UK environment technology industry urged to export

With the global environment technology industry set to double in ten years, UK companies should be taking advantage of export assistance, says Chris Mullin MP.

“I don’t see why the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) cannot be used to export your industry’s work. It’s not just there for arm sales to tyrannies,” the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State told members of the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC).

Speaking at EIC’s national conference, Mullin acknowledged the difficulties faced by many environment technology (ET) companies in the face of the slow pace with which firms adopt cleaner production systems and more stringent discharge controls. Nonetheless, Mullin emphasised the industry’s medium and long-term prospects. “You’re in a young industry, one that has a bright future.”

Also speaking at EIC’s national conference was Richard Mills, director of the National Society for Clean Air. He also sees signs of hope for ET businesses seeking to export products and services. “We have a sea change in attitudes in China. The old attitude of industrialising and then cleaning up the environment afterward is now laughed at by China’s younger generation,” Mills said. “The ET industry must seize on this attitude in its work in the developing world.”

Mills also speculated on the type of economic growth that will be required to allow the developing world to make environmental progress. “If we have some diminuation or break in prosperity – 40 years ago that might have been a good thing for the developing world. But as the Asian financial crisis has shown us, things have gone too far and now we must hope that the new paradigm is maintained and that prosperity continues so that environmental efforts can prevail.”

The ECGD has been criticised for ignoring the environmental impacts of the international projects it guarantees (see related story), but change is afoot. Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, told an Environment Forum audience in November that as of January 2000 all companies applying for ECGD credit guarantees will be subject to environmental screening. The screening will consist of a questionnaire. Announcing the screening programme, Byers said “Each year about £3Bn of business across the world is underwritten by the ECGD and I know that there are concerns about the environmental impact of some of those projects, which are, in reality, underwritten by the British taxpayer.”

The ECGD has been in contact with the firms it works with to inform them of the imminent introduction of environmental screening. “Feedback from the questionnaire will also help ECGD contribute to the development of a multilateral environmental framework through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for all export credit agencies to follow,” stated the ECGD. “We have been playing a leading role for several years now in taking forward the debate on export credits and the environment in international fora.”

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