Simon Bullock, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth, explains how Jobs and growth will benefit from green economy measures.
Environmentally-friendly industries have seen annual growth of four per cent despite being in recession. So why aren’t the government investing more time and effort into this sector?
Who knows whether Greece will leave the Euro or not. The bookies put it pretty even. Either way, David Cameron is telling the eurozone it “has to put in place the most robust contingency plans for both eventualities”.
But the UK needs its own plan too. Not just to ride out the new economic storm coming our way – whatever Greece decides – but to come out of it stronger.
A change of course is urgently needed. Families, businesses and banks are nervous, wary and are digging in. So, vital investment for the recovery is far too low. The government must act to create confidence, and get our economy out of what will otherwise be a long downward spiral.
The focus has been on austerity but attitudes internationally appear to be changing. The mood in the G8 this week has turned – a focus on growth is now far higher up the agenda.
A key part of this change of focus should lead the government to throw its weight behind a green economy – a sector which has grown at four per cent a year despite the recession.
Offshore-wind, electric vehicles, smart-grids, energy efficiency, marine renewables: investment in these sectors can help tackle what Aditya Chakrabortty called Britain’s “de-industrialisation”.
This would create jobs and growth, particularly in the North and Midlands, help the UK’s exports and reduce the UK’s chronic over-dependence on expensive fossil fuels imports and other natural resources. Oh, and protect the environment too.
• Clean energy summit will expose more coalition divisions 23 Apr 2012
So, a “green economy” focus is a quadruple win, and one that’s long been advocated. But as the Environmental Audit Committee sets out in a hard-hitting report this morning, the coalition government is just not delivering. It has no strategic approach, its market-led attitude is too focussed on voluntary action, and the Treasury wrongly sees environmental action as a cost, not an opportunity.
First, end the damaging lack of certainty about the clean energy sector which is making investors take a wait-and-see approach. Tomorrow’s energy Bill should follow the committee on climate change’s advice and state that the electricity sector will be decarbonised by 2030, rather than the leave-it-to-the-market approach of previous years.
Developing clean power and cutting energy waste will also help tackle rocketing fuel bills, which are largely driven by spiralling gas costs. And such a move would be popular, too. A recent YouGov poll Friends of the Earth published to mark the launch of our new Clean British Energy campaign revealed that 85 per cent of the public want David Cameron to force the big six energy firms to develop clean British energy from renewable sources – and ditch dirty coal and gas.
Second, make sure the Green Investment Bank can borrow from the start, rather than hamstring it for the first five years, as current plans allow.
Third, get the business department going on strategies to help regional clusters of industries develop around growth hubs like offshore-wind, and help heavy industry go green and stay competitive.
The green economy potential is huge – there’s a big prize for the political party that changes the deep-rooted old-establishment negative attitude to a clean economy.
And it could go either way. William Hague’s confidential memo to the prime minister in March strongly advocates the green growth route – almost entirely for economic reasons. But George Osborne is yet to be convinced. Maybe the green economy case put forward in a powerful presentation from economic heavyweights Nicholas Stern and Dimitri Zenghelis to HM Treasury officials earlier this month will finally change his mind.
With the government split on this, there’s a clear opportunity for Labour. Caroline Flint outlined the bones of an industrial strategy earlier in the spring; Pat McFadden set out the case this morning. Ed Balls needs to make this case too, and flesh it out with detailed proposals for the green sector. This could put Labour way ahead of the government.
Investing in the green economy can be a major part of helping the UK out of recession. Which party will grab this opportunity?