Low carbon development is a chance to rebalance our economy

1507TUCPNowak072This post is by Paul Nowak, deputy general secretary of the TUC.

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the planet. But, for many working people, it can seem a remote issue; one not directly related to their everyday lives. That’s why the TUC is keen to draw the links between tackling climate change and some of the other major themes of our campaign work: rebalancing our economy; investing in the UK’s physical and social infrastructure; and ensuring working people are not asked to pay the price for Brexit.

As the 2006 Stern review reminded us, there are major economic opportunities to be found in the development of green goods and services. The government’s green paper on industrial strategy has highlighted some important questions, including how to deliver affordable energy and clean growth. It is now up to the government, and the rest of us, to answer those questions in a way that brings benefits for working people, their families and communities.

In our 2016 report, Powering ahead: how the UK can learn from Europe’s environmental leaders, the TUC called on the government to set an ambitious target of 50 per cent of our energy coming from renewable sources by 2050. We asked the government to map the technologies needed to bring us up to this target and to consider what industries could be developed in the UK. We then called for the power of active government to target those technologies towards particular communities that have suffered as a result of the demise of heavy industry, such as coal, but we have seen no significant industrial development in the years since. This would help to rebalance the economy away from its over reliance on London and the South East.

If the government is serious about delivering long term productivity growth in the former industrial towns, it needs to have a credible plan for decarbonising industry. The government should use the industrial strategy to commit to a carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration project. The previous competition for such a project was cancelled on cost grounds but, as the Committee on Climate Change has pointed out, CCS is critically important for industry to meet the UK’s carbon targets at least cost, and to fulfil the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. If CCS is too expensive for the UK acting alone, we should collaborate internationally to support a demonstration project.

Finally, it is essential that Brexit does not derail progress on carbon reduction or weaken the UK’s environmental and climate change policy. Of course, we need to be mindful of the UK’s economic and industrial needs – we need a level playing field for Britain’s energy intensive sectors, for example – but Brexit cannot, and must not, become a climate change denier’s charter.

Industrial strategy fit for the future: perspectives on building a competitive UK economy’ brings together the views of seven respected thinkers from politics, business, trade unions and academia on the kind of economy the industrial strategy should be building and the role low carbon and resource efficiency can play.

Green Alliance set out the case for low carbon and resource efficiency to be the key underpinning principles of a modern industrial strategy, in a short report and animated infographic.

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