A united front on climate change

The message from an international gathering of academics, environmentalists and business leaders came through loudly and clearly. Collaboration is vital to meet the growing challenge of climate change and other serious threats to our planet.

Dr Andy Pickard, manager of the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation at Lancaster University, summed it up, declaring: “It is absolutely critical for industry, science and policy-makers to work together to create solutions and capitalise on economic opportunities.”

He added: “It is also good business – the UK low carbon economy is estimated to grow 11 per cent per annum, four times faster than the rest of the economy.”

Dr Pickard was one of the speakers at the inaugural Innovation for Clean and Sustainable Growth ‘ECO-I 2019’ conference, organised by the awardwinning Centre for Global Eco-Innovation and held at Lancaster University.

More than 280 delegates from over 20 countries attended the two-day event, which showcased how recent research advances are driving ecoinnovation across six key global challenge themes – energy, waste, food, water, resource efficiency and natural capital.

The second day of the event coincided with a ‘climate strike’ on campus, part of a global day of action calling for governments to act on climate change and which saw millions take to the streets across the globe.

Eco-Innovation, which centres on businesses developing new products, processes and services that are better for business and better for the environment, is seen as a key mechanism for delivering the changes required to respond to climate change.

The UK low carbon economy is estimated to grow 11 per cent per annum, four times faster than the rest of the economy

The gathering also heard how eco-innovation has “significant strategic economic growth” potential for both Lancashire and the North West.

A government-commissioned Science Innovation Audit led by Lancaster University has demonstrated that the ‘North West Coastal Arc’ hosts a  unique range of assets in research quality, people, technology, and place to exploit clean growth.

It stresses that the region can become world leading in the development of low carbon and eco-innovative products, services and technologies.

The Arc is a government-backed initiative poised to deliver “substantial and sustainable prosperity” to the region, and is a collaboration of universities and businesses in Staffordshire and North Wales, through to Cheshire, Merseyside and Lancashire to Cumbria.

ECO-I 2019 included keynote speeches, talks and panel discussions involving policy experts from Government, environmental scientists and representatives from business.

It also showcased successful eco-innovation case studies demonstrating how businesses have been able to grow while also delivering new products and services that improve our environmental impact.

Prof Stephen Decent, Lancaster’s pro-vice chancellor for academic development, told the gathering: “The aim is to celebrate success, stimulate collaboration and inspire. This conference is about taking action and leadership.”

“It is about building collaboration and the aim is to showcase research and inspire more businesses.”

This conference is about
taking action and leadership

The Centre for Global Eco-Innovation at Lancaster University undertakes business-led R&D to deliver low carbon products and services, and is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Committed to clean and sustainable growth, it also has a global reach. The conference heard of its work in Africa.

Lancaster University and partners in Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, Malawi, Kenya and Zambia are working together with African businesses, communities and researchers to develop capacity for a safe circular water economy, in a project called ‘RECIRCULATE’.

Prof Ratemo Michieka, who chairs the Africa Science Research Innovation Council, was another conference speaker. He said it was a new body with the mandate to promote research and innovation to address Africa’s social-economic development challenges and was actively looking for partnerships.

‘THE GOVERNMENT IS LISTENING’

The government is “genuinely very open to new ideas”, Matt Beer, senior policy advisor at the Cabinet Office told ECO-I 2019.

He said his team worked to improve accessibility, overcome political barriers and to look towards more collaboration.

And his message to businesses with ideas and technical innovation was to keep talking to the decision makers in the corridors of power.

He said: “The government is focused on accelerating the development of new technologies. It is keen to keep hold of its targets and is aware it is not easy.”

Central government is also keen on research into the impact of different energy initiatives and funding strategies and on connectivity, he added.

‘THE PRIZE IS ENORMOUS’

Academic institutions have a key part to play in bringing together businesses and communities to understand the need for change and clean and sustainable growth. Mark Knowles, head of low carbon at Liverpool City Region LEP, said it was “critical” that businesses had the knowledge and understanding of both the threats and opportunities that this change posed.

“Whole communities have to be transformed,” he added and the ability to bring people together to meet challenges of moving to a low carbon economy was vitally important.

He declared: “The North West is in a leading position to support innovation. Clean growth is important because it is the future. It has to be the future and it is coming at a rapid rate.”

Mark pointed out that most city regions have climate plans and have declared climate emergencies and the subject is now becoming “mainstream”.

He added that there were “huge opportunities” for business and communities, but he said: “There are also issues. Communities could be left behind if they don’t make the transition to clean tech.”

He said that the Science Innovation Audit was a “critical part” of the North West’s approach to understanding what assets and opportunities it had, both in terms of technology and locations.

Mark told the conference: “The climate emergency is now at the very top of the political agenda at international and national level. There has never been a period like this, there is a huge opportunity to be able to make changes. We need to take whole communities with us.”

He said there were “big searching questions” and one of the main challenges was decarbonising the North West’s energyintensive industries such as glass and chemical production.

He went on: “Our companies and universities are out there explaining, demonstrating and selling these technologies. Offshore wind is a blueprint for what is possible.”

The region was able to call on a “vast reservoir” of talent and expertise, Mark said, adding: “Just because a solution didn’t make it 10 or even five years ago doesn’t mean it can’t make it today.”

He said “Our communities have led the world before and they want to do it again. The prize for our businesses and communities is enormous.”

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