The top down drive to change the way we get around, heat our homes and chose our diets is said to generate lots of green jobs as well as helping the governments that drive it to meet carbon dioxide targets. As they plan this governments need to take into account all the jobs in fossil fuel based businesses that will go. The UK government also needs to understand that whilst windfarms, battery production, electric cars, new heating systems and different foods will all generate jobs, they do not necessarily generate them in any particular country. As this is a top down state led set of policies, it will take state action to call up the technologies, raw materials and production facilities that does produce the green products they favour. The UK needs to see that China, the USA and some others are far advanced with putting in this production. We need to speed the UK’s response. Given the lack of strong popular demand so far for many of the final products it will take some state seedcorn cash or tax breaks and contracts to procure the output needed.
Let us start with the raw materials. There are schemes to extract lithium from rocks in Cornwall. We will need plenty of lithium for a large electric vehicle industry based on batteries. There are plans to put in rare earth processing in the North East. That too needs developing at pace, as these electric technologies all need rare earths, which are currently dangerously concentrated in Chinese hands. It will need large quantities of green hydrogen. That requires more renewable electricity and plants to manufacture and store it.
Then look at capacity. If the UK wants a decent sized car industry to survive it will need factories capable of making say 1.5 million batteries a year. Nothing like that is yet on the drawing boards. It will need to at least double current electricity output to cater for domestic power demand. To reduce meat in diets it will require a large expansion of market gardening to produce a wider range and volume of vegetables and meat substitutes.
Net zero is a hugely demanding target. The government needs more positive action now to bring forth the massive investment and technological developments it requires if they are serious about it. It would be a bad idea to continue on the net zero course thinking we can rely on imports for all the new green products it will take. Above all it needs listening to what people and markets are saying. Government and business have not yet designed and produced popular low carbon products that enough people want and can afford. Until they do so the danger is it will prove easier to force the decline of what we currently have than to produce a success for the new areas governments want. So far the UK has seen a much bigger decline in diesel car and engine output than it has seen a rise in electric car and engine output. Government needs to consider this warning sign.