Gazette & Herald Column: UK should be in leading position on clean transport

Soon I will publish Britain’s plan for Clean Growth which will set out how we get to our targets for cutting carbon emissions but also highlight the global opportunity for British businesses as the world focuses on the “decarbonisation” agenda.  With more than $13trillion forecast to be spent in the next thirty years on clean transport, power generation, housing and technology, there is a huge opportunity for us to be in a leading position given our track record in this area and this can only be good for jobs and growth in the future. 

So it is a busy time but a productive one and there have been a whole series of announcements in the last week that show how determined we are to lead this agenda.  The first was a brilliant set of environmental initiatives announced by the DEFRA team last week, including banning microbeads which do so much damage in the oceans, changing post-Brexit farming subsidies and support to focus on good stewardship and environmental benefits as well as more sustainable food production and stopping the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2040 to tackle both emissions and air quality problems.  There will also be a targeted scrappage scheme to get the dirtiest vehicles off the roads and councils will be given more powers to bring in clean air zones on their local roads – bearing in mind of course that we were all encouraged to buy diesel cars in the 1990s and it would be completely unfair to penalise people for doing what they thought was the right thing.   

But it does look as if the transport future is electric (or possibly part hydrogen) and that is why the announcements this week from my department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are so important.  First, we have introduced a Smart Systems plan that will ensure through legislation and investment that the power systems in the UK can cope with the huge move towards electric transport without putting big costs on bill payers.  And second, we announced the new Faraday Challenge – a quarter of a billion-pound competition to develop world-beating battery technology in the UK that can be used in electric vehicles (where batteries are the most expensive bit of the cost base) and for storage of electricity generated by renewables. We want the UK to lead the world in this area and with the announcement that the new all-electric Mini will be built in Britain (despite strong competition for the plant from the Continent), the future is looking bright.