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UK government pumps £350 million into ‘green recovery’

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

UK industry will receive around £350 million to cut down carbon emissions under new plans to step up efforts to tackle climate change.

The multimillion pound investment package will build on progress towards the UK’s target to reach net zero by 2050, by helping businesses to decarbonise across the heavy industry, construction, space and transport sectors and to secure the UK’s place at the forefront of green innovation.

The investment came ahead of the PM launching the first meeting of the Jet Zero Council, which will bring together government, representatives from the environmental sector and the aviation and aerospace industry to tackle aviation emissions in line with the government’s ambition to achieve the first ever zero emission long haul passenger plane.

The projects set to receive funding will work on developing new technologies that could help companies switch to more energy-efficient means of production, use data more effectively to tackle the impacts of climate change, and help support the creation of new green jobs by driving innovation and growth in UK industries.

The package includes:

  • £139 million to cut emissions in heavy industry by supporting the transition from natural gas to clean hydrogen power, and scaling up carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology which can stop over 90% of emissions being released from industrial plants into the air by storing carbon permanently underground
  • £149 million to drive the use of innovative materials in heavy industry; the 13 initial projects will include proposals to reuse waste ash in the glass and ceramics industry, and the development of recyclable steel
  • £26 million to support advanced new building techniques in order to reduce build costs and carbon emissions in the construction industry
  • A £10 million boost for state of the art construction tech which will go towards 19 projects focused on improving productivity and building quality, for example, re-usable roofs and walls and “digital clones” of buildings that analyse data in real time
  • Launching a New National Space Innovation Programme backed by £15 million initial funding from the UK Space Agency, which will see the first £10million go towards projects that will monitor climate change across the globe, which could protect local areas from the impacts of extreme weather by identifying changes in the environment
  • Opening up bids for a further £10million for R&D in the automotive sector, to help companies take cutting edge ideas from prototype to market, including more efficient electric motors or more powerful batteries

Chaired by the Transport and Business Secretaries, the first Jet Zero council meeting discussed how to decarbonise the aviation sector while supporting its growth and strengthening the UK’s position as a world leader in the sector.

The members will look at how to work across their sectors to achieve these goals, including through brand new aircraft and engine technologies. These could include using new synthetic and sustainable aviation fuels as a clean substitute for fossil jet fuel, and eventually the development of electric planes.

The government says that over the past decade, the UK has cut carbon emissions by more than any similar developed country. In 2019, UK emissions were 42% lower than in 1990.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We’ve made great strides towards our net zero target over the last year, but it’s more important than ever that we keep up the pace of change to fuel a green, sustainable recovery as we rebuild from the pandemic.

“The UK now has a huge opportunity to cement its place at the vanguard of green innovation, setting an example worldwide while growing the economy and creating new jobs.

“That’s why we’re backing cutting edge research to cut costs and carbon across our great British industries, and even paving the way for the first ever zero emission long haul passenger flight – so that our green ambitions remain sky high as we build back better for both our people and our planet.”

Business and Energy Secretary, Alok Sharma, said: “Climate change is among the greatest challenges of our age. To tackle it we need to unleash innovation in businesses across the country.

“This funding will reduce emissions, create green collar jobs and fuel a strong, clean economic recovery – all essential to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”

Image by Steppinstars from Pixabay 

‘Superfunds’ should drive Britain’s green future, says think tank

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

New British pension ‘superfunds’ should be created to invest in infrastructure for country’s green recovery.

That’s the view of the Social Market Foundation, which also says that ministers preparing for a ‘green recovery’ from coronavirus should be ready to take more risks and spend public money up front to support innovative ‘pathfinder’ infrastructure projects and new renewable energy markets in their early stages.

The cross-party think tank says building new roads, power sources and communications networks could create much-needed jobs and make Britain’s economy more productive and resilient, with priority given to “shovel-ready” projects that support domestic supply chains and employment.

In a new report, the SMF identified pension reform as the key to financing and funding new infrastructure.

Ministers should encourage UK pension funds to merge into fewer, larger funds able to invest large sums in big long-term projects, the SMF said, citing Australia and Canada, where such funds have successfully delivered major infrastructure investments.

The government launched consultations on pension consolidation and the creation of “superfunds” in 2018 and 2019, but despite Boris Johnson’s previous support for the plans, ministers have yet to announce decisions.

The SMF said that the need to support an economic recovery with infrastructure projects meant “urgent action” is now needed on pension reform.

Investment rules should also be reformed to allow the new funds to pay the management fees often involved in running big infrastructure projects, the SMF said in a report setting out how to get more private money into big UK projects.

The SMF report was sponsored by Tidal Power Limited, which is pursuing plans to build a fleet of new tidal lagoons to generate power for the UK grid.

The report draws on a roundtable discussion among parliamentarians, former officials, investors and academics. Based on that event, the SMF concluded that politicians must offer much greater certainty and financial clarity to investors about the profits they can make from funding infrastructure projects.

Such profits should be energetically explained to voters as a necessary condition of private financing of public infrastructure, the SMF said. Political pressure to eliminate profits from private finance deals helps deter investment in infrastructure, the report found.

Politicians’ determination to minimise taxpayer costs by asking the market to fund new projects is also limiting Britain’s ability to build new infrastructure projects, the SMF said.

To support the economic recovery, government should be prepared to take more risks by spending directly to support new “pathfinder” projects that would then be replicated by private investors if they succeed.

The SMF also recommended:

  • A cross-party commission with an independent chair should be created to establish a “strategic vision” of the UK’s infrastructure needs over at least the next decade. Parties taking part in the commission should give public commitments to ensure financial and regulatory support for the projects identified in the vision.
  • An urgent review of planning regulations should be undertaken with the aim of reducing planning risk for investors. This could include narrowing the scope for Judicial Review of projects identified as top priorities by the new cross-party commission.

Richard Hyde, Senior Researcher at the SMF said: “The best way to support the infrastructure the country urgently needs in the long-run is to make better use of the billions of pounds held in pension funds that could be profitably invested in helping Britain on its way to a green recovery. Ministers should move quickly to encourage the creation of pension superfunds like those in Australia and Canada.

“In the short-term, ministers looking to get infrastructure projects up and running and providing jobs should be prepared to spend directly to support pathfinders that can prove to investors that it is safe to invest in similar projects. That means taxpayers bearing more of the risk, but the long-term rewards justify that risk.”