The following is based on a recent talk at the Legatum Institute:

The Daily Mail would have us believe that Tories are from Mars and Greens are from Venus, but actually, there is a very long, proud, and distinct environmental tradition in the Tory Party.

In A Blueprint for a Green Economy, John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith wrote: “Environmental issues have all too often been colonised by the rhetoric of the left. Yet concern for continuity, for preserving the stability and protecting the beauty of the natural environment, is a deeply Conservative approach.” Far from being a left-wing fad, concern for the environment, a concern that goes way beyond just a preoccupation with the countryside and fox hunting, has a fine Conservative pedigree. 

“The green agenda needs more Conservative values, not less: enterprise, innovation, and wealth creation.”

But how should Conservatives of 2012 be responding to the climate challenges of the twenty-first century, in a world of deficits, of challenging economies and for increasing demand of our finite resources? Well, we shouldn’t be depressed. I believe there is a huge opportunity to neatly marry our concerns about growth combined with the need to transition to a sustainable, resource-efficient, low-carbon economy. 

Between April 2011 and April 2012, over a third of the UK’s economic growth is likely to have come from green business. The green sector is helping power the recovery for the Coalition. One of the most radical actions of the conservative Lib-Dem Coalition last year was the decision, to adhere to the Climate Change Act and commit this country and our economy to an ambitious fourth carbon budget for the 2020s, which will still put Britain on track for an 80 percent cut to carbon admissions by 2015. 

“Ultimately it is profit, not subsidy that is going to drive the green economy forward.”

But while much is made of the need to subsidies green energies, ultimately it is profit, not subsidy that is going to drive the green economy forward. The green agenda therefore needs more Conservative values, not less: enterprise, innovation, and wealth creation. These are the things that are going to take the green economy to levels that heavy-handed government intervention alone can never reach.

We can’t take private sector investment for granted. That’s why the Conservative green investment bank to finance green infrastructure, with £3 billion of public funds invested into priority greens sectors between now and 2015, galvanising billions more of private sector investment.

Long-term prosperity and real sustainability are two sides of the same coin. Britain has huge advantages for a green economy: a fantastic huge geographical capacity to generate energy; world-leading research and development in our universities; and most of all, a flexible and innovative workforce and an economy ridden with entrepreneurs.

Greg Barker's talk was part of the Legatum Institute Salon Series where scholars, writers, artists and public figures discuss issues that are fundamental to the success of free, prosperous, and enterprising societies. Ranging widely across the arts, sciences and humanities, the conversations promote a discourse between cultural, philosophical, economic and political modes of enquiry.