Samantha Heath: Green Growth a million times over

At Labour Party Conference, Ed Miliband pledged Labour to a decarbonised economy by 2030, leading to a million green jobs. SERA Executive member Samantha Heath considers the potential for green industry and employment, coinciding with today’s TUC Green Growth Conference.

We are still in extremely challenging times; even though some would say economic data is pointing to a recovery, – it is unlikely to be without its hitches. Londoners are finding energy saving challenging and food banks are opening up even in the most affluent parts of London.

Since long before the economic downturn, SERA have been challenging and supporting our MPs and Councillors to create a greener economy, and it’s great to see that many others resonate with this; the CBI’s John Crudland for example – in ‘The Colour of Growth’ report, said: “it is easy to understand why some people are fearful that ‘going green’ might further dent the economic recovery. For me, this is a false debate.”

And in London we can say that the Colour of Growth has been green – Figures compiled by INNOVAS for a report commissioned by the London Mayor, has examined in detail for the first time, the health of the low carbon and environmental goods and services sector in London during 2009-2010, reveals that the sector grew by over four per cent a year, was supporting 9,000 companies employing 160,000 people and importantly, is set to grow further. Increasingly, London’s young entrepreneurs are including sustainability issues into their business case from the start.

This success didn’t happen by accident. Over the past 13 years London, largely under Ken Livingstone, has sought to nurture and support policies that were green and thereby creating a demand in our economy to address a number of environmental imperatives that were evident in 2000:

  • Waste mountains – London was running out of places to put waste, which was costing the city more and more: over £350 million a year. A key driver here was the Landfill Tax.
  • Energy consumption was beginning to become a concern. Although it may seem strange now, carbon dioxide emissions were not discussed by policy makers. Considerable hard work was required to get carbon targets discussed in the first iteration of the London Plan, the statutory spatial development strategy for London. The first version was published in its final form in February 2004; and
  • Air quality in London was becoming of increasingly concern. Air-quality targets were a statutory obligation and the city was even then facing potentially very heavy fines because London was not meeting EU air quality targets

Although the GLA had few formal powers, what was not lacking was a wealth of enthusiasm. Many groups and individuals were beating a path to the GLA’s door with a great number of ideas that would improve the quality of life for Londoners. An although we suspected that jobs and skill development would be key, our main concern was improving our quality of life through a series of drivers and levers.

  • Targets – how stretching were the targets in any given strategy? Targets were in many cases set by the EU or national government. But there was considerable debate, for example, on setting the target for London’s recycling rate, a debate that led to the insight how ‘buying green’ could be extremely helpful.
  • Planning – once the targets were set, how were they going to be met? The London Plan set out the requirements for renewable energy and energy saving – this was ground breaking at the time.
  • Working with Industry – understanding how key drivers of change were likely to interact with policy ambitions, and how industry could play it’s part was incredibly important. Hence, for example, the relationship between the timing of the announcement of the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) and its implementation, to segue with (vehicle) replacement cycles and Euro III emissions requirements set by the EU.

And now yes, London appears to have more ‘green’ jobs than other UK regions, and the strongest suggestion that this is directly related to policy is the work of the London South Bank University that investigated the impact of planning policy on the take-up of renewable technologies and the overall carbon reduction of new developments in London. The London Assembly played a strong role in supporting the use of planning and creating influential collaborations as a tool to engineer change. Only now are we beginning to reap the benefits of all that hard work.

So 1,000,000, we have quite a few hundred thousand of these in London alone, right now, what we have to do is support policies and initiatives that keen this demand up, and our councillors and MPs are doing a seriously good job at that.

In Haringey they have set a budget that reviews carbon each year. The Annual Carbon Report is the first of its kind to be produced by a local authority. Its purpose is to provide a transparent year on year account of progress made to reduce carbon emissions from the Council’s operations and Haringey as a whole.

Lambeth’s cooperative council has community development and green jobs at its heart.The green community champions programme aims to recruit volunteers from across the borough who can help and inspire their neighbourhoods to be more environmentally sustainable. In addition, they also support the development of a range of local environmental support networks and social enterprises.

Samantha Heath is a member of the SERA Executive and was Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee 2000-2004

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