Turning the Black Country Green
Clean Growth in the West Midlands
By Jess Ralston
Home to Ecuity Consulting and 145,000 other businesses, the West Midlands is the UK’s largest regional economy outside London, beating Northern rivals Greater Manchester and Leeds. The region adds £92bn to the UK economy every year (~6% of UK output) and both the local economy and population are continually growing. From the 18th Century, the Black Country has been renowned in the energy industry and since then innovation has driven progress, particularly in transport and manufacturing. But a green revolution in industry is coming. Following the Climate Change Act of 2008 and the recent International Panel on Climate Change’s report on the effects of global warming, the West Midlands is developing the UK’s first local industrial strategy striving for clean growth and a low carbon future.
With Brexit occupying a lot of the debate time in Westminster, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is coming up with its own local clean growth strategy for industry. Using detailed policy and frameworks to address key stakeholders needs, the strategy should be published in the new year and I was able to attend recent workshops run by the WMCA and Climate Change Solutions on the subject.
Covering the economics behind Clean Growth, Angela Francis from the Green Alliance set out 4 criteria to be met by a good local industrial strategy:
- Raising the baseline by building manufacturing competitiveness. This can be through using product and process innovation to improve energy efficiency, resource efficiency and lower carbon emissions.
- Futureproofing by ensuring new and existing firms can compete and succeed in a low carbon world, in the West Midlands this applies particularly to the strong local industries of mobility, energy and construction.
- Double down by guaranteeing that infrastructure delivery and policy provides incentives for businesses to innovate and invest in clean growth. This should focus on sectors that have the potential to deliver both high productivity and decarbonisation, to foster world class new industries in the UK.
- Incentivise investment and create markets for clean growth through local stakeholder engagement.
This quartet of goals and the policy derived from them should result in economic growth, whilst focusing efforts on low carbon resources, manufacturing and transport methods should warrant that that this growth is clean. However economic based policy alone may not be enough to cause the required rapid and large-scale change in industry that has been consistently high in its energy use for many years.
Disrupting corporate behaviours and habits as well as reducing demand for energy can result in widespread changes and the WMCA are looking for radical ways to start the ball rolling in the region. Numerous extreme but potentially effective business guidelines could be published to help organisations contribute to lowering carbon emissions. Suggestions for these guidelines include providing cheaper public transport for organisations who choose to conduct all their business travel this way, or small tax reliefs for using electric or renewable fuel in company cars. Also, energy generation could be localised, as seen in the Heart of England community energy company, to produce a community with a vested interest in its energy sources.
It is my own personal hope that the WMCA set ambitious targets for their clean growth strategy and push forward plans to make Energy Innovation Zones within the region to set a high benchmark for other areas to follow. More can (and should) be done by local authorities across the country as well as central Government to ensure that clean growth goals are met. Ecuity, as a local company with policy expertise developed after years of participation in the national decarbonisation debate, is ingrained into the policy discussion in the West Midlands. Ecuity experts are contributing to the development of a regional approach to clean energy innovation in the West Midlands in collaboration with Energy Capital. We have facilitated active discussion between stakeholders on policy issues ranging from Clean Air Zones to the deployment of the hydrogen in the area. We are passionate about the West Midlands and we are striving to apply lessons learned from policy nationally to the context of our region.
Using a regional platform can help make sure that all sectors and every level of industry work together in a local arena to play their part in tackling climate change. This is both necessary for the environment and good for business, ensuring that economic growth is indeed clean. The need to change from old, high carbon industry to a lower carbon future is essential, and action must be taken now. After all, green is the new black and time to stop detrimental and irreversible climate change is rapidly ticking on.
 https://www.West Midlandsca.org.uk/media/2591/west-midlands-industrial-strategy.pdf
For more information please contact the author:
Jessica Ralston Jessica.Ralston@ecuity.com