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Green economy – an export success story

This post by Philip Pearson, Senior Policy Officer at the Trade Union Council, first appeared on the TUC blog.

Want to cut the trade gap? Build a green economy. Although the UK ran up a £20.8 billion trade deficit in the second quarter of 2012, the green economy as a whole generated a £5 billion trade surplus last year.

The green economy is a UK success story, employing 939,627 people – a narrative graphically illustrated in a new Green Alliance pamphlet. According to BIS, total exports for the UK’s environmental goods and services in 2010/11 were worth £11.8 billion. The sector isn’t just for the good times, but is growing its exports steadily despite the recession, up 3.9% on the previous year.  The green sector’s imports were worth £6.8 billion last year. So which green goods should we be making rather than importing?

UK manufacturing
Our highest green sector imports are for manufactured and semi-manufactured goods and services in the Windpower sector, Geothermal technologies, Photovoltaics, Alternative Fuels, Building Technologies and Water/ Waste Water management services. In four sectors alone we imported over £2.2 billion worth of goods:

  • Solar panels and other photovoltaic products: £640 million.
  • Wind turbines and associated wind industry products: £634 million.
  • Alternative fuel vehicles, including hybrids: £395 million.
  • Biofuels: £621 million.

UK supply chains are constrained by uncertainty at the heart of the Coalition’s approach to the green economy. Yet the highest value green exports are consistently in these sectors: Alternative Fuels, Building Technologies, Photovoltaic, Wind and Water/ Waste Water. They account for £6.9 bn in 2010/ 11 or 58% of all exports.

Today’s figures show that the UK’s overall deficit in semi-manufactured goods widened by £2.8 billion to a deficit of £5.2 billion. This was partially offset by the deficit in finished manufactured goods which narrowed by £0.8 billion to £12.6 billion.The ONS says the trade imbalance was the biggest ever for a quarter. The economy contracted by 0.4% in the second quarter, slightly less than its previous 0.5% estimate.

Growing green jobs
Some 51,700 companies work in the UK’s low carbon goods and services sector (LCEGS), recording sales of £122.2bn last year. This compares with the 2009/ 10 figure of £116.8bn, or a 4.7% annual growth rate.

The volume of UK LCEGS employment in 2010/ 11 is 939,627. This compares with the 2009/ 10 figure of 914,273 and shows 2.8% annual growth. Annual growth In previous years was a slow 0.5%.  These are really positive sign of employment growth in the sector since the recession in 2008.

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.