Ahead of Cop26, the UK has a lot to be proud of on its climate change record. We have shown that climate action can go hand-in-hand with economic growth – as the recent Net Zero Strategy demonstrates. We are making important progress, but we need to make more.
Regions like the West Midlands must be empowered to unleash a new green industrial revolution.
Whilst levelling up is focused on addressing regional imbalances, I also see it as a key lever to realising our green targets. As major global cities and separate regions we are all facing the same threat of unsustainably high emissions, but we also all share the same view of how this can be conquered – by empowering local leaders to take greater responsibility.
There is no better example than the one set by the West Midlands; our future ambitions are firmly grounded in an understanding of our rich past.
The West Midlands was the birthplace of the first industrial revolution, spearheading advances in business and technology that had global impact. This completely changed the way of life for many in the UK, but it also resulted in an unseen level of exploitation of our environment.
With its heritage, people and economic potential the West Midlands is ideally placed to lead a new, green industrial revolution that leaves nobody behind. And this is exactly what we are doing, by taking the threat of climate change seriously and pushing ahead with bold, forward-thinking plans.
In order to decarbonise, the government has already set clear goals to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles. The West Midlands has been at the forefront of this with multi-billion pound investments from private sector partners such as Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin, or plans to power our public transport with battery technology or hydrogen. All of this is underpinned by technological developments such as the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, a £2.5bn planned gigafactory (the world’s largest), and a battery recycling cluster larger than anything outside of China.
Just generating more energy is like pouring water into a leaky bucket: so we’re designing the solutions that mean we can use energy better – reducing demand and making energy provision fair for all. The West Midlands is home to a host of innovation centres overhauling how we consume power.
But if ministers are willing to give local and regional leaders more powers and funding we can do even more, and drive the UK towards net-zero quicker and more efficiently.
This is especially true of retrofitting. Our plans to retrofit 50,000 homes are already underway but unlikely to be reached in time without government support. Green Alliance, a think tank which is tracking UK emissions, estimates the Government needs to be spending an extra £2.9bn a year to get retrofitting on track. In the West Midlands, about a third of our carbon emissions come from people’s ovens, central heating, and electricity. The heating issue is particularly pertinent for those on low incomes.
This is why I have previously called for energy devolution deals – whereby regions are given access to new funding pots and the ability to set carbon budgets for which they are accountable. These are the issues where we, as regional and local leaders, are primed and ready to make a difference.
The scale of the task is considerable, but if we are willing to unlock the potential of devolution then our regions can drive a green industrial revolution across the UK.
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