The Business of Becoming a Sustainable Nation

Ahead of the long-awaited publication of the Government’s Clean Growth Plan, Anna McMorrin, MP for Cardiff North, looks at how one country can lead the way to a greener, more prosperous future.

The UK Government should look to Wales for how to lead with a sustainable economy

The effects of climate change and resource depletion mean that the old, tired way of doing business is an insufficient and inadequate response to the challenges facing today’s advanced economies. Governments and businesses must come together to create new models of inclusive and sustainable growth. This is what is happening in Wales.

In the same way that the availability of natural resources put Wales at the forefront of the first industrial revolution, driving the growth of iron and coal and then steel and manufacturing, it is our abundant natural resources that can drive the growth of a new and different economy that will be rooted in the sustainable and intelligent use of those resources.

The Welsh Labour Governments leading the way with a green growth agenda which provides an alternative economic model for business. This is in stark contrast to the shambolic direction of the Tories in England who seem unable to give any clear steer on climate targets or on long-term sustainable growth. At the time of writing the UK’s long-awaited Clean Growth Plan is soon to be made public. But this is a case of too little too late from a Government that has failed to show any true leadership on this agenda.

Its publication was first promised in late 2016 and is expected to provide a blueprint for the UK’s decarbonisation pathway through the 2020s and early 2030s. Under current policies the UK is on track to miss its legally binding emission reduction targets for the mid-2020s onwards, prompting warnings that more action is needed. The delay has led to growing frustration amongst business and industry leaders with calls for it to be published as soon as possible in order to avoid an investment hiatus and spiraling decarbonisation costs.

In a competitive global marketplace, companies will invest where there are the best conditions to enable long-term sustainable growth. The Welsh Government has recognised the critical importance of building the confidence required for long-term investment. It has introduced a strong legislative framework that can give certainty beyond electoral cycles. With its Well-Being for Future Generations Act and Environment Act the Welsh Government has set out a legal framework in which far-reaching economic, environmental and social policy can be developed.

A commitment to sustainable development has also long been a distinctive feature of Welsh devolution. With a Future Generations Commissioner appointed to ensure this commitment is being delivered, this puts Wales above and beyond many of its counterparts the world over. It is this strong ambition and drive that can help Wales become a world leader in green growth, providing a platform and location where companies who share these values can thrive.

It is clear that the next 20 years will see a period of massive technology-led change and much of the technology required for green growth already exists but needs applying on a large scale. The size of the economic and technological transition required will need a truly innovative approach with the increasing pace of technological development able to deliver significant change for the next generation.

Young peoples’ voices will be critical to this process as the generation who will be at the heart of driving change over the next 20 years. The challenge now is to drive green growth widely and quickly, as we face the risks and opportunities of the twenty-first century.’

Successful markets need a strong clear strategic vision and an effective regulatory regime. The UK Tory Government has neither. In Wales our Government has reformed and amalgamated our environmental organisations, leading in April 2013, to the creation of Natural Resources Wales (NRW). NRW’s role is to ensure the sustainable use of Wales’ natural resources as a positive partner in green growth. NRW itself manages or owns 126,000 hectares of woodland estate and10,000 hectares of other coastal and river-based assets and acts as a catalyst for both environmental and economic priorities.

If the UK Government has any sort of real ambition to lead on green growth it must do likewise and put in place long-term statutory goals to reflect what we want to see both now and in the future. It must improve the position of business and prioritise investing in high quality and sustainable infrastructure, making the UK a more attractive place to do business. At the moment we have a UK Government that cannot take a decision on the tidal lagoon, U-turns on rail electrification investment and fails to invest in energy efficiency, all of which provides the vital economic and environmental infrastructure needed to boost jobs and growth and support the environment.

The Secretary of State for BEIS would do well to remember this and take a look over the border to Wales for inspiration.

Anna McMorrin MP is the Labour MP for Cardiff North and a former adviser to the Welsh Government. She tweets at @AnnaMcMorrin

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