UK businesses can unlock growth with green exports, says CBI

Wind Farm

British businesses have the opportunity to create 240,000 low-carbon jobs and boost green exports by billions of pounds to radically transform the UK economy over the next decade, the CBI has said.

The UK’s foremost business lobby group said businesses across the country stood to gain from an “early mover advantage” by leading a campaign to decarbonise the global economy to avoid a climate meltdown.

Calling on companies to “seize the moment” amid demands for radical economic reforms after the Covid-19 pandemic, it said decarbonisation, innovation, growing trade and levelling-up Britain’s lopsided regional economy could unlock commercial growth opportunities worth £700bn by 2030.

Publishing a report into how businesses could help transform the economy over the next decade, it said the UK was at a turning point. Failure to adapt would lead to exacerbating the pre-pandemic trends of low productivity and heightened social divisions that plagued Britain after the 2008 financial crisis, it said.

According to the study, UK firms could boost low-carbon exports to the EU, including opportunities to grow electric vehicle and battery sales by £18bn over the next decade. It said a net 240,000 jobs could be created, including in cities and towns outside London and the south-east to help “level up” regional economies across the country.

Tony Danker, director general of the CBI, said businesses needed to work with trade unions, civil society and the government to cut carbon emissions to unlock the UK’s growth potential.

“We may disagree on detail but not on the need to align around this vision and these principles,” he said. “Decarbonising our economy is a planetary imperative, we can use our transition to net zero to create green jobs, to find sustainable solutions and sell them to the rest of the world.”

The intervention from the CBI comes as a report by academics from Imperial College London for the energy firm Drax issued a “weather warning” for Britain’s electricity grid, saying further investment was required to improve the mix of renewable energy production in case of periods of little wind.

The report said the UK experienced its longest spell of low wind output in more than a decade during the first three months of this year. The authors said output from the country’s 24.4GW fleet of wind turbines fell to as low as 0.6GW on 3 March – in contrast with the 18.1GW delivered later that month.

Between 26 February and 8 March – a total of 11 days – the capacity of the national wind turbine fleet did not go above 20%.

Grid operators had to call on gas-fired units to generate power to plug the gap, with every gigawatt of falling wind output being replaced by 0.84GW of gas, thereby harming Britain’s carbon-cutting ambitions, said the report.

“Britain’s ever-changing weather could put its landmark net-zero climate target at risk and become a threat to the power grid’s security unless policymakers take action,” it claimed.

However, perhaps illustrating the authors’ point about the UK’s fast-changing weather, the powerful gusts that have been buffeting Britain in recent days may lead many people to conclude that low wind output is certainly not a problem right now. The blustery weather has helped the country reach a new all-time high for electricity generated from wind turbines.

A record was set in the early hours of Friday 21 May for the share of wind power in the generation mix, with wind providing nearly two-thirds of Britain’s electricity, according to provisional data from National Grid.