The UK has the technology and the economic capability to achieve net zero by 2050, but mixed signals from Government are deterring investment and progress.
That’s according to Prof Tom Burke, chairman of independent strategic political think tank E3G, who was among the key speakers at last week’s Mineral Products 2021 conference, bringing the event to life with fascinating insights, thought-provoking ideas, and compelling hard facts and home truths.
Moderated by BBC television producer Samantha McAlister, the online event Growth & Climate Change… Balancing the Issues saw 300 delegates hear a line-up of leading experts explore the UK’s political landscape, economic outlook, climate change realities and the mineral products industry’s response to the decarbonisation challenge.
MPA Chief Executive Nigel Jackson opened the event on location from MPA member J & J Franks’ sand quarry and waste facility in Surrey. Emphasising the importance of diverse geology in counties like Surrey in meeting the need for essential mineral products, he talked to Franks’ Managing Director Peter Crate about the challenges and opportunities of securing planning consent and obtaining permits when setting up a new site.
Opening the formal proceedings was Prof Vernon Bogdanor CBE FBA of the Centre for British Politics and Government at King’s College London who provided a captivating insight into the UK’s political landscape as the country emerges from the pandemic and gets to grips with life after Brexit. He was followed by Dr Gemma Tetlow, Chief Economist at the Institute for Government, who gave an interesting overview of the economic environment and explained why Government needs to focus on its key priorities and not spread itself too thinly.
Next to the ‘stage’ was Ecological Economist Prof Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey and Author of Post Growth – Life After Capitalism, who put forward a thought-provoking argument that decoupling economic activity from environmental impact was ultimately the only way to achieve sustainable development.
Mike Thompson, Chief Economist at the Climate Change Committee, an independent advisory body to the Government, explained the UK’s Climate Change Act and Carbon Budget, discussed levers to prevent carbon leakage and outlined the case for carbon capture, use and storage. He said: “Government has grasped the scale of what needs to happen to achieve net zero but getting the policy in place and the infrastructure built – it’s a big process, it takes time and it needs to move quickly. I have no doubt that net zero can be achieved – the programme is designed with the constraints in mind - but we have to work together to get to the goal.”
Then came Rachel Wolf, Founding Partner at public policy and research specialists Public First, who discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by decarbonisation, emphasising the importance for all industry sectors to have a credible roadmap to net zero with proposals aligned with policy.
Turning to practical progress within the mineral products sector, Steven O’Mara, Mines & Quarry Manager for Hitachi Construction Machinery UK, and Toni Hagelberg, Director of Sustainable Power Systems at Volvo Construction Equipment, talked about innovations designed to reduce the carbon impact of mobile plant. The session concluded with an overview of the UK Concrete and Cement Industry Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero.
Closing the event, Nigel Jackson said: “Each year the UK consumes 400 million tonnes of mineral products – more than 1 million tonnes a day. We’re the biggest flow of materials in the economy, providing essential materials without which construction, manufacturing and many other industries would struggle.
“I’m very proud that working with our members we have been able to develop a roadmap for concrete and cement to go beyond net zero by 2050. Early action to reduce carbon means that today UK concrete and cement emissions are around 1.5% of the total UK carbon emissions. Now we need Government, the construction industry and other sectors to play their part to help the UK go beyond net zero.”