Future Forum North: How a green investment strategy could generate a jobs boom for the North

07 July 2021

The climate change agenda is set to generate thousands of jobs for the North through new carbon neutral infrastructure, predicted the three speakers in a session organised by ENGIE at the Future Forum North event on shaping a green investment strategy for the North.

Wallace Sampson, chief executive of Harrogate BC, set the scene in his own region, pointing out that ‘if we continue business as usual the carbon budget for the Yorkshire and Humber region through to 2050 will be used up in the next six years so as a region we’ve committed to achieving net zero carbon by 2038.’

He cautiously welcomed the Government’s initiatives adding: ‘The Government’s policy framework, the White Paper and the Prime Minister’s ten-point plan, are all welcome as they give momentum to the agenda, though the policy framework is still being developed. If we’re going to shape a green investment strategy for the North with real clarity about the policy landscape, then it needs to be developed more fully in 2021, but I believe the energy White Paper has signalled a clear intent in terms of national green energy.

‘It states that clean electricity will be the main form of energy and demand for energy will double by 2050. Heavy industry and the building and consumer energy market will all be adapted to this transition to clean energy.’

Wallace said the North was well placed to benefit economically from green investment. It is a home for ‘nationally significant assets that will contribute to clean energy ambitions.’ He cited Siemens’ plans to double its wind turbine factory in Hull to support the wind farm in the North Sea bringing in further investment on top of its existing £300m along with 1,000 jobs.

The Drax power station is proposing to develop bio energy and the first phase could remove up to eight million tonnes of carbon a year, in the process supporting thousands of jobs across the supply chain and in construction. The Net Zero Teesside project aims to capture ten billion tonnes of carbon equal to the energy use of three million UK homes.

Regional bodies are already focusing on how technology can deliver the green agenda to carbon neutrality and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership have commissioned a study to look at the key interventions needed by 2038 to achieve net zero.

However the transition from carbon to low carbon industries means jobs lost from the former as new ones are created in the latter.

One study by IPPR North predicted 28,000 carbon-based jobs disappearing by the late 2030s.

Wallace said ‘that will hit the North in particular as it’s home to coal and gas power stations.’ It was therefore critical to ensure employees are retrained with new skills. He added: ‘A green investment strategy needs green skills and a jobs offer as we transition.’

He said: I welcome the news to base the UK Infrastructure Bank in Leeds. It’s a fantastic opportunity for the North and we should take advantage of the funding. But we should also use green bonds and municipal green bonds.’

He added with an optimistic note: ‘We’ve launched a Regional Climate Commission in Yorkshire and Humberside to ensure no one is left behind in jobs and skills, and we will develop a climate action plan. We might one day have a climate commission for the North underpinning a green investment strategy for the North.’

Jason Longhurst, strategic director of place at Bradford City Council, said its strategy was about defining ‘an investable proposition’ and ‘putting down a clear marker to unlock economic potential and sustainable development goals.’ This included rail connectivity, health and wellbeing, education, equality, changing working patterns, all with the aim of meeting sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Colin Macpherson, chief executive of ENGIE places and communities, welcomed the Government’s recent announcements saying: ‘The ten-point plan and energy White Paper clearly define an intent for the UK to move forward in a sustainable and green way which is welcome by us in industry as well as in the public sector.’

He pointed out that the green investment strategy ‘is not purely an environmental step but also a great opportunity for a step change in the social and economic impact across communities.’ The question was how to best invest in a greener future while also extending its impact beyond just the environment.’

Colin talked of the offshore ‘wind footprint’ in the North, the ability to introduce hydrogen as a fuel and the opportunity to roll out models of new technology due to the North’s industrial density.

He added: ‘Many of the new technologies are up for grabs and can be scaled on a commercial basis which is a great opportunity for the North.’

He also pointed out the importance of locally-based solutions saying that ‘I strongly believe the party best able to bring together collaboration between public, private and third sectors is local government as it best understands the needs and dynamics of particular communities.’

Touching on finance, Colin said: ‘Investment is vital to drive the strategy whether from green bonds, or the new infrastructure bank.’ He added: ‘The criteria aren’t quite clear yet about how the bank will allocate funds though which could create some confusion and it may well rely on more locally raised funding for projects. Alongside this is need for the right people with the right skills to develop solutions as they need local know-how as well as cash. This is about how we collaborate through the public, private and third sectors to deliver an outcome which is overdue and which our citizens deserve.’

During a lively Q&A session, one question was whether there should be a green tax. The panellists were generally lukewarm about the idea. Wallace thought that ‘if there’s a green tax I think many will see there are clear benefits but it will depend on the size of the tax.’ Jason thought a tax was ‘the wrong path’ and Colin said ‘a new tax can create unintended consequences.’ He added: ‘I would say tread warily.’ Both said a proposal for a tax needed to be part of the wider decarbonisation agenda.

Another question was whether the momentum for zero carbon had been delayed or accelerated by the pandemic. Colin said COVID had done both. adding: ‘The decarbonisation agenda has taken second place but the speed with which we’re moving now on carbon agenda is quicker than without the pandemic.’ In contrast Jason felt the pandemic had delayed the momentum while Wallace believed it changed attitudes.

One question was about the impact on jobs, those lost as carbon industries decline and new low carbon ones are created. Jason replied that ‘the biggest issue is skills transfer, how you support the transition and harness manufacturing hubs.’

Colin added that as an example of a flourishing new low carbon industry: ‘The UK has taken strong role in the offshore wind market as we have a natural resource. It’s a success story. The challenge is how to improve efficiency and drive renewable energy.’

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