Clean Growth Strategy: from obligation to opportunity

Written by: Patrick Cousens | Published:
The Clean Growth Strategy sets a target of zero 'avoidable' waste to landfill by 2050

Government's newly announced Clean Growth Strategy lacks the concrete proposals necessary for such a vision to be fully realised, but there are many positives to be taken from it.

There was plenty for the Waste and Recycling sector to be pleased about from last month’s Clean Growth Strategy, the government’s flagship policy announcement which will set the tone for the green economy for several years to come.

First, that it has finally appeared at all. While mandated under the 2008 Climate Change Act (CCA), the proposals were originally due to be published in 2016, but were subject to delay after delay, during which time they evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective) from the Emissions Reduction Plan to the Clean Growth Plan and – finally – the Clean Growth Strategy.

The nomenclature is important, as is the timing. ‘Emissions reduction’ is more banal and proscriptive. It is also far more directly relevant to its established purpose under the CCA. Buried within the 165-page document is the admission that meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (to 2032) will require significantly more by way of concrete proposals than is covered by the Strategy – thus it fails (in absolute terms) to deliver on its raison dêtre.

Pushing the green economy agenda

Yet this is an overly gloomy appraisal. This is a big, bold and important document straddling multiple sectors. The new name – Clean Growth Strategy – may be less specific than the Emissions Reduction Plan, both in topic and ambition, but it is also broader and in the long run may be more influential.

This is because what the document does, more significant even than the £2.5bn of policy announcements (many of which had been made before), is signify a change of approach from government and the Conservative Party on environmental policy.

In fact, arguably the delay in publication has been a net gain for the green economy. Had this plan been published under the Cameron and Osborne administration, it is unlikely to have had the present document’s scope and ambition – filed instead under the heading of ‘green crap’ – a burden on the real business of government and wealth creation.

This was a government that spoke only of its ‘obligations’ and ‘international commitments’ to the environment, and this laboured and unenthused language was frequently reflected in decisions on where the knife would fall on public spending.

Yet the past 18 months have not only seen a change in personnel at the top of government, they have also a seen enormous progress made across key carbon-reducing segments of the economy, and this has finally persuaded all but the most stubborn of ostriches to pull their heads out of the sand and see the opportunity in front of them.

The tumbling cost of renewable electricity has been a headline-grabbing feature over the period – culminating with the record low £57.50 strike price for offshore wind last month – yet it is not the only area to have made progress. Increasing recognition – and growing proof – of the role that waste can play in creating the fuels we need to decarbonise heat and transport, still highly pernicious challenges, have given further grounds for political optimism.

Renewed vigour

Indeed, there are several specific announcements in the Clean Growth Strategy that will be of interest for the waste and recycling sector. Although the headline of zero ‘avoidable’ waste to landfill by 2050 suffers from being both vague and distant, the commitment to phase out food waste by 2030 is significant and is likely to impact on collection schemes in the short term. Promises are also made to reduce emissions when waste does make it to landfill, with new research and analysis around landfill gas capture and usage.

Moreover, the reaffirmation that there will be a new Resources and Waste strategy in 2018 is further proof of renewed vigour in this area – and provides an excellent opportunity for business to make their voice heard to shape the legislative landscape ahead, particularly post-Brexit.

Indeed, one of the major tasks for the waste and recycling industry will be holding the government to account against its lofty rhetoric. It has rightly been pointed out that this document – being a Strategy and not a Plan – is thinner on detail than ambition. Reflecting the government narrative will therefore be an effective way for industry to secure favourable policy outcomes that align with the aims of the Strategy.

The crucial takeaway, however, is that there should be a receptive audience. Announcing the Strategy, climate change minister Claire Perry noted that the estimate for growth in the low-carbon economy between 2015 and 2030 stands at 11% – four times greater than the rest of the economy.

So, what the Clean Growth Strategy marks is that environmentalism and economic growth can indeed go hand in hand – and what is needed is more of both. Industry and many environmental campaigners have been saying it for years – and the numbers are now proving the argument. Clean growth is here to stay.

Patrick Cousens is an account manager at PLMR

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