Regional minister for the West Midlands Ian Austin has said the region can turn climate change into an opportunity and be at the forefront of a “low carbon industrial revolution”.
Speaking at a seminar for the West Midlands Climate Change Office Mr Austin highlighted the region’s achievements and outlined his vision the work needed to deal with the problem is an opportunity.
“We are as well – or better – placed as anywhere to create a low-carbon economy, and in doing so to take our share of the worldwide market in environmental technologies, expected to be worth £10billion in this country within three years,” he said. “The environmental technologies sector already employs more than 30,000 people in the West Midlands, contributing an estimated £1billion in turnover to the region.
“Our motor manufacturers have recognised the need to compete in this market: Jaguar Land Rover, for example, already world leaders on lightweight materials, has received a £6million grant from Advantage West Midlands to develop these further. And with their supply chain they are planning to develop green power-trains for lighter cars.”
Mr Austin was speaking at a seminar this week bringing together local authority leaders to discuss the best ways of motivating individuals and organisations to act on climate change.
In his speech, the minister told his audience that their influence would be pivotal: “As we look to the future, it’s very clear that local government has a key role to play if we are to successfully tackle the social, environmental and economic challenges in the years ahead in a sustainable and low-carbon way.”
“The West Midlands can turn this challenge into an opportunity,” he said.
“We are all proud of our history in this region as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, and some have suggested that this can be the birthplace of a low carbon industrial revolution.
“Let’s make that vision a reality. We have the creative imagination, the spirit of innovation and the ingenuity to make it happen.”
The West Midlands is home to a variety of businesses based on low-carbon technology, many of them based on the specialist vehicle sector, such as Coventry-based Modec, a zero-emissions commercial vehicle manufacturer.
The sector is complemented by research strength at key universities in the region, such as the universities of Birmingham and Warwick’s ground-breaking hydrogen fuel research.
The University of Birmingham hosts the Birmingham Science City Hydrogen Energy project which has received £6.5million of investment from Advantage West Midlands to develop the region as a centre of excellence in hydrogen energy research.
The region also contains a wealth of traditional engineering firms which formerly relied entirely on supplying industries like the automotive sector and which are now diversifying into supplying renewable technologies manufacturers.
But environmental business experts have said the region still has a lot of work to do before it catches up with the level of activity seen in other European countries, for example in Germany.
Governments around the world are looking to the low carbon sector as a hope for job creation as the global economy contracts rapidly.
Earlier this week business secretary Lord Mandelson pointed to the sustainable technologies sector as having the potential to create over a million jobs by the middle of the next decade.
He drew a parallel between developing a digital economy and the creative and knowledge industries and indicated the government would use tools like procurement strategies to help companies take the leap in developing green expertise.
But the UK faces tough competition in the global low-carbon economy.
According to new figures from Ernst and Young the UK has moved to joint fifth, on a par with Spain, in its renewable energy country attractiveness indices which looks at destinations for investment.
The UK’s move one place up the charts was helped by the government’s announcement in its pre Budget report of its intention to extend the renewables obligation to 2037, as well as the enactment of the Energy and Planning Act 2008 which includes the establishment of a new feed-in tariff for small wind farm projects with up to five megawatt capacity.
The US saw its position as the most attractive destination for investment in renewable energy nosedive, helping Germany move to joint first place.
But the index – which tracks and scores global investment in renewable energy – also revealed there has been a record reduction in the attractiveness of all 20 countries included for the first time since its creation five years ago.
Jonathan Johns, head of renewable energy at Ernst & Young, said although the financial crisis has negatively impacted the attractiveness of all countries in the indices, the US had borne the brunt of the economic slowdown.
“The economic situation in the US has restricted access to finance and slowed the recycling of production tax credits and investment tax credits, which allow corporates to gain tax breaks by purchasing credits from renewables developers.
“This has allowed Germany, almost by default, to take the position of most attractive destination for renewable investment alongside the US, largely as a result of its feed-in tariff making the German market more resilient,” he said.