What can the UK learn from its German and Danish neighbours on how to develop a sustainable industrial strategy?
Given the government’s new-found interest in industrial policy, a new TUC publication ‘Powering ahead: how industry can match Europe’s environmental leaders’ is well timed.
Germany’s ‘energiewende’ programme is known primarily for its commitment to end nuclear power by 2022 – which is not Prospect policy – but it is worth listening to the German trade unionists who are directly involved. They say:
- There are four ways to combat climate change – through renewables, nuclear, energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage. Every society has the right to make its own decisions on the appropriate mix.
- Sustainability is a better concept than ‘green’ because it looks at ecological, economic and social considerations holistically.
- There is no inherent conflict between supporting energy transition and continuing to support energy intensive sectors. Forcing these industries to shift jobs abroad would be bad for jobs and for the environment.
- Energy strategy should promote innovation and will not succeed without it.
- Job quality is important – unions are more likely to have a voice in large companies whereas working conditions in new renewables companies are often poor.
Most important of all in my view is to have a plan, to stick to it and to build political consensus around it.
It won’t be difficult to find something in this report that you disagree with but, as a broad framework, it seems to make perfect sense and is in line with Prospect policy.
Of course, actual UK experience falls a long way short of the German and Danish experiences.
As we all know, there is a high price to pay for treating energy policy as a political football – not least in terms of dangerously high greenhouse gas emissions.
So it is incredibly important that the current enthusiasm for industrial policy is not allowed to drift. It must be harnessed to climate change and energy policy.
In doing so, government must heed the other important lesson of German success and put social partnership arrangements in place to take this agenda forward.
This is the only way that the Prime Minister can allay concerns that recent changes to the machinery of government signal a lack of interest in climate change. The time to act is now.