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UK may miss out on ‘critical opportunities to build a green economy’

The independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has advised the UK government to increase investment in low-carbon technologies in order to boost green, economic growth and to achieve the target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050—relative to 1990 levels. The findings were published today in a report to the Government’s Chief Scientific advisor, Sir John Beddington.

Currently, the government funding for research and development of green technologies is about £550m per year. The committee warns that any cutback of this amount would lead to the UK “losing out on ‘critical’ opportunities to build a green economy”. (press release)

The advisors say that if new low-carbon technologies don’t get government support they may end up in a pre-commercial ‘valley of death’ and never find their way to the market. Along with protected funding, they say that clear, long-term objectives from the government are needed in order to boost investor confidence in such technologies.

The UK spends far less on energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) than many other developed countries as a percentage of the GDP—only about a third of Sweden’s spending, and almost as little as a ninth of Japan’s (report). The CCC says that investing in low-carbon technologies would actually benefit the economy in the long haul.

In fact, at a press launch today, Julia King, the vice-chancellor of Aston University and formerly Director of Advanced Engineering for Rolls Royce, explained that the UK is particularly well-placed to accelerate and drive the development in six technologies: Offshore wind, marine, carbon-capture storage, smart grid & meters, aviation, and electric vehicles.

The report also identifies certain green-technology fields that are in particularly pressing need of increased funding. Such areas are electric cars, offshore wind, marine, and aviation technologies. The CCC says that these technologies should get increased funding promptly after the current financial pressures have eased.

Beddington, who requested a review in October 2009, welcomed today’s report: “Innovation will be enormously important if the UK is to meet its climate change goals, and to do so affordably. We need to develop and deploy the most promising low carbon technologies quickly across all sectors. In times of austerity we must also make sure we invest public money to maximum effect.” (press release)

But one wonders if we’ll ever see these ambitious goals being reached. Last week, the Department for Energy and Climate Change announced that it will make £34m worth of cuts to its low-carbon technology programme (engineer).

In an opinion piece in the Guardian today, Chris Goodall, author of ‘Ten Technologies to Fix Energy and Climate’, who stood in the UK general election in May as a Green Party candidate, said: “Marine energy was not one of the support programmes sliced last week but there is clearly no prospect of any increase in the minimal sums devoted to supporting the industry. The UK had a fighting chance of becoming the world’s major exporter of tidal and wave power equipment but, as with wind power two decades ago, we will lose out to countries with poorer natural resources but greater willingness to invest in hugely expensive R&D.”


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