As the UK and many local regions embark on developing and implementing industrial strategies Dr Kate Scott from the School of Environment, Education and Development argues it is crucial to identify how their strengths can support innovation and development for low carbon transitions. This is particularly true in light of the government’s recent announcement that it is seeking advice on how to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
There is often a misconception that tackling climate change is limited to strategies that directly conserve energy use only by increasing the efficiency of our homes, cars or products. But how products (e.g. clothes, packaging, food, electronics, buildings and vehicles) are made and consumed also has a huge impact on emissions. Our analysis shows that emissions associated with resource use can be cut by designing products and buildings to use less materials more efficiently, and by lowering demand for new products by making them longer lasting and increasing reuse and sharing.
Resource efficiency can make a significant contribution to meeting climate targets and provide a lever for developing climate compatible industrial strategies. It opens up opportunities for regions such as Manchester to become suppliers of low carbon goods and expertise, and to export these. This does not just need to be in the making of products, but also in their provision.
In another recent study we found that people would change their consumption habits to help the climate – even if this would have implications for their personal lives and shopping habits. This could entail using more sustainable packaging for products, sharing tools and other rarely-used products within communities, leasing products like washing machines instead of owning them, and getting electronic devices repaired rather than replacing them. Policies designed alongside public engagement can offer more productive business models that improve the circularity of resources, can cut employment and save people money.
One of the main barriers to resource efficiency measures being taken up in climate policy is that they are the responsibility of separate government departments. Defra is responsible for resource efficiency, whereas BEIS are tasked with the UK’s climate policy. In addition, incentives for companies to increase their resource efficiency are currently weak.
Setting up a national resource efficiency programme to develop common reporting metrics, identify best practice and incentivise large scale deployment of resource efficient innovations would help bridge these policy silos, and help the government achieve its goal of doubling resource productivity by 2050 as set out in the UK’s industrial Strategy. Local Industrial Strategies can capitalise on these gaps through leading resource efficiency partnerships that address climate change, productivity and competitiveness.