Birmingham can lead the green revolution says European leader of climate action
This week delegates will gather at Aston University for a conference on the green industrial revolution. Here Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, explains the challenges ahead for a low carbon future
Our planet’s climate is changing. We know that this caused by the increasing level of carbon emissions, a process that began when the course of human development took a gigantic leap forward in the industrial revolution that began here in Birmingham 200 years ago.
Today, our challenge is to begin a new industrial revolution, to lower carbon emissions sharply: by 20-30 per cent in the coming decade and by 90-95 per cent by 2050.
There is no doubt that this will have a major impact on us all.
A serious economic restructuring will be needed, both of industry and of our lifestyles as consumers. The process will be challenging.
But the longer we postpone the transition the harder it will be – and it will also bring many benefits.
First, the beauty of renewable wind, solar, or tidal technologies, in contrast to fossil fuel based technologies, is that there is no fuel cost.
Over time, the lower running costs will compensate for the higher up-front costs. We all know that the price of oil and gas is rising – and will continue to do so as global demand increases significantly. The higher fossil fuel costs are the shorter the payback time on renewable technologies will be.
Second, since many fossil fuels are imported from third-world countries, the money generally leaves the EU.
But this is not simply a question of the trade balance. It is also true that the countries that hold the largest proven reserves of oil and gas are often undemocratic and sometimes unstable – and it goes without saying that reducing our dependency on these states for our energy supplies is in our long-term interests.
Third, all businesses know that to prosper, they must produce what people want. In a world of increasing energy demand, and constrained supplies, many will want to deploy renewable and energy efficient technologies.
The higher energy prices go, the more there will a competitive advantage for those whose energy costs are lowest. Europe today still has a leading edge in the renewable energy field: EU companies are known worldwide for their innovation and technical excellence.
Many small companies – for example, here in the West Midlands – are developing innovative technologies that can save consumers energy and money.
Our focus must be on manufacturing products adapted to the needs of tomorrow rather than the needs of yesterday. This isn’t just about the “green” economy. This is about investing in a thriving rather than a declining economy.
Let us face up to the fact that Europe cannot compete on wages, on the retirement age or on taxes with Asian countries, such as China and Korea, or Latin American countries, such as Brazil.
But actually, we are very competitive when it comes to producing more with less. Given the trans-national nature of climate change, the EU plays a leading role in co-ordinating the responses of European businesses to these challenges. European funds can help stimulate green growth.
The West Midlands is already playing a major part in a new €750 million world-leading EU climate change programme, the Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) on climate change, which focuses on tackling climate change through investments in technology, innovation and people.
This money offers advanced training capacity and new skills for the region, will create new companies and spin-outs, and will help develop market for existing low carbon companies. But the process of facilitating a new industrial revolution cannot only be top-down.
It’s particularly important for the commission to listen to businesses, public sector organisations and other stakeholders. We want to discuss how we can support the coming clean industrial revolution through intelligent regulation and carefully targeted investment.
The important Green Growth Conference at Aston University, on Wednesday July 21, that we are proud to be co-organising with the Aston Centre for Europe and Birmingham Chamber provides an opportunity to do just that.
The city of Birmingham was the centre of the first industrial revolution, and the birthplace of the high-carbon economy.
It is my hope that Birmingham will be able to harness the power of new low-carbon technologies and once again lead the world in driving forward a new industrial revolution that will bring energy security, jobs, growth and prosperity.