10 July 2020

Post Covid-19, does the UK have any chance of achieving Net Carbon Zero by 2050?

Like most people since mid-March I’ve been spending a lot more time at home than usual. I’m fortunate I can work from home and thanks to digital technology the majority of our 16,500 UK employees are able to do that too. I am super-proud of our manufacturing colleagues who have kept our UK factories running throughout the lockdown, adapting to make sure colleagues who need to be on-site are safe and local production continues. These have been strange times indeed, and we have learned many lessons. 

The New Normal needs to be sustainable

On my daily exercise – usually a ride out on my bike – I have noticed the reduced traffic and enjoyed the cleaner air. Many of the things I thought I needed to do face-to-face I have discovered can be achieved just as well without getting in the car or on a plane. This is something we need to build on as we go back to our workplaces and whatever we are calling our New Normal.

A 2019 ride at the Cyclone Festival of Cycling.

In front of us is a massive challenge. Bigger than Covid-19. We need to urgently decarbonise our economy by 2050, indeed some of us, including Siemens, have committed to being carbon-neutral by 2030. What we agree on is there is little room for manoeuvre. I have learned from the Covid-19 lockdown that in-spite of the dramatic social consequences and the almost total shut down of the economy (with notable exceptions like the food retail sector and critical infrastructure) we only experienced 40 per cent less NOX and 20 per cent less CO2. We need to achieve much more than that to be carbon neutral, with kids back at school and people back at work. We need a sustainable economy to create new jobs and enable us to invest in the future.

A fairer, better balanced, economy

We also need to make sure that the green recovery we want is spread across the UK. This is the time for the Government to make good on promises to level-up the economy and invest in the North, it is not a call for charity, the North has much value to offer and can help the UK as a whole rebuild.

As we are digitalising more and decarbonising the economy what will that mean for jobs and skills in our communities?  Well there is a downside and an upside and the gap needs to be bridged with re-skilling.  The UK100 analysis of figures compiled by academics at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment shows that 2,177,601 jobs (1 in 10) are at risk in the economy, while 1,849,686 will be in demand.

UK100, a network of local government leaders determined to achieve net carbon zero by 2050, has released an important report ‘Insight: Accelerating the Rate of Investment in Local Energy Projects’ (Link to report summary). As part of the process culminating in this report, I attended some of the workshops around the country facilitated by UK100. I was impressed by the richness of discussion and openness to share and learn from each other. From studies in the Humber and across three counties in the south of England, Siemens estimates that more than £100 billion of investment in local clean energy schemes could be generated through local authorities, private capital and government investment working together on a wide range of projects across the UK.

There is an urgent need to scale up local, sustainable, energy if the UK is to have any chance of meeting Net Zero by 2050. This requires a collective national effort with government, business and the public all playing our part. Local energy must be at the heart of the National Infrastructure Strategy creating a more consistent policy landscape that will give investors the confidence to invest and people in our communities North or South need to be ready to train or retrain to attain the skills needed to join this new sustainable, future-focused economy.

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