The financial case for greening the UK economy

The environmental group WWF-UK released a report this week urging Chancellor George Osborne to make his final Budget 'the greenest yet'. But what would be the benefits of doing so?

The report argued that we could improve the resilience of our economy, build new markets and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs by taking a more sustainable approach.

That inspired edie to dig through some of the stories we’ve written over the past year to find the key financial figures which might inspire a greener economy… Besides the fact that the world could end. 

£15.5bn – The potential annual health and environmental costs from industrial pollution in the UK that could be reduced by improving air quality.

In November, the EEA published its annual air quality report suggesting that, despite relative improvements, air pollution is still the main environmental health hazard in Europe, having resulted in approximately 400,000 premature deaths in 2011. Nearly all European city-dwellers are exposed to levels of pollutants considered unsafe by the World Health Organization.

£6.8bn – The gross value that the waste sector added to the economy in 2013.

The majority of this value came from exporting recovered materials such as metals and textiles (£4.35bn), while electricity generated from waste (£450m) was also an important factor. Efficiency in the sector is also improving, with Gross Value Added (GVA) per tonne of waste increasing by 33% since 2004.

205,000 – The number of potential new jobs by 2030 if the UK were to make substantial progress towards a resource efficient ‘circular economy’.

These jobs will conveniently be in areas and occupations where unemployment is highest. Between 2000 and 2010, the UK reduced the amount of resources it extracted and imported by 100 million tonnes, proving beyond doubt that circular economy concepts are working and must continue to be implemented.

140,000 – The number of potential new jobs that could be created by 2030 through measures to reduce UK carbon emissions in line with the first four carbon budgets.

A study by Cambridge Econometrics suggests these measures would also lead to a net 1.1% increase in GDP by 2030 and higher real disposable incomes – £565 per household per year. In transport, cars in particular will be cheaper to own and run over their lifetime, by around £266 per year. British-based businesses would also benefit directly from the measures and changes required by a low carbon transition, the report said.

£2.1bn – Potential annual healthcare savings if every household in England had good access to quality green space.

The Woodland Trust estimates that only 14% of the UK population lives within half a kilometre of woodland. Using data from 5,000 households over 17 years, researchers from the University of Exeter found that people reported lower levels of mental distress and higher degrees of life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas. In Japan, the health benefits of spending time in forests even has its own word – shinrinyoku, which means ‘forest-bathing’.

10bn – The amount of water in cubic metres, that could be saved if the UK can generate 60% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 (equivalent to 130bn baths).

The water benefits of renewable energy are an under-reported aspect of the technology, according to IRENA, and a robust renewables system would reduce strains on limited water resources. Vulnerabilities in water and energy supply pose critical risks for food security, as severe droughts affect the availability of food in underdeveloped areas.

As the WWF-UK report concluded, a greener Budget could help drive the UK’s transition to a more sustainable economy – investing in the natural asset base on which the economy and businesses depend, and providing greater stimulus to new and emerging sectors that will be vital engines of clean, hi-tech, sustainable growth in the future. Let’s hope Osborne agrees…

Brad Allen

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