UK must move fast to take advantage of global race to become a green technology hub, says prime minister
Gordon Brown launched the government's new low-carbon industrial strategy this morning, laying out plans to create 400,000 new jobs and establish the UK "among the first of the new low-carbon powers".
The prime minister said he had discussed climate change on his recent trip to the US with Barack Obama, and that the UK must now match the "tremendous focus of energy" being applied to the issue on the other side of the Atlantic if it is to become a hub for green goods and services.
"We are setting a clear national purpose that a low-carbon revolution is what we must have and we must take every possible course of action," said Brown. " This is a tremendous economic opportunity."
According to government-commissioned research from consultancy Innovas released alongside the new strategy document, the UK is already the sixth-largest low-carbon and environmental goods and services economy in the world. It calculated that the sector employed 880,000 people and was worth £107bn in 2007/08, adding that it had the potential to grow by a further £45bn over the next decade.
However, business secretary Peter Mandelson, speaking after a Heathrow protestor threw green custard on him as he arrived at the conference, said that the UK had to accelerate investment in low-carbon technologies if it is to fully exploit the benefits of the emerging global market for green products and services.
"Low carbon is already a £3tn industry and is set to double in size over the next few years," he said. "Our transition to a low-carbon economy is an environmental and economic imperative and opportunity."
The message was echoed by climate change secretary Ed Miliband, who highlighted offshore wind, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and low-carbon vehicles as the UK's best opportunities to establish itself as a world leader in clean technologies.
"We need the ingenuity and innovation of business in the market within a clear [regulatory] framework," he said. "And where there are market failures and uncertainties we need to drive the technology forward."
To help drive the transition to a low-carbon economy, the government's new strategy, which is now open to consultation, is to focus on four core areas: improving energy efficiency; improving energy infrastructure; developing low-carbon vehicles; and attracting green investment through skills development and regulatory certainty.
Under the strategy, enhancing energy efficiency is regarded as the simplest and most cost-effective action and the government will introduce a range of educational and financing measures designed to help business save energy, including launching a new Business Link service to provide further advice and support.
The strategy's commitments to building a low-carbon energy infrastructure reiterate established targets and policies, including the goal to increase energy from renewable sources tenfold, overhaul the National Grid, build a new fleet of nuclear reactors, and secure EU funding to build another carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration plant on top of existing plans for a single plant - a personal goal of Gordon Brown.
The report also sets out plans to accelerate the development of low-carbon vehicles by removing barriers to private sector investment, supporting research and development, and implementing public procurement policies that create a market for greener vehicles.
The first three focus areas aim to underpin the bold ambition of establishing the UK as the best place in the world to locate and grow low-carbon businesses. The government said that to support this goal it would provide an overarching support framework for green businesses, including commitments to procure low-carbon products, provide co-ordinated and efficient support for research a nd development, establish regulatory certainty, and enhance workers' skills to support new green industries.
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