Without follow through, this plan won’t accelerate our climate ambitions

Sue Ferns · 19 November 2020

The Prime Minister’s new 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution lacks meaningful detail and, as a result, falls far short of what is urgently needed if we are to achieve Net Zero, writes Sue Ferns, Prospect senior deputy general secretary.

 landscape with a tree and power station

The UK is falling behind in the race to tackle the climate emergency and mitigate the worst effects of global heating. Despite some early progress in decarbonising our economy, the UK is likely to miss binding targets for emissions reduction later this decade by a wide margin.

As the Committee on Climate Change has repeatedly warned, the gap between aspiration and concrete policy remains substantial. As Prospect made clear over the summer, if the UK is to make meaningful progress towards building a resilient, low-carbon economy that can deliver decent, long-term employment, rhetoric must be replaced by a detailed, fully-funded plan of action.

The urgency around this has never been clearer in the context of a global public health emergency that has plunged our economy into the worst recession for more than 300 years.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs have already been lost this year, and potentially millions more are at risk, with devastating long-term consequences for communities across the UK. A strategy for a post-COVID recovery is essential, one which puts tackling the climate emergency at its heart.

The PM’s new plan

This is the backdrop to the Prime Minister’s new, 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which promises to be the basis for creating 250,000 green jobs and accelerating the UK’s transition to Net Zero.

The points in the plan are reasonable but on their own, the plan will fall far short of what is needed and represent a huge missed opportunity to drive forward this critical agenda in a meaningful way.

The plan is largely a list of aspirational targets, lacking the underpinning detail to explain how and when critical Net Zero projects would actually be delivered.

Where we did see some more concrete action was in the pledge of new investment in hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. This is welcome, but if we are going to get most bang for our buck, we need to take a whole systems approach including energy innovation hubs that can harness a range of technologies and be strong centres of R&D.

Similarly, while there was a positive statement on nature-based action, this needs to encompass more than just tree-planting and include a comprehensive strategy for protecting and sustaining our rich natural heritage.

Recycled announcements

In many key areas though the plan had little new to say and simply recycled previous announcements.

This is particularly true in the case of nuclear power, an essential component of a low-carbon energy mix. Despite hopes that it would provide a clear green light to the Sizewell C nuclear plant, and potentially to a full programme of large nuclear plants and small modular reactors, we are no nearer to understanding how these critical projects will be taken forward. This is despite new research this summer from the Energy Systems Catapult that found that an immediate commitment to an additional 10GW of new nuclear was a “low regret” option.

Similarly, the plan had little to say about how, exactly, the government would ensure that Net Zero projects actually deliver decent jobs and create economic value for the UK.

In other words, there was no real green industrial strategy underpinning this plan. In sectors like renewable energy this has already become a huge issue; progress in offshore wind, for example, has come with disappointing results for local job creation in the UK, especially in relation to what other countries have achieved.

New research on job creation in the Danish offshore wind sector suggests a 40GW target in Denmark would potentially generate 300,000 direct jobs, five times what the PM’s plan has pledged.

The failure to support the development of a robust UK supply chain for offshore wind, despite huge potential, has meant the UK has failed to maximise the full jobs potential of our tremendous renewable energy resources.

Green jobs taskforce

The Prime Minister’s plan also made no mention at all of skills and re-training, however, last week I was appointed to serve, on behalf of Prospect members, on the Green Jobs Taskforce.

The taskforce will advise on the skills and workforce strategy that should underpin infrastructure investment. I am proud to be part of this and will be urging the government to support urgent, bold and innovative action to deliver on this both for new entrants and the existing workforce.

We need a proper Net Zero skills strategy, both for ensuring just transition becomes a reality, and also to help workers in sectors hit hard by COVID-19 take advantage of new opportunities in the green economy.

This 10-point plan must be urgently followed through with the detail if the government is to have any hope of reclaiming the mantle of global leadership on tackling the climate emergency.

Publication of the long-awaited Energy White Paper, the National Infrastructure Strategy, and the Treasury’s Net Zero Strategy, would be a big step forward in helping to fill the gaps in the ten-point plan.

Social partnership and dialogue with unions like Prospect, who have much to offer by way of concrete policy proposals, would also be tremendously helpful.

Time for real action is running short – 2021 must be the year when talk of a UK green industrial revolution moves from rhetoric to reality.

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