Author Archives: Green Alliance blog

Resource efficiency will improve UK competitiveness

Paul Ekins (c) SERI polfreeThis post is by Professor Paul Ekins OBE, director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College London.

There are many reasons to increase resource efficiency in an economy like the UK’s. Among them are the need to reduce pressure on natural resources in a world with growing populations and economies; to reduce the vulnerability to imported material’s supply shocks and price volatility; and to avoid the environmental impacts of natural resource extraction, even where they occur outside the UK.

But perhaps the main reason to improve resource efficiency in current economic and political circumstances is to improve the UK’s national competitiveness.

Most natural resources come at a financial cost. Using less of them in relation to economic output reduces costs to firms and makes them more competitive. More competitive firms can more easily win in markets at home and abroad. Increasing exports, while reducing our resource imports, benefits the UK’s trade balance.

There are substantial opportunities for increasing resource efficiency across most sectors of the economy, and convincing evidence that it will deliver macroeconomic benefits. These are the main messages from the UN Environment’s International Resource Panel report, Resource efficiency: potential and economic implications, of which I was the lead author. Commissioned in 2015 by the G7 governments during the German Presidency, resource efficiency remains a major theme running through the Italian G7 Presidency this year. The governments of the world’s largest economies are, it seems, increasingly paying attention to the evidence that higher resource efficiency can deliver economic, environmental and resource benefits.

The report also highlights that intelligent public policy is required for these benefits to be delivered. Market forces by themselves will get some of the way there, but there are numerous constraints to increased resource efficiency, which are well documented in terms of both their existence and how they can be addressed by government action. The UK has, in the past, been something of a pioneer in relevant policies, such as landfill taxation, support for industrial symbiosis and legislation for extended producer responsibility. But the appetite for such progressive measures appears to have diminished in recent governments.

It is time for that to be rekindled. The Industrial Strategy green paper contains the odd welcome reference to resource efficiency, but there is little sign that the concept is at the heart of government thinking. One remedy would be for BEIS and the Treasury to give as much attention to resource productivity as they do to labour productivity, to signal that resource efficiency should be a key consideration across all government policy. That really would signal seriousness of intent to make the UK more competitive by adding more value to the materials which overwhelmingly the UK has to buy from abroad.

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.

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.

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Industrial strategy and clean growth must go hand-in-hand

Carolyn Fairbairn WEF versionThis post is by Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI.

Technology is changing the world around us at an unprecedented rate. The Internet of Things, the sharing economy, 5G and autonomous vehicles will all change the way we live and work. At the same time, Brexit is going to have a profound impact on our politics and the way the UK works and trades with Europe and the rest of the world.

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We are approaching a critical tipping point for investors

Committee on Climate Change portraits - 24/9/08.This post is by Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng, chair of the Committee on Climate Change’s Adaptation Sub-Committee. It is written in a personal capacity.

We are approaching a climate change tipping point, one that I am eagerly awaiting. With all of the political changes going on in the UK and around the world, I just hope this one doesn’t get delayed. Read more

How to improve the balance between UK nature conservation and food production

Eurasian skylark. Skylark seated in a rape field.This post is by Claire Feniuk, land use policy officer at the RSPB.

If Brexit has taught us anything, it’s that people don’t like compromise, they really much prefer to have their cake and eat it. This week, I was invited to join a panel discussion at a Defra Evidence event hosted by the Royal Society, to give my thoughts on the trade-offs between nature conservation and food production. Read more

We must support the transition to low carbon by phasing out high carbon

Power station from the Mersey RiverThis post is by Jenny Bird, Dr Florian Kern, Dr Paula Kivimaa and Dr Karoline Rogge from the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand.

Prior to the era of Donald Trump, tweeting was an unusual way to make a government announcement. But a tweet from the UK team at the 2014 UN climate summit in New York declared David Cameron’s intention to “phase out existing coal over the next 10-15 years”. Read more

The government should publish its environment plans without further delay

traffic, light, london, UKThis post is by Richard Benwell, head of government affairs at WWT.

The government has published its Industrial Strategy, its Housing White Paper and its Digital Plan, but three flagship environmental promises remain mired in Whitehall wrangling: the 25 year environment plan, the 25 year food and farming plan and the clean growth plan are all delayed. Read more

Brexit creates an opportunity to support UK food production and restore nature


Zwei Lämmer liegend auf einer WieseThis post is by the Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, second church estates commissioner and former secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.

The UK agriculture sector has always sought to provide good quality food at a reasonable price, which is the very purpose of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, we cannot ignore that it has come at a price to many growers and that agriculture is under pressure. Read more

What resource efficiency can do for the industrial strategy

Worker at milling machine in workshop.This post is by Dr Colin Church, CEO of CIWM, the leading institution for resources and waste management, and the new chair of the Circular Economy Task Force.  

I am delighted to become the chair of the Circular Economy Task Force at such a critical moment for resources policy. 2017 has much for us to get our teeth into. The task force’s next phase of work will have two important strands: the implications of Brexit for the resource sector and the importance of resource productivity for the UK’s industrial strategy. As I recently blogged on the former for CIWM, I will focus on resource productivity here. Read more

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