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Investing in green jobs

Viewpoint by Adrian Wilkes, Environmental Industries Commission chairman

“Britain must be part of the high-tech manufacturing of the future, and one very important area of that is around green industries… some of our competitors have been better at this than us…America does a huge amount to support some of these new industries,”

Ed Miliband secretary of state for energy and climate change, December 2008.    

The environmental market worldwide is already worth $3 trillion – and growing rapidly at over 5% a year. But the UK is not winning a lion’s share in global markets. Our environmental industry exports some £10bn a year – yet, Germany has environmental exports of some £50bn (in 2006) and employs some 2M.    

The global environmental marketplace is going to be a fiercely competitive sector and we will need a smart strategic approach from the government. The UK has only a small window of opportunity if its environmental industry is not to be left behind in the race to dominate international environmental markets. US President Obama, for example, has a raft of detailed policy proposals to make the US the world leader in environmental industries. His 2009 Economic Stimulus Plan will spend over £68bn ($100bn) to create half a million new green jobs.    

The UK has only a small window of opportunity if its environmental industry is not to be left behind

Other far-sighted governments are now following Obama’s lead: Germany, Japan and Korea have just announced major growth plans for their domestic environmental industries. China’s economic stimulus plan includes a £96.7bn programme of environmental measures.    

No wonder the new chair of The Environment Agency Lord Smith argues that the UK must seize “early-mover advantage” through a Green New Deal comprehensive, long-term strategy.    

The key issue is whether the UK government can provide a strategic steer on how to make the transition to a low-carbon, resource efficient economy. Without the right policy framework, business will not have the confidence to invest.

Sadly none of the parties has the strategic vision for urgent government action to ensure that the UK’s environmental industry wins the lion’s

Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Lord Mandelson wants: “The UK and Europe to be the best place in the world to develop and implement low-carbon solutions and a magnet for new green-collar jobs”.    

But when he and Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched their “Low Carbon Industrial Strategy” it was a flimsy vision statement with no hard policies on how the government is going to help British industry generally deal with the economic challenges and opportunities of climate change.    

The Conservatives have also announced “plans to create a low carbon economy…a vision of a Britain which leads the world in new green technologies”. Although it has useful policy proposals, it too is “policy-lite.” Sadly none of the parties has the strategic vision for urgent government action to ensure that the UK’s environmental industry wins the lion’s share of the growing world markets. So we are lobbying hard in support of our “EIC Green Jobs Growth Strategy”, which for example calls for: A £1bn “Green Jobs Investment Fund” with:

  • £6bn in 2009/10 for an infrastructure fund to build 50,000 new (low-carbon) social houses (on brownfield sites) creating/protecting in the region of 160,000 jobs
  • £1.5bn in 2009/2010 for extra investment in energy efficiency retrofitting of low-income family homes creating in the region of 145,000 jobs
  • £1bn in 2009/2010 of extra investment on energy efficiency retrofitting of schools and hospitals creating in the region of 21,500 jobs

These EIC policy recommendations can make the UK’s environmental industries a new engine of growth that can create hundreds of thousands of jobs.    

However, these policies require a sea change in political attitudes - to steer future investment (both public and private) away from financial speculation and into green technologies and green collar jobs.    

  • Find out more about the carbon reduction commitment at EIC’s conference on 30 April: www.eic-uk.co.uk   
       

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