From gigafactories, Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage, to housing retrofit and new hydrogen networks, the journey to net zero needs big investment, new technologies – often with big industrial footprints – plus no shortage of ambition.
The green industrial news agenda is reflective of this scale and aspiration. “Two months of UK coal-free electricity”. An alleged Musk visit to a potential site called ‘Gravity’ in the south west – you get the sense he wouldn’t visit anything sounding too pedestrian. And then recent news of a preferred site for the UK’s first Gigaplant in south Wales.
The next decade is crucial for the infrastructure decision-making that will underpin the UK’s net zero commitment by 2050. In the age of Covid-19, it’s also important for our long term green economic recovery.
Against this backdrop here’s five thoughts to support the transition to net zero.
Political capital needs to be spent at national and local levels to secure net zero investment. Whether it’s used to attract new technology occupiers or publicly back a project, this is no time for fence-sitting. The race to secure investment in a green industrial revolution is a competition between both nations and domestic regions.
We need civic leaders to think big. There’s an immediate need to fire up our economy with shovel-ready construction projects. Metro mayors and LEPs have, according to the FT this month, been asked by government to immediately draw up proposals. Considering projects that have long term impact is also key. In the rush to spend there is a risk that we end up with a lot of roundabout projects.
Potential changes to the planning system must look beyond residential. We have been promised – by among others Dominic Cummings no less – an overhaul of the planning system. This should also consider major employment sites. Yes, big infrastructure will come through the NSIP regime, but the shortage of oven-ready sites in strategic locations which could accommodate businesses that have a role in a net zero society could stifle regional economies – or mean occupiers just go elsewhere.
We need to explain new technology and net zero with clarity. None of us working to promote projects that tackle climate change should underestimate the need to explain technologies to people and communities. Unproven and new technology will carry a fear factor, particularly post lockdown. Projects and technology need explanation, engagement and a clear narrative.
Let’s get behind the opportunity. Covid-19 aside, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be working to promote sustainable development and infrastructure. Meeting net zero will see the deployment of new technologies, a skills legacy and job creation. That’s something to celebrate and get behind.
Net zero will require us all to make behavioural changes to the way we live. And this change in our society will need to be underpinned by big new industrial infrastructure too. This needs to be matched with ambition, scale and commitment from politicians, business and communities.
Matt Sutton is a director at Camargue