Katherine Fletcher is MP for South Ribble.
Let me make a statement: getting to net zero will not only benefit our planet but will benefit many parts of the UK, including the North of England, expanding jobs and opportunities in already successful industries, and levelling up. Now let me explain why I believe this to be true.
Net zero presents the United Kingdom with the chance to change itself, and nudge the world to do the same, for the betterment of us all. It is a transformational national project whose environmental benefits headline writers correctly highlight. However, the technology needed to get there is not all in place, nevermind the manufacturing capability. A green industrial revolution, done properly, can bring prosperity to every corner of the country.
The Government is committed to both levelling up, especially the historic lands of the Danelaw, and continuing the UK’s leadership in tackling climate change. Both must happen together. The low carbon economy has already grown at rates two to three times the rate of the mainstream economy, creating more than 460,000 jobs across the country. Many of those jobs are in the North of England.
As we deliver our manifesto commitment to build 40 gigawatts of offshore wind around the UK over the next decade, world-leading clean energy companies will provide employment to hundreds of thousands across our region. Many already are, such as Storeelectric in my own constituency, which makes technology that turns compressed air and heat into on-demand green energy, helping to balance the electricity grid. And Orsted’s new operations and maintenance base in Barrow-in-Furness will be servicing the expanding wind farms off the north-western coast.
Achieving the net zero target will require a huge upgrade in our national infrastructure. For example, we’ll need to build low-carbon baseload electricity generation, grid transmission systems, home insulation and heat exchangers, to name but a few. Delivering these, if we are smart, will create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled jobs, as we roll out low-carbon infrastructure to connect all parts of the Northern lands and we finally receive our fair share of investment. This is us asking for a fishing rod, to grow our economy, not a fish.
Net zero requires us to change how we approach transport too. I will shamelessly plug the historic bus building expertise in Leyland as evidenced by the fine National Commercial Vehicle Museum as well as the current DAF Trucks site. We will need to recruit people to build electric buses. Let’s encourage people to do that in the North West. We can do that while simultaneously tackling air pollution, which causes huge health issues for people across the North in areas like mine and costs our NHS billions every year.
It is good news that the Government has brought forward the 2040 deadline for ending new petrol and diesel car sales to at least 2035. This will help us stay ahead of rival countries and ensure British industry manufactures the battery technology that will power the vehicles of the future. We must continue to support the British electric car sector by extending the government-funded discount on new electric vehicles, including commercial vehicles, until they become more affordable.
With our world-first net zero target now in law and decarbonisation underway, the UK should position itself at the helm – with the ideas-rich, industrious North eager to lead the way. The North led the first industrial revolution and it will lead the next one. Speaking to industry leaders and the next generation of engineers and technicians in South Ribble and beyond, what’s clear is their huge appetite for this work and enthusiasm for its opportunities.
A swath of communities with proud traditions of ‘getting stuff done’ from North Wales, across the old Danelaw to the old Kingdom of Northumbria are saying, “where do we start?” A recent energy industry report showed that over half of people in the UK are interested in working for a company which is helping to deliver net zero. We must equip young people with the skills to thrive in this new net zero economy.
Many of these green jobs will be in the old Danelaw lands including the North of England because that’s where the space and historic capabilities are. We should also retrain our workforce that is currently employed in the fossil fuel sector so we don’t lose high-quality, transferable skills from our economy. As we phase out polluting forms of energy like coal, and transition to clean, cheap renewables, there is a vital role for Government in supporting workers to find new jobs.
We must learn the lessons of the past. No-one should feel the loss of a job in one industry, like mining, to be a life-defining endpoint, but they should and will be supported by a Conservative Government into an exciting new industry and job opportunity in the low carbon economy.
The public wants to see lower energy bills and lower carbon emissions. Thankfully, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, lowering emissions by improving energy efficiency results in warmer homes, lower bills and better health outcomes. Electric cars also offer a win-win with lower running and maintenance costs and lower emissions compared to a petrol or diesel car. The UK has already proven that it is possible to have economic growth and reduce emissions by outpacing every other country in the G20 on both counts. We must now show that we can reduce people’s cost of living at the same time as decarbonising.
Green Northern Powerhouse, anyone? It’s a big yes from me.