National strategy vital for UK’s net zero ambitions

By Ged Henderson

02 Jul 2024

Net Zero Carbon Conference Speakers

The lack of a clear national strategy is seriously harming the UK’s net zero ambitions and high-level leadership is needed from the next government to address the situation.

That was the hard-hitting message to delegates at the Lancashire Net Zero Carbon Conference, organised by Lancashire Business View and held days before the General Election.

They heard calls for a programme of financial support for businesses to help them achieve their transition and create employment opportunities.

The incoming government was urged to reform the planning system and change some current policies and procedures to encourage net zero transition.

The importance of the new regime moving quickly on key decisions to kickstart major projects in the North West was also highlighted.

Professor John Whitton, co-director of the University of Central Lancashire’s Centre for Sustainable Transitions (CST), told delegates to the conference, held at Ribby Hall Village: “What is missing is a national strategy.

“We’ve seen people in this room, people who run businesses and are acutely aware that they need to do something to achieve the aims of the business. They have a vision and a strategy and they get on and do it.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had national leaders wanting to do the same when it comes to climate change and net zero?

“We’ve heard here from people who say we need leadership, policies, we need financial incentives, we need financial levers that actually can be moved to make investment in renewable technology take place.

“We have heard here we have brilliant technologies; we have all this going on, what we don’t have is leadership at a national level when it comes to climate and net zero.”

He added: “Businesses are getting on with it and are doing it but there is a limit.”

Prof Whitton said the lack of leadership and strategy was making it harder to persuade business leaders at boardroom level to invest in the skills needed for transition.

He said: “We’ve been at a position of hold for quite a while. It’s not really about what we can now do, it is what can we progress because it has been held back.

“A lot of our technologies are ready and waiting to be deployed. The planning system is a huge issue.”

Prof Whitton also spoke of the need to concentrate on the “nuts and bolts” when it came to delivering cheaper electricity, rather than the current “rhetoric” around the issue.

“I want to see a solid plan how we do that,” he said, pointing to the need to upgrade the nation’s energy grid.

Warning that the UK was “nowhere near” meeting its net zero targets in many sectors, he declared a national strategy, delivered with consistency, would give businesses a clear direction of travel

He added: “A lot of the decisions are relatively straight-forward, you have to ask why they haven’t taken place already. There’s lots of things that can be done without much cost implications nationally, why aren’t we doing them?”

Miranda Barker is chief executive of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, which played a leading role in the creation of RedCAT, the Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technologies.

Its Chamber Low Carbon programme is also supporting businesses in the county to achieve their net zero ambitions.

Miranda highlighted Lancashire’s expertise in low carbon technologies and stressed  more support was needed from government. She told delegates: “We need a programme of financial support for businesses; some grants, some subsidies and some government backed loans.

“We need the funding for small businesses to progress, we need the funding for our innovators to create jobs.”

Miranda added: “We need government to change some of its policies and procedures to help encourage net zero transition.”

And she also called for a change in the planning system to encourage a more net zero orientated approach.

The conference heard from Jane Gaston, a board member of the North West Net Zero Cluster project.

She spoke of the challenges the North West’s important chemical and manufacturing sectors face in particular, as the region looks to play a leading role in delivering decarbonisation.

But she also highlighted the opportunities that presented, in terms of new technologies and major projects anchored in the region.

The cluster’s plan has demonstrated a £30bn pipeline of “live investable projects” with the opportunity for £207bn to be invested in the region overall.

Its manifesto, published earlier this year, also looks to create and safeguard more than 600,000 jobs.

Jane told the conference collaboration was key and said: “If we can really grasp these opportunities we can become market leaders.

“Not only are we going to provide a sustainable economy and the growth and prosperity we want across our region, if we can get the support we can drive forward these projects and have products we can go out and sell across the UK and worldwide.”

Jane said it was vital that the region held discussions with the new government and led the conversation about the opportunities in the North West and the backing needed to deliver. She called for “better dialogue”.

She added that there were a number of “key decisions” sitting in government that would kickstart key projects in the North West and warned members of the new cabinet: “We can’t have any delays in those. They need to have faith and believe in what industry can do.”

The conference, which looked at the journey to net zero from a business perspective, featured panels, interviews, masterclasses and an exhibition space.

It was presented in association with headline partners Trident Utilities and the University of Central Lancashire.

Noel Ferguson from Trident delivered a masterclass on getting businesses ‘race-ready’ for net zero.

He told delegates: “Don’t be daunted – every race starts with the first steps” and highlighted the critical importance of measurement when it comes to achieving carbon reduction goals.

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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