Claire Perry: UK's business community must help create a 'just' low-carbon transition
As the UK strives to meet legally binding carbon targets, businesses must help policymakers create a low-carbon economy that does not exclude working-class people or rural regions, Energy Minister Claire Perry has claimed.
Speaking at an Aldersgate Group event in central London on Thursday (17 January), Perry was asked to explain how her involvement with last month’s COP24 conference would help the UK to bolster its decarbonisation ambitions, particularly in light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report on global warming.
In the wake of the report, which laid bare the stark differences between an average global temperature increase of 1.5C and 2C, the UK Government has asked the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) for advice on how best to bolster its carbon reduction targets and create a net-zero economy.
Delivering the keynote speech at Thursday’s event, Perry said that policymakers would only follow advice which would not exclude entire regions or social classes from the transition to carbon neutrality.
“We talk a lot about the overlaps between offshore renewable industries and the offshore oil and gas sectors and the opportunities arising there, but the fact is that people are really worried about the future,” Perry said.
“It’s been very easy, in the past, for concerns about the climate to be dismissed as the worries of the few, not the many. Luckily, we’ve been able to strip out a lot of the myths surrounding decarbonisation and costs – but we have to be mindful that this is a problem which will have to be solved by the many, not just the middle class.”
Perry’s comments come shortly after the publication of new research on the so-called “just transition” by Imperial College London, which found that the UK’s current green policy frameworks could create a “two-tier” economy. The study, commissioned by Drax Group, concluded the regions such as the North of England and East Midlands are not receiving the financial and social benefits of the low-carbon transition in the way that London and the South East are.
In order to tackle this problem, the Government is splitting its funding between regions and between projects that mitigate and adapt to negative environmental impacts, Perry explained. Policymakers are additionally working to implement green laws which balance “who pays for projects, how much of a carbon reduction they will drive and, increasingly, what the competitive advantage will be”, she added.
Perry’s arguments were welcomed by several of the business representatives to have attended COP24, which was hosted in Katowice – a former coal mining city which has now adopted the slogan “green over black”.
Panellists at the Aldersgate Group’s event, who represented BT, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Vattenfall, the Bank of America and the IPCC, told of how the taste of coal “hung in the air” at the COP24 venue, with delegates encouraged to look at decorative cases filled with coal lumps.
“It was extraordinary, when the world seems to have agreed that we need to transition away from fossil fuels, to see this,” Perry explained.
“We were encouraged to admire the source of wealth on which this area was raised and from which most of the unrest currently happening in Europe has been built. It underscored a massive, central issue which we must keep addressing – who pays for decarbonisation and what responsibility should we all take?”
Her comments were praised by M&S’s director of sustainable business Mike Barry, who cited the retailer’s involvement in installing community-owned solar arrays at schools and other local facilities as an example of creating a “win-win” for disadvantaged communities.
“The next shift cannot be driven by a small number of savvy people making decisions in an isolated room – it must be much more democratic,” Barry said.
“Too much decision making over the past 20 years has been made in Westminster. It needs to be made in the regions because that’s where farmers and energy workers live and they have to win from this change as well.”
Perry agreed with Barry, who went on to criticise policies which place the responsibility of paying for more sustainable products on consumers, rather than businesses or central Government.
“It’s no use lecturing people and threatening them with taxes, you have to show them the benefits of renewables and make low-carbon food exciting,” he added.
Vattenfall’s UK manager Danielle Lane, meanwhile, urged policymakers and business representatives to showcase the “green-collar” jobs available outside of the South and emphasise the economic benefits which could be reaped by retraining oil and gas workers for jobs in the renewables sector.
“This can be a win-win for governments, customers and businesses, because the cost of not making a change later is going to be far higher than the cost of making a positive change now,” Lane explained.
“As renewables become more common, we’ve seen transformations of areas like Grimsby and Lowestoft. Green jobs aren’t just in London – they are nationwide.”
Growing green economy
The UK Government estimates that around 400,000 people are currently employed in what it calls the “green economy”, which covers low-carbon goods, services and energy as well as the sustainability, corporate social responsibility and energy and facilities management sectors. Of these jobs, around 136,000 are based in the North.
Perry has previously claimed that the figure of 400,000 could grow as much as 11% per year from 2020, as more renewables projects come online.
In order to ensure that these roles benefit people across the nation, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has urged energy businesses in the North of England to help retrain 28,000 oil, gas and coal workers.
Similarly, The Aldersgate Group has previously made calls for ministers to implement policy frameworks which "champion investment" in the North’s uptake of low-carbon projects.
Claire Perry at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum
Claire Perry will appear at Day One of edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum, to discuss the latest green policy changes and what they could mean for UK businesses.
She will additionally provide her insight into how Brexit will shape the UK's low-carbon future, and how progress against the Clean Growth Strategy is likely to continue in 2019.
The two-day event, taking place 5 & 6 February 2019 at the Building Design Centre, London, will also include debates on how to solve the plastics crisis and the state of corporate action on sustainable packaging.