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It is down to us to build tomorrow’s green economy today

It is down to civil engineers to embrace this new world and make sure that Brown’s green new deal is the real deal 

Prime Minister Gordon Brown gathered industry bosses behind his “new green deal” this week in what he described as the opportunity to “build tomorrow’s green economy today”. It was an important initiative and one that civil engineering must embrace.

For all the gloom in the economy right now we are at a very exciting moment. Already we are seeing a welcome injection of confidence as the Keynesian economic recovery starts to filter through and projects such as Crossrail, M25 and Manchester waste lumber towards the start line. Are we at last really seeing a government that not only believes in the value of public investment in decent modern infrastructure but which is also committed to a carbon reduction programme along the way?

Well let’s hope so. As Atkins chief executive Keith Clarke explained this week, the time to act on this “the most serious issue” is today, not tomorrow. But before you all condemn this strategy as just more spin from a weary administration it is worth underlining the fact that this strategy is pegged on economic recovery.

This low carbon industry strategy intends to not just create another stimulus for the economy but actually become the economy – an estimated 400,000 new jobs and £45bn added to GDP within 10 years. “This transition will transform our whole economy. It will change our industrial landscape, our supply chain and the way in which we all work and consume,” says the government’s strategy.

The question is of course: Will the government have the nerve to see this strategy through? Will it have to do things differently and invest in “carbon critical design”? We need to ensure that we can deliver in a future that is more concerned about carbon than cash if we are to stay in business. Not least since the US has woken up to the issue.

In the 50 days since the oil-fuelled policies of George Bush left the White House, President Obama’s new low carbon agenda, with promises of $16bn (£11.67bn) a year in investment, looks set to seize the initiative. And while this is clearly good for the future of the planet, we risk seeing the low carbon competitive advantage built up over the last decade effectively disappearing. That could give us a problem.

In a world which is changing the way it operates we cannot afford to fall behind. As the government strategy accepts: “The challenge is to make sure that the UK benefits economically and industrially from the move to low carbon.” With infrastructure so critical to the global recovery and the global carbon reduction strategy, it is down to civil engineers to embrace this new world and make sure that Brown’s green new deal is the real deal.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor  

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