Resource security: business as unusual

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman gives a sneak preview of the Government's forthcoming Resource Security Action Plan - and what it means for business

The UK economy is reliant on a wide range of resources, from water and food to the rare earth metals needed for new technologies. Globally, population growth and increasing affluence mean demand for resources is growing.

At the same time climate change is starting to put pressure on our most essential resources. This is why resource security has become an issue; why resource efficiency and the reduction of waste are vital to the new, green economy we need to build.

But I want to emphasise that the need for resource efficiency isn’t just a challenge. It’s an opportunity. Recent research estimates that UK business could save £23bn a year by using raw materials, energy and water more efficiently. We also know that the global market for low-carbon and environmental goods and services is over three trillion pounds and growing.

The Government wants to ensure that UK business manages the challenge and grasps the opportunities that the resource security issue presents. Defra’s Waste Review, published last year, signposted our path to becoming a society in which resources are fully valued, financially and environmentally.

The Green Investment Bank will help unlock private sector investment and tackle market failures. The waste sector is one of the priority sectors for investment, helping to build the infrastructure we need to divert more waste from landfill, and reuse and recover more materials.

We will shortly be publishing a Resource Security Action Plan, which we’ve developed in partnership with business. The plan will look at the non-energy and non-food resources, including the key metals and minerals we need for our new, green technologies.

Speciality metals such as rare earths and lithium are not about to run out. But increasing competition for these metals carries risks of price volatility and geo-politics interrupting supplies.

The plan will set out how we’ll be helping provide businesses with information about the risks to the supply of individual materials. It will describe actions on promoting the recovery, recycling and re-use of critical resources.

There will also be actions to develop a strong evidence base, by producing an overview of our own understanding, and by studying the approach of other countries. It will explore the opportunities for UK companies globally.

The UN estimates that, by 2030, the world will need 30% more fresh water and 50% more energy; and that by 2050 demand for food will have increased by 70%. Our Water White Paper, published in December, explains the pressure that climate change and a growing population are likely to put on water supplies here in the UK.

Water for life is an optimistic document. It is a call to action. We want water companies to innovate and develop expertise: and take advantage of the $300bn market in water products and services.

The White Paper’s package of reforms will stimulate innovation and growth in the water sector, bring about more cost-effective services, and create opportunities for dynamic new entrants to the market. There will also be a £3.5m innovation competition in water security, to be launched by the Technology Strategy Board in the spring.

We also want businesses and households to take advantage of new water-efficient technologies. We will be incentivising water efficiency measures though the Green Deal, as well as encouraging water efficiency labelling so that customers to choose more efficient products.

Defra is also helping food producers to find ways of using less energy, carbon and water intensive processes. We also need to encourage competitiveness, trade and, very importantly, resilience – the ability to accommodate, say, disrupted trade, as well as the increasing population.

We are also working in Europe to ensure that the Common Agricultural Policy is aligned to the demands of the coming decades, facing up to the twin challenges of climate change and food security.

We need a CAP framework within which a productive, competitive and sustainable agriculture sector can thrive.We also need a Common Fisheries Policy that allows the fishing industry to prosper, while protecting fish stocks and the marine environment.

But the challenge to ensure resource security and sustainable economic growth is not just for certain sectors. It’s for all sectors, and for businesses of all sizes.Many businesses are already taking action on resource security and sustainability; and reaping the benefits.

I want this to spread, across sectors and along supply chains. It is business that will be the true creator of the new, green, global economy. That is why Government is doing all it can to help business in this vital and rewarding task.

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