Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Green cities, green jobs

March 7, 2010

Green jobs are hot. All three political parties want to shift Britain onto a low-carbon growth path. It’s a powerful meme. Two questions, then: what are green jobs? And where will they be? My guess is: mostly quite boring. But they will be everywhere, and they will be a big deal for towns and cities.

So what are ‘green jobs’? ippr’s new report suggests that ‘all jobs should be green’ in future. I’m not sure. Let’s focus on activities with the biggest carbon footprint: energy, waste, transport and construction. Some jobs in other sectors can be greened too, say if manufacturers adopt more sustainable workflows.

Where will green jobs be? To answer that, we need to consider how the UK moves onto a greener growth trajectory. There are two basic approaches, impling different roles for government – and different levels of political engagement.

Let’s call the first the Green Industries approach. This is about increasing the UK’s global share of high-value green activity – like wind turbines and low-carbon vehicles. It also encompasses major infrastructure like high-speed rail. National Government holds the policy levers: public money, tax breaks, business support (and to an extent, picking winners).

The second approach we could call Green Places. This is about making towns, cities and households more sustainable. The focus is on non-traded activities: buildings, energy and waste systems, local public transport – and things like repairing windmills on roofs.

Local government has a critical role here, alongside Whitehall: via recycling, local planning standards (like the Merton Rule), procurement and PPPs (like the ESCOs in Woking and Birmingham). Whitehall matters behind the scenes – for example, through DECC’s new Feed-In Tariff rules.

Green Industries are the sexy, photogenic things politicians get excited about, and are the focus of Labour’s Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, the Conservatives’ ‘Marine Energy Parks’ idea, and the Lib Dems’ green growth plans. Interestingly, the Tories seem keener on Green Places than Labour – see proposals for a ‘green deal’ for households, and support for micro-generation.

My guess is that Green Industries, though exciting, will only take the UK so far. First, only a few places will have them. The range of green technologies is vast. With no global standards, potential for international growth is capped. Most importantly, geographies of innovation, production and sales already differ. Silicon Valley leads the US in ‘cleantech’ R&D – but large-scale manufacturing is already shifting from the US to China and other cheap locations.

Second, the UK is already lagging. In wind turbines – where Britain should be a leader – the top firms are German and Scandinavian. (From this perspective, one of the saddest things about last year’s Vesta dispute is that Vesta is Danish).

Third, policy options are pretty limited. Green industries in the US are supported by Government stimulus money and a massive VC sector. Other European governments have funded producers for years. Britain has plenty of strategy, but limited cash to back these up. Low Carbon Economic Areas have no funding attached, and rely on existing RDA / LA budgets plus local ingenuity. The experience of Science Cities, a similar approach, doesn’t get my hopes up.

The Green Places approach is much more prosaic, but will have bigger impacts on more people. Cities’ carbon footprint is large: the C40 group estimates that worldwide, urban areas represent around 75% of the world’s energy use and CO2 emissions. Fiscally, Green Places largely involves redirecting existing budgets. (Some costs are passed on to firms and households – but councils should be allowed to use tools like TIF to ease financing constraints.)

Finally, British local government is already on the case. The Merton Rule is a classic example of how local policy innovation has shaped national thinking. Woking is a leader in decentralised energy. And Greater Manchester’s LCEA proposals look pretty good, with a five-year retrofit programme, small-scale renewables and smart meters for thousands of households across the city.

The UK needs both green industries and green places. But let’s not get over-excited about the first, while underplaying the second. Green jobs might be more dull than we thought. But they’re important as ever.

How green is the Valley?

November 10, 2009


In 2007, Al Gore laid down a challenge to Silicon Valley: invent the technologies to conquer climate change. The Valley has spent the past few years trying to do just that. The green economy and ‘cleantech’ are big deals here: if you believe the hype, this is what Silicon Valley 3.0 will look like.

So can the world’s most innovative region really do it again?

It’s important to pin down what the green economy means. UC Berkeley’s Karen Chapple identifies four components: energy, building, transport and recycling. Each is very broad – e.g. energy covers tidal, wind and solar power, decentralised infrastructure (or ‘smart grids’), and installation and maintenance activity.

The South Bay has rapidly developed a presence in all of these, particularly in solar (which shares technologies with semiconductor manufacture). Joint Venture Silicon Valley recently put out a Greenprint for the Valley [pdf] setting out ‘climate prosperity’ – growing a new generation of innovative, world-beating firms and dealing with climate change on the side. For solar, the upper level jobs target is 20,000 positions by 2017.

The Valley has plenty of first-mover advantages – a big talent pool, strong industry networks, an entrepreneurial culture, lots of venture capital, eco-conscious consumers, and helpful regulation designed to boost local green industries (California recently passed AB32, a state-level cap and trade scheme, and has just passed AB920, a feed-in tariff system).

The area’s cultural diversity helps too. Kim Walesh, San Jose’s Chief Strategist points out that South Bay firms are already plugging into big markets in Chinese cities.

And yet … this may not turn out to be the world’s eco-region. As GBN analyst Olaf Groth told me, the sheer diversity of ‘the green economy’ presents challenges – much of has limited ICT crossover. Geographies of innovation, production and sales are diverse, and don’t really favour a single hot location. There are dozens of distinct cleantech clusters in the US and around the world; production is often outsourced; consumer markets are very localised. It will be hard for Valley firms to access all of these.

Government’s role is also critical. Green technologies need subsidy and regulation to be fully economic: traditional VC won’t invest on a 20 year payback schedule. But the big public contracts that helped kick start ICT 30 years ago will be harder to secure today.

So the Valley’s traditional advantages may be of limited help. And as Karen Chapple and Bill Lester argue in forthcoming research, green industry may not mean local green jobs. The South Bay already has a number of defunct semi-conductor factories, as production shifts to cheaper locations offshore.

What can we Brits learn from this? I think there’s a few key points here. First, ‘green growth’ is feasible. But UK policymakers need to get clearer on which bits can generate growth and jobs. In energy, that means wind and tidal power; and there will be significant waste, construction, transport and maintenance markets in urban areas.

Second, there is an important spatial dimension. The UK is small but highly urbanised; many of the key green markets (in waste and transport, for example) will be in and around cities. London’s Mayor already has powers to combat climate change, and is using these to leverage extra funds for business development; other big cities should get the same.

Third, national policy is hugely important – meaning regulation, planning and tax tools aimed at fostering behaviour change and stimulating green industries. As the Turner Climate Change committee argues, this requires a strong national planning system.
The Opposition stance here is unhelpful: a Cameron Government would probably abolish the Independent Planning Commission, which takes decisions on energy networks.

More broadly, the UK is still seen as a bit soft on cleantech: according to Deutsche Bank, the UK is not seen as a safe bet for international investors, who increasingly prefer China or Germany.

The Silicon Valley story tells us there is unlikely to be a single winner in the green economy. But it also suggests that the UK can do a lot more to push forward its own distinct eco-sectors, and develop greener cities (and valleys) while we’re doing it.

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