Climate change is a huge challenge, but also presents great opportunities
Today, the TUC publishes its new policy document, ‘Powering Ahead: How UK industry can match Europe’s environmental leaders’.
Containing new research from Germany and Denmark, this report considers how those countries – their governments, companies and trade unions – have worked together to build strong green technology sectors.
Those sectors are good for jobs, good for exports and, of course, will help to create a greener, cleaner world.
Climate change is the biggest challenge that the world faces but, as Lord Stern pointed out in 2006, it also provides a massive opportunity. Lord Stern predicted a global market in green goods and services of $500bn per annum.
At present, the UK is not set to take our fair share of this market. ‘Powering Ahead’ sets out how we can do so.
This new report could not be more timely. As we discovered during a bruising referendum campaign, too many parts of the UK feel that globalisation has passed them by. We cannot stop the clocks; globalisation is transforming the world economy and will provide valuable opportunities, especially to poorer nations, and those with higher skills.
But many working class communities, in the UK and elsewhere, have lost their livelihoods and their security as part of this process. It is both possible and necessary for politicians to meet this challenge. Failure to do so will drive these communities into the hands of populist politicians who promise easy answers to complex problems, answers that will only lead to further disappointment and greater anger.
‘Powering Ahead’ calls for the UK to adopt a target of 50 per cent of our energy coming from renewable sources by 2050. To achieve that, we need a consensus across political parties and all sides of industry to work towards a sustainable industrial strategy.
As we develop new green industries, and new green jobs, those new sectors should be focused on former industrial communities, such as the one-time coalfields, that lost their livelihoods in the 1970s and 1980s and have seen no meaningful new industries coming in to take their place.
In the TUC’s view, a sustainable industrial strategy is one that takes account of social, economic and environmental concerns. Along with the building of renewable energy products, we need to utilise Carbon Capture and Storage technology; and if that is too expensive for one government to fund, we must develop an international consortium to take it forward.
The biggest obstacle to renewable energy is storage capacity, so the government should provide funds for companies and universities, working together, to tackle this problem. The private sector has an important role to play in this project, but the empowering role of the state is critical too.
Privatisation for privatisation’s sake, such as that of the Green Investment Bank, should be halted.
It may be counter-intuitive to see energy intensive sectors as part of a sustainable industrial strategy, but in Germany, wind turbines are the second largest users of steel – an energy intensive sector – after the automotive industry.
Trade unions in Germany and Denmark are clear about the importance of energy intensive industries and we should be too.
‘Powering Ahead’ is timely in another way, too. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has shown a welcome interest in industrial strategy, even reorganising government to take this into account.
Her faith in the role of a workers voice in corporate decision-making is borne out in Germany and Denmark, which have long valued the employee contribution.
As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, we face our biggest economic challenge since the Second World War. A new, sustainable industrial strategy will play a crucial role in meeting that challenge.
Tim Page is a Senior Policy Officer at the TUC