Advantage West Midlands is working hard to make sure that businesses in the region are best placed to adapt to the challenges of changing climate, says Mark Pearce, the agency's corporate director for economic regeneration.
As we reach the midpoint of 2008, climate change perhaps more than any other issue is making headlines across the globe as businesses and communities become increasingly aware of the social, environmental and economic impact we are having on our fragile planet.
In Rome last week the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has convened a special summit on global food shortages, and here in the UK we are reminded of the finite environmental limits of our resource use every time that we fill up our car at a petrol station or pay our utility bills.
For many people, 2008 has been the year climate change has become a front-page issue.
At Advantage West Midlands, we think that 2008 is also the year that Birmingham and the West Midlands region can take real action and start creating real solutions to tackle climate change and move towards a prosperous, low-carbon economy.
The West Midlands has the UK’s first low-carbon economic strategy – Connecting to Success – which sets an ambitious vision for the region to be “a global centre where people and businesses choose to connect”.
We want the West Midlands to maintain and enhance its attractiveness as a location in which people and businesses choose to invest, work, learn, visit and live.
We know that within the West Midlands there is a rich mixture of excellent universities, innovative processes and a pioneering spirit that will drive forward a new era of low-carbon economic growth. But we do not seek growth at any cost. Growth must contribute to improvements in quality of life while respecting environmental limits.
Building upon our historic regional strengths in innovation, engineering and manufacturing – symbolised by the statue of industrial pioneers James Watt, Matthew Boulton and William Murdoch in Broad Street, Birmingham – businesses across the region can pioneer the development, manufacture and export of the low-carbon goods and services needed to drive forward a more sustainable regional and global economy.
We must also strive to decouple our existing business processes from the greenhouse gases that they produce.
This means that businesses can continue to produce goods and services of increasing value whilst at the same time reducing the harmful emissions produced in the process.
And we will be encouraging businesses to diversify into the new and growing market for low-carbon goods and services which will be worth more than £46billion in the UK alone by 2015.
The diversification into low-carbon markets has the potential to benefit all businesses in the region from plumbers learning how to install solar heating to food manufacturers improving the efficiency of their logistics and production processes.
We know that the transition towards a low-carbon economy presents a great challenge for regional businesses.
But we also know that it presents an even greater opportunity.
But please don't think that this vision for a low-carbon economy is some far-off or distant future. It is already taking root in the region today as busi-nesses embrace the opportunities and efficiencies of the low-carbon economy.
Businesses such as Converteam, in Rugby, who with support from the Advantage West Midlands-funded WindSupply programme, diversified their product range and have become the UK's leading component supplier to the wind power industry.
Here in Birmingham, Advantage West Midlands has supported the University of Birmingham to launch the country's first hydrogen refuelling sta-tion.
And the National Energy Technology Institute, hosted by the Universities of Birmingham, Lough-borough and Nottingham will co-ordinate £1billion of private and public sector investment into new energy-related R&D in the years to come.
It is this marriage of investment in innovation and ingenuity with our region's history of a strong manufacturing base and pioneering spirit that will spur other businesses on to embrace the opportunities of a low-carbon future.
A low-carbon economy programme co-ordinated by Advantage West Midlands will provide targeted investment in a number of key areas:
TO SUPPORT greater decentralised energy, we will build upon the regional heat and gas connectivity mapping that we commissioned last year to assess the potential for combined heat and power generation networks and to support local authorities to exploit this potential.
TO MANAGE waste we will fund and support the new Waste Infrastructure Advisory Group that will provide a strong leadership role within the region to coordinate the regional response to our growing waste management needs.
This group will bring together key waste management companies and public sector bodies to coordinate long-term strategy and infrastructure challenges.
TO PROMOTE energy efficiency we will work closely with the Carbon Trust and Energy Savings Trust to develop a new, regional reinvestment fund for energy efficiency.
This fund will redistribute the savings from energy efficiency in one business to help other busi-nesses make cost and energy savings.
TO ENCOURAGE smarter working we will provide support for businesses to adapt to more flexible and efficient working practices that make the best use of our existing transport and IT infrastructure.
This will include promoting remote working and tele-working as well as supporting sustainable travel planning and localised car-sharing schemes.
This new low-carbon economy programme will build on the investment that we have already made in supporting businesses in the region.
Our revised funding criteria has placed renewed emphasis upon reducing carbon emissions and im-proving energy efficiency and has delivered £300million in new environmental technology sales or regional waste and energy savings from just £3million of investment.
The same investment has also delivered a reduction of 300,000 tonnes of CO2 from West Midlands companies, created more than 600 mew jobs, and avoided 126,000 tonnes of waste from going to landfill.
Birmingham played host to the city's first Climate Change Festival in June.
This served as a timely reminder of the need to bring people together, to work in partnership, and to inspire the people and businesses of Birmingham and the West Midlands to act on the motto of this great city - together we can move Forward to the low-carbon era.
From the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution through to the age of the car, the West Midlands and Birmingham have etched their name into the history books of innovation and enterprise.
The next chapter in the transition towards a low-carbon future is being written right here today. If we act now we can give the next generation one hell of a good read.