservative Environment Network. But I can vouch for the fact that the UK is serious about its net zero commitment, because for the first time in the past, probably 12 months, I've had three separate approaches from three different parts of the Treasury to discuss net zero costs, pathways, opportunities, technologies, and so on. And so it is absolutely deadly serious. That's how I know.
It absolutely is. I'm involved in all... Any parliamentary or government committees on environment, you know, whether it's a cabinet subcommittee or something much more remote, that... I often wish, you know, I'm not a leaker. And I just have never done that. But genuinely, I would love some of our cabinet discussions to have been leaked, where you hear the entire cabinet, engaging with an issue that people outside of Parliament, but you know, parliament, government, politics just simply wouldn't imagine to be the case. There's a real sense of seriousness, there are a lot of people who are feeling their way through an issue, which is completely new to them. But they're doing so in good faith. I can't say everyone is, clearly the politics is full of all kinds of different people. But fundamentally, there is a collective endeavour. And we're working to try and deliver. And there are people in government who are there to push things harder, like myself, there are other people who'd be naturally more cautious, but there's no question that we're moving in a particular direction. And when I say that, I think the UK is a world leader on this agenda. Both nature and climate change and the two in real world are obviously inseparable. I don't say that out of loyalty, or because I want a promotion. I don't I love the job that I have. I say it because I think we are genuinely getting to a position of doing good stuff. Masses more to do, masses more, we need more and more pressure to do so. But I think we are behaving like grown ups in politics at the moment on this issue.
And I equally I can't leak that the discussions that I've had with, as part of the Board of Trade or with the officials, but I can tell you this, it is deadly serious about getting, you know, getting our heads around trade and the environment. So it's not a race to the bottom on not just climate, but also other biodiversity and other issues, but to try and use trade as a race to the top. Zac, we've got a few minutes left. I do want to talk about COP26. But before we do just very quick advice. I'm an advisor to the Board of Trade. We've got a discussion; you are Minister with responsibility for the Pacific. And there's a discussion about the UK joining the CPTPP which is a Trans-Pacific, we're not in the Pacific. We have interests in the Pacific, but joining a trade partnership, which is countries like Japan, Australia, Singapore and so on. Should we be in that? Are you in favour of that? Would that be a good thing?
I think, look, it all depends on the quality of what is agreed. But from what my point of view trade is, is an incredibly powerful tool that we have. And I believe that what you're engaged in as an advisor on future trade agreements to the UK government, and being asked to look for ways in which we can use these trade agreements, the process of crafting these trade agreements, and the trade itself to advance this agenda on climate change and the environment is a first. I don't believe that's happened before. And there are huge opportunities there. On the sort of defensive side, you know, there are things we can do to prevent stuff that we don't want coming in. And that's all obvious. And that's been the focus of most of the controversy and debate, things like hormone beef and chlorinated chicken from the States. But there's much, much more than that, that we can do. We can use the trade system to stack the cards in favour of those things, which we want to encourage reducing and removing any barriers to those products, which we know are going to have to be part of the future. That's something which I think we have a massive opportunity, obligation, I think to do but there's a huge opportunity there.
Yeah. And at the moment, I think as we go towards COP26, it's not quite clear how trade is going to play into that. And there's a little bit that's clearly going to be on the side, on the side events around carbon border adjustments. What are your main thrusts? As we talked, you're working on COP26? What are you trying to get built in? What are you trying to achieve there?
Well, the main difference between this COP and the Paris COP is that we're not trying to reach, we don't need another global agreement in the same way. So all the energy in Paris went into getting that agreement, we've got to make good on that agreement. And that means making sure that countries come forward with plans which are aligned with that agreement. We want to use the leverage we have to create coalitions of ambition around different themes. So Powering Past Coal, Coalitions on zero emissions vehicles. Big focus on nature, as part of the solution to climate change. I mean, my specific role on COP is to try and press forward with this international nature strategy. And you know, that involves the obvious things, targets and finance but principally, it's about identifying the main levers, the main drivers of destruction. Identify them and move them things like perverse subsidies, things like cleaning up our commodity supply chains, and building coalitions of countries up on the back of that. And what I'm trying to do, although it's difficult, but trying to break down the barrier between the climate COP and the biodiversity COP, which happens a few months before. Because a good biodiversity COP is going to be good for climate and vice versa. And a lot of what you need to do for one is stuff that you'd want to happen at the other. So I'm trying to do it as a whole <inaudible>.
On that, are you working closely with Mark Carney's group that's trying to kind of open up these offset, carbon offset markets? And are you enthusiastic about these offset markets? Or are there some caveats there?
