he Eastern Daily Press asked me how we could build back a more sustainable economy after Covid-19. Some of my views are reported in the linked article and you can red my full (rather comprehensive!) response below.
WHO WOULD BE LAUNCHING A GREEN STRATEGY FOR AN ECONOMIC COMEBACK? WOULD IT BE GOVERNMENT-LED AND FUNDED? WHAT WOULD THE EXPECTATIONS AROUND TIMING BE AND WHAT WOULD THE TARGETS BE?
Labour is already in rapid consultation with businesses, workers, unions and others on how a green recovery could happen and will soon put proposals to the government.
A green and resilient recovery will require a full mobilisation of national resources, both public and private. Government needs to get to zero carbon emissions by 2030 and the best way to do that is to create a million jobs to transform our industry, energy, transport, agriculture and our buildings, while restoring nature.
To make that happen, government needs to work in partnership with the workforce and their trade unions in every sector of our economy and make available at least £250bn of ‘green transformation’ lending for large and small businesses, infrastructure and innovation to support renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, biodiversity and environmental restoration.
The TUC is calling for measures to build UK manufacturing supply chains, by increasing the requirement for UK-made content in any investment programme. When government invests in new infrastructure, it should ensure that this investment is used to build local supply chains. For example, the government’s sector deal for offshore wind currently requires 60 per cent UK content for construction and maintenance. This is a good start, but is too limited; the government should require a raising of that target to 80 per cent.
New technologies invented in the UK, should be engineered, manufactured and exported from here too. To make that happen we must use the power of public procurement to support local sourcing and reshoring, so that every investment we make strengthens our manufacturing and engineering sectors and supply chains and creates hundreds of thousands of secure, well paid jobs here at home.
We also need to make sure that the UK’s financial sector is helping to tackle the emergency rather than fuelling it. Financial authorities must be given powers to manage the risk to financial stability posed by short-sighted investment in polluting assets and we need to rewrite the Treasury’s investment rules to guarantee that every penny spent is compatible with climate and environmental targets.
HOW REALISTIC WOULD IT BE TO LAUNCH AN ECONOMIC RECOVERY PLAN BASED ON GREEN JOBS?
Averting climate catastrophe could offer huge economic opportunities but this government has presided over a lost decade of productivity and allowed Britain to fall behind in the green technologies of the future. Scandalously, there were 11,100 fewer green jobs in 2018 than four years earlier in 2014.
The Resolution Foundation is forecasting that the fallout from COVID-19 will result in hundreds of thousands of young people’s jobs going in sectors like hospitality and retail. After the Great Financial Crash in 2008, the last Labour government put in place a highly successful ‘Jobs Guarantee’ programme and now my party’s Shadow Business Minister is proposing something similar in the form of a scheme in which the government would pay the wages of young workers in green industries for a period. This could also involve retraining older people with the big ambition to “leave no worker behind” in any transition towards a different, more sustainable economy.
And there’s no reason at all to delay borrowing to invest right now. Although levels of public debt are historically high, today’s extremely low interest rates make higher borrowing levels financially sustainable. As long as the rate of nominal GDP growth is higher than the nominal rate of interest, the ratio of debt to GDP will fall.
Even though we’re an island, the UK is only 20 miles across the water from the economic and regulatory superpower of the European Union. The 750bn euro recovery plan approved by the EU Commission last week has environmental conditions attached to 25% of the total pot and countries receiving awards will be expected to work towards the EU’s climate and environmental goals. In the same way as the recent EU trade deal with Japan stipulated joint compliance with sustainability targets, it’s almost inevitable that the UK will have to agree to similar requirements to get a deal before the end of the year.
FOR EXAMPLE, THIS WOULD MEAN THOUSANDS OF TREES WOULD BE PLANTED. WHERE WOULD THEY BE PLANTED AND HOW WOULD IT BE FUNDED?
A Labour government would make £2.5bn available to plant the trees in a number of sites, including urban parks, farmland and schools as well as investing an extra £75m a year into new and existing park authorities to manage them. That would create around 20,000 new green jobs in forestry management and timber trades. The ultimate aim is to plant two billion new trees by 2040 which is achievable with a sea change in the way things are done today.
In the year to March 2019, there was actually a decrease in tree planting in England but as recently as the late 1980s about 30,000 hectares were planted every year, showing that the current rate of planting could rise dramatically.
The Woodland Trust says several things need to happen to make a huge tree-planting programme possible including involving far more people and statutory bodies in tree-planting schemes at national and local government levels, and providing more money or grants for farmers and other landowners to persuade them to plant trees.
WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS AROUND TRAINING FOR THESE NEW JOBS. WOULD IT BE A GOVERNMENT SCHEME OR IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PRIVATE COMPANIES?
The demand for skills will intensify significantly in the coming years as the impacts of Brexit, automation and longer working lives play out and people will need accessible and high quality training to access new sustainable jobs of the future.
The current Apprenticeship Levy has been beset by problems, leaving employers paying into a training budget they are unable to spend and it’s not delivering for small businesses either. As part of fixing that system, we need to bring into being a Climate Apprenticeship programme to enable employers to develop the skills needed to lead the world in clean technology and make available targeted bursaries to encourage as many people as possible to take up climate apprenticeships.
Employers should be expected to allocate 25% of the funds in their Apprenticeship Levy accounts to training Climate Apprentices to be spent directly or allocated to a ring-fenced Climate Apprenticeship Fund.
ALONGSIDE PLANTING TREES AND INSULATING HOMES, WHAT OTHER JOBS IN THE ENVIRONMENT SECTOR COULD BE CREATED TO ACHIEVE OUR NET-ZERO PLANS?
With the right support, Norfolk and the East of England stands to benefit hugely from any transition to a more sustainable economy. The East of England is already home to over 52% of the UK’s installed capacity for offshore wind. Wave and tidal energy have the potential to deliver around 20% of the UK’s current electricity needs and Norfolk’s coast has already been prioritised for tidal energy development. With many depleted gas fields easily modifiable for CO2 storage, at a fraction of the cost of building and installing new facilities, the Southern North Sea presents numerous opportunities for carbon capture and storage.
Similarly our towns and cities would benefit from a major investment in clean transport. This ranges from increasing the number of electrical vehicle charging points through improved cycleways and pedestrianisation schemes to revamping rail connections.
Norwich is also home to one of the country’s best regarded research universities and the second highest concentration of biotech expertise in Europe. Targeted science, research and innovation will be crucial to tackling the climate crisis, dealing with the plastic waste filling our oceans and addressing other societal challenges, such as an ageing population and antibiotic resistance. We need to immediately move to spending 3% of GDP on research and development (R&D) by 2030 by increasing direct government support for R&D and reforming the innovation ecosystem to better ‘crowd in’ private investment.