Anne-Marie Trevelyan is MP for Berwick. She was the Secretary of State for International Development until that post was abolished in September.
This week, the Prime Minister set out an ambitious ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution in our country over the next decade. This is welcome news and marks the beginning of the UK’s path to net zero, with further plans to reduce our emissions whilst creating the green jobs of the future. In recent days, some have sought to characterise this as somehow a shift to “softer” issues, or away from the core levelling-up agenda for our swathe of new seats across the Midlands and North. That analysis is, I’m afraid, as lazy as it is fundamentally wrong.
Far from being part of some woke agenda, going green is a hard-nosed, economically vital policy choice. A choice that will give our country a competitive advantage in securing the massive investment, jobs, and export opportunities that are up for grabs as the entire world rises to the challenge of tackling climate change.
The plans set out by the Prime Minister will see over £12 billion of government investment into our green industries that will create and support 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs in the UK and send a message of confidence to businesses making their own investments in the UK.
Make no mistake, the direction of travel is only going one way across the world. Just this year, in a hugely significant step, China committed to going carbon neutral by 2060. 73 countries committed to Net Zero by 2050 at COP 2019, with the UK being the first major nation to legislate for it. And with a new President soon to be in the White House, many expect America to recommit to reducing its carbon emissions.
Meeting these targets will require huge changes, whether that be with electric vehicles, research projects for zero-emission planes, making our homes more energy efficient, carbon capture, or new hydrogen technologies.
Those countries that establish these new technologies, advanced manufacturing methods, new engineering and scientific expertise, will see both huge inward investment and massive export potential as countries across the world seek to reduce their emissions.
And all that means the creation of high skilled, well-paid jobs, across fields like engineering, manufacturing, specialist construction, to name a few. In many towns across the Midlands and North, there exists residual skills and expertise in these areas and we are well placed to take advantage of any green investment. Take Teesside, where in 2015 sadly thousands of steelworkers lost their jobs as the Redcar steelworks closed. Plans are now underway to turn the old steelworks site into a carbon capture project, supporting up to 5,500 new jobs. Getting ahead in green technologies holds the potential for nothing short of an industrial renaissance in our country, and a clean one.
Indeed, at the centre of the Prime Minister’s ten-point plan are the UK’s industrial heartlands, including in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands, Scotland and Wales, who will drive forward the green industrial revolution and build green jobs and industries of the future.
And this isn’t all pie-in-the-sky ambition. We are already the world leader in offshore wind, in part thanks to early government interventions, such as the decision by a Conservative government in 2013 to authorise the system of subsidised 15-year contracts, which have proved so successful. Offshore wind directly supports 11,000 skilled jobs here in the UK, and that is projected to rise to 27,000 jobs by 2030. Jobs in places like Hull, where Siemens and Associated British Ports built a £310 million blade plant, Barrow-in-Furness for the Walney Extension windfarm or Hartlepool for the massive Dogger Bank project.
Our experience of offshore wind, with early government support and commitments helping to develop a world-leading industry, shows why the government is bang on to be committing to our green industries now. It sends a strong message to investors that the UK is a place to invest and create the jobs of the future.
Recent research estimated that 700,000 new jobs could be created in green industry over the next decade alone. If you take the offshore wind sector, over a quarter of jobs are occupied by workers under 30, so green industry will clearly be hugely important as we build back from the pandemic.
Leaving what I believe is the unarguable economic case aside for one moment, I also find the sweeping suggestion that those in the North or the Midlands just don’t care about the environment incredibly patronising. Why should a parent in Newcastle be any less concerned about the quality of air their kids are breathing than a parent in London? You don’t have to live in a leafy suburb in the South to care about the environment your kids and future generations will inherit.
Green industry is undoubtedly one of the biggest growth industries of the future, and we either take action right now to benefit from that growth, that investment, those new skilled jobs, or we get left behind. That’s not going soft, that’s going hard-headed to secure our economic prospects as we build back better and greener from Covid.