Japan makes seven times as many cars as the UK. China produces fifty seven times more steel than the UK. Neither China nor Japan have a carbon tax or price for carbon in their energy costs.
The UK used to be the workshop of the world. It was famed for its ships and steel, its cars and domestic goods. Continuous decline under governments of all three main political parties since 1945 have left us with a much smaller industrial sector, and with a much much smaller industry relative to China, India, Japan, Germany and the USA.
It is true we still have some good companies and good technology. The UK pharmaceutical industry is strong, as is aerospace and defence engineering. We have a great base in performance cars and some component technology in autos, and some individual good car plants for major overseas manufacturers. When we want to buy trains, nuclear power stations or many consumer durables we usually today turn to imports.
The government says it wants to drive a revival of manufacturing. This is a very popular policy around the country. The left wing politicians and commentators who dislike big business, usually genuflect in favour of more industry. Even the keen green campaigners within the major parties consent to the idea that we ought to make more cars, planes and domestic appliances here, though all these things take energy to make and burn energy to use.
This is where, however, these same commentators and lobbyists can talk with forked tongue. They tell us we should make more things, yet they also want us to hit ever more exacting targets for carbon dioxide emissions. The simplest way to get our emissions down is to make less here and import more from abroad. That does not help the world picture but it hits the domestic targets.
Much of industry requires using large quantities of energy, to transform earths into metals, and to shape metals into products. Steel and aluminium manufacture requires huge quantities of energy. Process plants making glass or cement require large amounts of energy. Even assembly plants need subtantial raw energy as they are heavily automated. Petrochemical processes to make and shape plastics also require large inputs of heat.
Soon the government has to set a carbon price. This is central to decisions people will then make about which technology to adopt for the many new electricity power stations we are going to need. We have to replace the coal stations that will close thanks to the EU Emissions legislation come 2015, and to replace ageing nuclear stations near the end of their design lives. Set the carbon price high, and it will tip it more in the direction of renewables.
But if the government sets it too high it will also mean the end to dreams of the Uk restoring a stronger position in basic industry. A high carbon price means we will have to import our steel, our aluminium, even our cars and our fridges, washing machines and cookers. Energy costs are bigger than labour costs in some of these energy intensive activities. It’s not an easy choice for this government. It will be a test of what matters more – UK industry and jobs, or UK CO2 targets?