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It’s vital that the UK’s ongoing industrial strategy ensures it will be powered by the clean energy of the future not the dirty energy of the past
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Decarbonising the UK economy

Joe Ware

26th January, 2017

Ultimately the UK Government's new industrial strategy has the potential to use government investment to shift the country in the right direction for the environment. But we need more than just ‘public money,' we need the public's money too writes JOE WARE

The UK has more offshore wind capacity installed than any other country and the industry drew record investment of $29.9 billion last year, a rise of 40% from 2015

This week the UK Government published its long awaited industrial strategy, marking a distinctive break from the previous Conservative regime. Gone is David Cameron's more laissez faire attitude to managing the economy.  In its place is a more proactive approach, which seeks to stimulate industry with targeted investment.  Taking advantage of the greater flexibility afforded by freedom from the EU's state aid rules the plan sees some exciting developments in the decarbonisation of the UK economy.

Among the ideas proposed are to make the UK a world leader in some of the low carbon technologies it already has an advantage in, namely electric vehicles, wind power and nuclear.  The consultation, known as a green paper, proposes a roll out of electric vehicle charging points. The much-heralded announcement by Nissan last October to invest in its Sunderland plant - one they will now review depending on how Brexit goes - was understood to be helped by assurances from government of its commitment to making Britain a hub for electric car making.   

The Sunderland factory will produce batteries for electric vehicles, an area of focus in the new strategy. Ministers have also asked the country's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, to review the case for a new research institution to work on battery technology, energy storage and smart grids. Battery storage has been seen by many as the killer app that could transform the potential for renewables, allowing their intermittent energy to be stored and accessed on demand. The wide-ranging strategy also sets out plans for upgrades to digital, transport, energy and flood defence infrastructures.

One of the goals set out in the paper is to "capitalise on strengths to win a substantial share of global markets". Hopefully this bodes well for the UK's offshore wind industry.  The UK has more offshore wind capacity installed than any other country and the industry drew record investment of $29.9 billion last year, a rise of 40% from 2015. The Government also announced a review into reducing costs to business of its decarbonisation plans in line with its legal obligations enshrined in the Climate Change Act.  If they are serious about reducing such costs then they should embrace onshore wind and solar farms which are some of the cheapest forms of new energy on the planet but which have been spurned so far by this government. (They would certainly be much better value than the eye-watering costs of Hinkley Point C's nuclear power station.)

Ultimately the strategy has the potential to use government investment to shift the country in the right direction. But we need more than just ‘public money,' we need the public's money too.

Banks currently invest our savings with scant regard to its climate impact, often directly supporting fossil fuel companies, which is why NGOs are urging the UK's high street banks and asset managers to shift their investments towards renewables.  If our taxes are being spent on a low carbon industrial strategy, why not the cash we hold in our bank accounts?  With the banking AGM season coming up Christian Aid is holding a series of training workshops for people who want to get involved in helping shift the investment flows even further. This is a growing area of environmental activism - last year saw a record number of shareholder resolutions addressing climate change, 94, up from 82 in 2015.

This is going to be a revealing year for the UK's decarbonisation agenda. Theresa May may be busy dealing with Brexit and President Trump but climate change isn't going to wait around until she's finished. Her government will publish its carbon plan this year setting out how it will meet its decarbonisation commitments, not an easy circle to square if they plan on building a new runway at Heathrow.  This industrial strategy is a good start. Climate Minister Nick Hurd's announcement on Wednesday of £28m for clean energy R&D also bodes well. But we're going to need more than just a few million here and there if Britain is going to stay competitive in a world starting to embrace this new industrial revolution. China is pursuing electric vehicles with gusto and is threatening to overtake the US auto industry which itself will not hand over its crown lightly.

The UK's low carbon industry cannot be competitive solely as an exporter; it needs to have a thriving domestic market too. Fortunately this is underpinned by the Climate Change Act, which gives the Government every reason to both invest in the industry and implement its products in decarbonising Britain.

With Donald Trump squandering the good work on the environment done by Barack Obama there is an opportunity for Theresa May's ‘Global Britain' to show global leadership. It's vital that the UK's ongoing industrial strategy ensures it will be powered by the clean energy of the future not the dirty energy of the past.

This Author

Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid and a New Voices contributor for the Ecologist. He's on twitter at @wareisjoe.

 

For more information about Christian Aid's Big Shift training workshops, taking place across the country from Exeter to Kendal, sign up here.

 

 

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