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The energy transition is an historic opportunity, not a burden

It is official. 2023 was the hottest on record. 

And now, at the beginning of 2024, the United Kingdom (UK) stands at a crossroads. Before Britain is an historic opportunity to create meaningful and sustainable jobs, to grow its economy, and to save the planet. But as a result of inaction, this opportunity is fast slipping away.

At the end of last year, world leaders, businesses, charities, and community groups gathered at COP28 in Dubai to discuss how to tackle climate change, the greatest collective challenge facing humanity. They pointed out that one of the key ways this can be done is through fast-tracking the energy transition. This should not be seen as a burden, but rather as an opportunity.

A green transition would create new jobs. It has been estimated that the US Inflation Reduction Act will lead to 403,000 jobs, and the European Green Deal may create 2.3 million jobs. Net Zero will be the growth opportunity of the 21st century. Without similar ambition and vision, Britain will fall behind.

Instead, the United States (US), People’s Republic of China, and Europe reap these rewards and speed ahead in the race for skills and finance for the energy transition. The UK will come to regret this as it finds, too late, that it has not done enough to build its own infrastructure or grow British talent, and that it remains reliant on others for energy. The UK will be left behind as other countries prepare for the economy of the future – with electric vehicle infrastructure and green energy grids.

Humanity is already in the foothills of an environmental catastrophe. That is why this author believes Britain’s aim to reach Net Zero by 2050 is not ambitious enough. The UK is likely to miss the Paris climate targets – in which it agreed to cut emissions by 68% by 2030. 

By setting back key Net Zero pledges from 2030 to 2035, His Majesty’s (HM) Government sent a clear signal to investors such as electric vehicle manufacturers that it is not serious about Net Zero or the green transition. Given the weakness of the UK’s investment environment,  there should be no surprises when green businesses choose to set up elsewhere.

The UK has a strong science base and excellent universities which would make it well suited to take advantage of the green energy transition. But it requires effort and investment.

Take, for example, batteries. The lithium in lithium-ion batteries is scarce, and they also require cobalt and nickel – which can cause environmental damage when mined. Recently, we have started to see the potential of sodium-ion batteries for renewable energy storage. Sodium is an abundant mineral which is also found in seawater. Currently, many of the companies focusing on sodium battery development and production are Chinese. This is just one of the areas Britain should be investing in and conducting research on.  

This is why I am supporting the Caudwell Strong Britain initiative at the Council on Geostrategy. This initiative will conduct research to help policymakers understand how the UK can create a more competitive and resilient science and technology ecosystem, and make the most of the opportunity offered by the energy transition.

John Caudwell is a philanthropist, business leader, and was the founder of Phones 4U.

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