2019 and environmental interests are having a moment. There is a surge in public interest for fighting climate change and a socio-political movement that is getting serious about combating rising temperatures is driving the interest. It’s a movement that has been inspired by Greta Thunberg’s call to action, David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’ Netflix documentary on climate change and Extinction Rebellion’s protests on the streets of London. So what does this mean for UK industry?
The rising public concern over global warming means the public are sending a clear signal to all political parties. It’s that they increasingly want action to tackle climate change to be at the top of parties’ agendas. As our planet is warming at an alarming rate, it’s vital that public concern translates into more urgent action on tackling carbon emissions. A ban on petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2040, for instance, has been widely welcomed, but based on the science behind the IPCC’s warning that we have just twelve years in which to act, its effectiveness is already being questioned, with many calling for this ban to be moved forward to 2032.
You might have already thought about an electric vehicle, maybe even taken it for a test drive? But have you thought about what the ban on petrol and diesel cars would mean if it comes about in the next ten years? Or what similar targets could mean for the shipping industry? Restrictions are coming into effect with a target to reduce shipping emissions by 50% by 2050. As of January 1st 2021 the Baltic and North Seas will in effect have low emission zones requiring a change in the technology and fuel sources being used.
What about the energy used and the waste produced in fabrication facilities across industry? In the offshore wind sector, ambitions are ramping up to deliver at least 30GW of capacity by 2030. Can we scale-up manufacturing sites to deliver our 2030 ambitions in a way that is competitive and carbon neutral? We know that offshore wind is vital to meeting carbon emission targets but that doesn’t mean that industrial and manufacturing processes don’t have to be rapidly decarbonised across our economy.
These are, and will continue to be, tough issues for businesses around the world and even tougher for supply chains which, like in the offshore wind industry, are battling to deliver substantial cost reductions. To have a hope of facing up to these challenges, we need to support innovation that tackles climate change and answers the difficult questions about how we pay for it too.
The Whitmarsh Offshore Wind Supply Chain Review, published in February, which I co-authored, included a series of recommendations to support innovation - including the need to ensure that there is a level playing field for projects awarded a CfD. On this point, the review specifically states:
“The current CfD auction process appears to place primary importance on the cost of electricity, which encourages developers and Tier 1 suppliers to be overly conscious of risk
in their purchasing and development decisions. If all bidders were required to include and
demonstrate investment in technical development, innovation and the enlargement of the
supply chain; the playing field remains level and there is scope to accept some risk in the
project and take the technology and knowledge forward”.
This would mean developers can invest in innovation without compromising their competitive edge in the auction. Cost is not always the barrier to innovation but access to projects to demonstrate new technologies is and such access requires funding.
Important ideas such as this are all on the table for review, and can be used to stimulate investment in technologies which reduce carbon emissions, putting UK industry ahead of the curve and creating opportunities for cross-sector learning. The benefits are clear but we shouldn’t be complacent about the challenges ahead. Based on the reaction to Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough and the increasing activity of Extinction Rebellion it looks like the public are starting to see this too