There are always caveats. But massively enthusiastic, we know we need more finance for nature. And we know that that's going to have to involve the private sector, you can't just rely on aid, there's got to be more than that. And we know that there are huge sums of money in the private sector, which could be deployed into protecting nature, with a view to tackling climate change through nature. But that hasn't happened. And the reason that hasn't happened is that there's been this endless blockage around what they call Article Six, which is the part of the negotiation that relates to carbon markets. So what I would like to do, and much of the problem comes down to lack of trust. So you've got people who think it's just big business wanting to wash their hands and write a check and be done with it. You've got other people who think you can't put a real price on nature, it's priceless, which <inaudible> clearly is, in real terms. What we have to do is create quality control on both ends. So the projects that you're putting money in are genuine projects. And companies engaging in carbon markets are companies that are serious, that have a clear pathway to net zero, no matter how long. And some sectors are going to struggle much more than others. But as long as they're serious about it, then the idea, the view is that they get engaged in this carbon market. So 100% I think this must happen. I'd like us take a big bite out of that problem between now and COP. If we do, we'd see huge sums of money flowing into nature. As long as it's done properly, this could be gigantically important.
Yeah. And it does feel to me like the kind of the private money will find a way to do the kind of reforestation, the carbon removal because it's so kind of tangible, it's relatively easy to measure. And, you know, certainly, you know, I've talked to folks within, you know, oil companies, airlines, and you know, these are companies that are really going to find it very difficult in the next 30 years to get to zero by 2050. But they are very prepared to work in a very constructive way on reforestation or on even, you know, enhanced weathering or direct air capture, but they are very much more tentative. And it feels to me like it's the role of government and nations to work on the avoided deforestation. Because there it's all about baselines and what would have been chopped down, had you not done x, and it's much more difficult to measure. And it feels like more of a government-to-government activity, does that accord with how you see it.
I think that probably is how the chips would end up falling. But I wouldn't be absolutist about it. Because I think that, you know, take a country like Gabon. Right now the government of Gabon is committed that nearly 90% of the land will remain covered in forest. But that may not be the case with the next administration in Gabon. So if we, either as countries, donor countries, partner countries, or the private sector, can create a finance stream, a new economic opportunity around that commitments, then you're much more likely to see that commitment endure. So in the same way that I mean, I'm bringing right down to the smallest scale. One of the projects that we're looking at the moment, is called KAZA linkage, corridors linking five countries in southern Africa. And the idea is that you create safe haven for nature, link up all the great national parks, create new national parks, it's an area...It has about 50 million hectares in all. But it's all about creating jobs on those routes. If you create, if economies emerge, where the people who are employed are employed in the business of protecting nature, then protecting nature will continue. You don't need to have guards there it will happen, because people's livelihoods depend on it. And the same is true of countries. You know, if Gabon is not benefiting from this extraordinary decision that it's made in 10 years’ time, then someone's going to come along at some point and say, actually, we're going to get more money if we cut them down. So whether it's business, whether it's donor countries or a whole tangle of donor countries, I don't really mind. I think that the market will probably provide that answer for us.
So we're reaching the end of the allotted time, I'm pretty sure we could continue. I mean, certainly, one of the big takeaways for me is that I haven't thought enough about the linkage between the kind of infrastructure, climate, and biodiversity and oceans and all these other areas, where we're also threatening the planetary boundaries. But where, you know, we need to step back, and we need to use the power of that regulated market economy to do so. So I've no doubt I'll be thinking more, trying to learn more about these topics. I would love to talk with you more about them. But we don't really have time here today. So I'll just thank you for your time, for your thoughts. and wish you luck in all of these initiatives. I'm pretty sure our paths will cross multiple times between now and that fateful COP in Glasgow at the end of this year.
Thank you so much, Michael, and I look forward to hearing more about your trade work as well, which is just hugely important and pioneering genuinely.
Well, thank you very much. So, to be continued, thank you.
To be continued. See you soon. Thank you.
So that was Zac Goldsmith, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, who played such an instrumental role in ensuring that post-Brexit Britain remained amongst the leaders of the major nations in terms of the environment. And that's particularly important in this year, which sees the 15th UN Conference on Biological Diversity in May in China. And then of course, COP26. The Climate Conference in Glasgow, which takes place in November this year. My guest next week on Cleaning Up is Beverley Gower-Jones. Beverley runs a fund called the Clean Growth Fund. She also runs a consultancy called Carbon Limiting Technologies. She's one of the leading figures in coaching young companies out of universities, startups, getting them funded and on route to developing and delivering the technologies for a net zero economy. Please join me this time next week for a conversation with Beverley Gower-Jones.