The business secretary, Greg Clark, has joined Britain’s most prominent climate change campaigners in calling on businesses to pledge to transition their operations to be more environmentally friendly and to “set the pace” for the whole country in saving the planet.
The call was made at the start of a month-long international conference on climate change called Leaders: The Climate Deal and your National Strategy.
Clark, who is in South Africa for the conference, said UK businesses needed to share their best strategies for adapting to climate change and help society to strike a new economic deal.
Clark announced the launch of the scheme to encourage corporate voluntary action to cut their emissions on the day that the Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael met two business chiefs from the fracking firm Cuadrilla – Jon Bowyer and Shafiq Jilani – to discuss their plans to operate in the UK once EU restrictions are lifted.
Carmichael, who introduced the legislation to lift the fracking ban in 2014, was told by Bowyer, the head of corporate finance, that fracking had a high potential to have a positive impact on the environment. The company’s practice is to apply for permits on a local basis after environmental issues are addressed by local communities, he said.
The former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has been calling for new powers for local government to greenlight fracking in the UK, which would give communities more control over drilling sites. But Clark said it would be up to ministers to set out the necessary proposals.
And during the conference on Sunday afternoon to launch the ambition of the UK’s National Climate Change strategy, government officials also pointed to an investigation of the environmental impact of shale exploration being carried out by one of Britain’s largest landowners.
The report, produced by English Heritage and the House of Lords science and technology committee, found that digging up a single shale well could involve spending £60m on reclaimed land, hauling rock by truck for 30 miles to a site on the outskirts of London, and covering the course of 30 miles of pipeline to a pipeline at a site at St Lawrence near Aylesbury.
There could also be the need for around 80 small air raids to lay the pipeline, and officials pointed out that the Environment Agency believed even wells that were contaminated, where chemicals had leaked into the environment, may not be as serious as potential leaks from fracking sites.
The report also sought to undermine the argument that the low carbon targets set by the government in 2015 would undermine local government’s ability to face down climate change.
The report notes that while a number of local government councils have committed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions they face making significant investment decisions on energy consumption and supplying energy to the main public buildings and services at an annual cost of around £8bn.
The centrepiece of the conference is a week-long event showcasing UK science, innovation and the way “green” business is flourishing. Major firms such as Royal Dutch Shell, HSBC and HSBC have led the way in using innovative “green business” approaches to cut their own carbon emissions.
But the conference was initially undermined when the Prime Minister’s special adviser on climate change cancelled his scheduled appearance. Alastair McAlpine, the prime minister’s special adviser for climate change, who led the Downing Street taskforce, was forced to pull out on Friday after the row in Scotland over the offshore wind farm projects at Gairloch.
McAlpine has reportedly threatened to resign unless the government makes a public declaration of how it intends to meet the existing target to reduce carbon emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.
Greenpeace UK said: “Without a move to climate justice in government, the government is threatened with more international stalling and unilateral action. It is time that its officials woke up to reality.”