UK has potential to unlock £70bn as a “sustainability superpower”

Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

The UK has the potential to become a ‘sustainability superpower’, exporting £17bn of renewable energy per year, according to research from the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development (UKBCSD).

The UKBCSD report says the UK has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unlock more than £70bn of economic benefits, thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and competitive advantages in offshore wind generation.

This in turn could create an additional 279,000 jobs directly and support an additional  375,000 in the supply chain.

However, a bold strategy is required in order to overcome barriers to growth, such as creating a national grid that is fit for purpose, the report adds.

It also describes other barriers, including the need for massive energy storage, which uses a range of technologies, to capture the tens of Terawatts of power lost each year when Britain needs to switch off renewable energy sources because they are generating more energy than the grid can handle.

It also calls for a national programme of retrofit to fix Britain’s stock of old draughty homes, offices, and other commercial properties and early intervention to catalyse the market for hydrogen.

Jason Longhurst, chair of the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development, said Britain effectively fired the starting pistol on the global race to net zero four years ago, by becoming the first major economy to set a net zero emissions target in law and today, more than 90% of global GDP is covered by some form of net zero target.

“We commissioned this report to find out more about the opportunities which net zero can bring to Britain,” he said.

"The findings are clear. The UK can unlock more than £70 billion of economic benefits a year if we become a world leader in the race to net zero.

"We have the potential to generate huge amounts of clean energy which would turn the UK from a net importer of energy to a nation exporting vast amounts of clean power, worth £17bn a year, to mainland Europe.

"We believe this paper delivers an evidence base to enable our government to drive new incentives to transition, leverage in further private sector investment and position the UK as one of the world’s most investable markets for companies tackling the challenges created by climate change.”

He called on the public and private sector “to work together to put Britain at the front of the field again”.

The report was written by former government economist Chris Walker for the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development, in partnership with Prologis UK and Inspired Plc.

It highlights the potential rewards of sustained, aggressive strategy aimed at maximising the UK’s competitive advantages in generating clean energy.

The report analysed two competing scenarios facing the UK as it heads towards its current target of decarbonising all sectors of the economy by 2050.

It says: “Because we are in a global race with critical tipping points, one version of 2050 sees the UK becoming a world leader in the energy transition by attracting trillions of pounds of global private investment, innovating in key technologies and deploying them at an international scale to become a clean energy superpower. 

“This is the ‘beyond net zero’ scenario.

“In another version of 2050, the UK lapses into clean energy mediocrity and stumbles along. 

“This is the ‘near net zero’ scenario.”

In the “beyond net zero” scenario, the UK achieves economic benefits of £70.3bn a year by 2050 - not including the social value of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and averted climate change.

The report finds the economic benefits of the “beyond net zero” scenario to be more than twice the £35.0bn benefits of pursuing the “near net zero” path.

The report says the UK’s strong competitive advantages in clean energy generation mean it is uniquely well positioned in the race to net zero which can deliver significant and sustained economic growth, raised productivity and increased exports.

“Other advanced economies will undertake similar journeys to the UK at the same time,” it states. 

“For the UK to cement its leadership in tackling this challenge, crucial public policy decisions need to be taken, backed up by investment from private sector organisations to ensure that the UK makes and captures the necessary investment to capitalise on its strengths.”

The report includes a number of potential policy options to help fully exploit the UK’s clean growth potential.

Mark Dickinson, CEO of Inspired PLC said the government needed to act now on this opportunity for the UK.

“This report makes clear the economic benefits that are available for the country if the combination of the private and public investment can be enabled to realise the opportunity to become a global leader in sustainable development,” he says.

Paul Weston, regional head of Prologis UK, said: “This landmark report makes plain the scale of the opportunity that the UK has - alongside the relatively small window that we have to act.

“It is vital that we seize the opportunity, not only for the economic gains - and potential new jobs - but because being a global leader in clean energy will also bring huge societal and environmental benefits.”

The report is being launched at UKREiiF in Leeds on Wednesday May 17.

Visit UKBCSD to download the report.

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