Eamonn Ives is a researcher who specialises in environmental and energy policy. He is the author of Green Entrepreneurship, which was published by The Entrepreneurs Network with the Enterprise Trust.
Unless you have spent the last several months under a rock – which is, admittedly, not the least attractive proposition right now – you’ll know that the economy has taken a beating.
Unemployment and the public debt are up, while gross output and business investment are down. For many of those who have managed to hold onto their jobs, their situation is precarious.
As well as fire fighting various economic challenges, the Government is also contending with the small matter of ensuring the house is in order before it hosts COP26.
Delivering on these two objectives need not be mutually exclusive endeavours. A new report, published by The Entrepreneurs Network and the Enterprise Trust, highlights a handful of ways in which the Government can unleash the inventiveness of Britain’s environmental entrepreneurs – simultaneously giving the economy a shot in the arm, and helping to deliver the sustainability solutions necessary to clean up our planet.
So, how do we advise the Government proceed? Fundamentally, the report argues that more needs to be done to address instances of environmental market failures.
This is not to say that we should be ruthlessly clamping down on every single source of carbon, or simply throwing what precious little cash the Treasury still has at every eco-idea under the sun. Rather, it means recognising that it is not unreasonable to expect polluters to take more responsibility for the harms they inflict on third parties. It also means that innovators who are developing solutions should be supported in doing so – such as through targeted R&D grants – given the benefits they bequeath to us all.
These are inherently conservative ideas, and it does appear that in the current Government the broad principles underpinning them are reasonably well understood.
As well as this general thesis, we make 20 separate policy recommendations. These focus on how to improve the environmental credentials of the energy we produce, the transport we make use of, and the consumer goods we buy. They are not an exhaustive list of how to combat each and every environmental issue, but taken together should at least point the country in a greener direction.
For instance, instead of using Britain’s foreign aid budget and export credit agency to promote fossil fuel projects abroad, why not funnel that money into renewables or ‘cleantech’ solutions being worked on by British inventors? Not only would the climate and green entrepreneurs benefit, but taxpayers would too, if it means less of a risk of loans defaulting on polluting projects which could soon become stranded assets as the pace of renewables accelerates.
Or, instead of effectively banning genetic engineering techniques, why not listen to the scientific community and allow trials to take place, opening up a huge market for crop scientists? Bigger yields would minimise how much space is necessary to grow the food we need, and this regulatory reform is a genuine example of a Brexit dividend, given how the obstacle to doing so emanates squarely from Brussels.
Or, to help deliver on a clean, modern transport system, what about committing to a comprehensive liberalisation of the rules pertaining to e-scooters, instead of clouding the industry in uncertainty? This would be a victory for common sense, carbon emissions, and air quality – and also for the entrepreneurial tech start-ups involved in developing software for platforms associated with them.
From polling we commissioned for the report, it seems that the business community is on board for the shift to a greener economy, too. Fully three-fifths believed that opportunities await them in a more sustainable future, while a mere eight per cent did not. Meanwhile, over half of businesses agreed that employees increasingly want to work in environmentally responsible firms – again, just eight per cent did not. We also found that there was no end to the sorts of environmental problems businesses believed their customers wanted to see addressed – from embracing sustainable packaging, to sourcing greener materials, to using cleaner energy.
British entrepreneurs could be at the forefront of developing solutions to all of these challenges and more – and indeed many already are. But the Government must go further still. In the case of environmental innovation, the case in favour is all the stronger.
Consider what the major industries of the future will be – green, clean, and environmentally conscious. The Government should be doing all it can to give Britain’s entrepreneurs a head start in these markets, lest it want the jobs, investment, exports and growth potential to be captured by other economies.
With our hosting of COP26 just one year away, there is no time to waste. If the UK is to not be embarrassed in its own backyard, it has to be as ambitious as possible. The Prime Minister talks the talk better than most, but that counts for little if it isn’t backed up by a suite of tangible policies which facilitate entrepreneurs and the business community to do the heavy lifting behind the scenes.
Our report maps out a few extra ways he can make that a reality – delivering a cleaner, more competitive economy.