Green Industrial Dilution

In today's Budget, Rishi Sunak spoke about a Green Industrial Revolution – but his weak proposals are just another attempt to claim credit for a good idea he's too afraid to pursue.

When Boris Johnson decided to purloin the tag line from my labour of love, the Green Industrial Revolution, I admit I was more intrigued than annoyed.

The proposal was years in the making, enlisted a range of engineers, academics and experts to provide a detailed suite of policies that would spur on industrial renaissance, improve our quality of life and tackle climate change in one. It was radical, ground-breaking even, and would have brought with it huge benefits to the prosperity and health of the UK.

These are statements not usually synonymous with the current government. Nevertheless, I hoped that they would steal the policies as well as the tag line – it would have been to all of our benefit. But sadly it was not to be.

Far from a ‘revolution’, this Budget promised a paltry £12 billion for a new green infrastructure bank. Our National Transformation Fund and National Investment Bank, by contrast, had proposed deploying £400 billion over the course of this decade – most of it in the first five years.

Sunak’s other measures—a green recovery bond, promises that the Treasury will reform the Bank of England’s mandate to include a Net Zero target, retail green savings products and distant report into carbon offsetting within the City of London—amount to very little.

After all, a new report from LCP’s energy analytics arm—an investment consultant, not a radical left wing think tank—stated that the UK will face a £100 billion funding gap between the level of uptake needed to reach Net Zero and the level of finance provided by asset owners and the government by 2030.

Before this Budget, the government’s promised investment was pitiful in comparison to other OECD nations. As Eleanor Salter noted in Tribune last year, Sunak proposed only £3 billion of new money in contrast to Germany’s €40 billion. Meanwhile, the government’s ten-point Green Recovery Plan translated into only 50 percent of the required emissions cuts to meet our 4th and 5th Carbon Budget.

The government’s recent record has been poor, to say the least. The Green Homes Grant faced widespread criticism and is now in disarray with the prospect of being axed, a new coal mine was given the green light, and the National Audit Office found recently that emissions from the sector were only 1 percent lower than in 2011, as SUV sales had outstripped those of electric cars.

And as if that wasn’t depressing enough, with COP 26 around the corner, instead of outlining a raft of urgent and concrete industrial policies to excite industry and households alike, the government began discussions on tinkering with carbon taxes again to somehow magically change the behaviour of some of the biggest polluters.

The problem is, more often than not, the tax burden incurred by the big polluters ultimately falls on the shoulders of the poorest in increased costs to goods and services, particularly in the case of food.

Today’s Budget was one last opportunity for the government to prove that they weren’t simply taking the advice of an excitable advertising executive, scrawling climate friendly tag lines on a flip chart in a brainstorming session. It was time to move beyond just saying ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ – we needed to see the substance. But we didn’t.

The climate emergency and need for decent, well-paying industrial jobs are too urgent for us to wait for the government to get its act together. So, if Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak want a real Green Industrial Revolution, they should steal our full programme – not just the rhetoric.

Ditch the Green Homes Grant and pursue real change in our housing sector. We proposed the largest scale upgrade of UK housing since post-war reconstruction, creating 450,000 jobs by installing energy saving measures such as loft insulation and double glazing, renewable and low carbon technologies in almost all of the UK’s 27 million homes by 2030. That would be ambition.

Declare an ‘electric car revolution’. A huge acceleration of the electrification process would safeguard 180,000-plus workers directly employed in the automotive sector currently threatened by closures – and create an additional 32,000 new jobs. Make available the necessary funds to invest in new electric car models and technology, to enable vehicle manufacturers to bring new electric car models into production, as well as new battery and metal reprocessing plants and electric vehicle charging networks.

They should offer interest free loans for the purchase of electric vehicles as well as a scrappage scheme. They could commit to making the entire government fleet electric by 2025, as well as incentivising business fleets, and finally create publicly-owned community car clubs so that everyone can hire an electric car when they need to. Their candidate for Mayor of London is already ripping off our policy here – why not take it national?

And if we really want to avoid climate catastrophe, commit to decarbonising the energy system by 2030. We’ve made clear what this would demand – 7,000 off-shore wind turbines, 2,000 more on-shore wind turbines and solar panels covering an area 22,000 football pitches, tripling the UK’s current capacity.

It would require significant investment in research and development for marine energy and renewable or low-carbon hydrogen for heating and energy storage; investment in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) for some heavy industries; and balancing the grid network to meet our future demands. All of it is achievable. If, that is, a revolution is really what you’re intending.

An average investment of 1.9 percent of GDP each year on energy and homes would provide a net benefit of over £800 billion across the UK by 2030 and 850,000 new jobs across the green energy sector. Our research suggested that the increased economic prosperity could lead to wage increases of roughly 2 percent across the economy.

This is a programme not just for climate and jobs, but for social justice. A Green Industrial Revolution must guarantee the redistribution of wealth, devolution of political and economic power, public ownership, and robust workers’ protection. Without it, Rishi Sunak is proposing a green coat of paint – not a solution to our pressing crises.

If the government was serious about tackling climate change it would adopt Labour’s programme, not just our rhetoric. It would grab the opportunity to reverse decades of deindustrialisation with a bold green regional investment strategy, not a drop in the ocean. It would use this pivotal Budget to fast-track new industries and spur a global ‘green race’ in the manufacture and roll out of green technologies across the world.

Instead, as today shows, they will continue to dilute the Green Industrial Revolution in the hope of stealing credit for a good idea they are too afraid to pursue.