Climate change: How Boris Johnson's government plans to harness international free trade in the fight against global warming – Alister Jack MP

There can be no doubt that climate change is one of the most pressing emergencies to face us.
The UK’s low-carbon economy could grow by 11 per cent a year between 2015 and 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)The UK’s low-carbon economy could grow by 11 per cent a year between 2015 and 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The UK’s low-carbon economy could grow by 11 per cent a year between 2015 and 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity. Already these catastrophic events have caused $3 trillion worth of damage worldwide this century.

We owe it to our children, our grandchildren and their descendants to act. The future of our planet is at stake.

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Today the UK government’s Board of Trade (BoT) publishes a new report detailing how free and fair trade can help protect the environment for the generations to come.

The “Green Trade” paper outlines a powerful vision for how trade can help create many thousand high-value green jobs at home while working with countries across the globe to secure a sustainable future.

As an adviser to the BoT, I have worked closely with Liz Truss, the board’s president and UK government Trade Secretary, on the report.

It is a comprehensive document which demonstrates how free and fair trade will build on the progress we have already made to tackle climate change.

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As we welcome the Trade Secretary north of the Border for its launch, it is encouraging that Scotland is leading the way on creating an environmentally friendly economy.

More than one tenth of UK jobs in the low-carbon and renewable energy sector are in Scotland with the potential for many more – in 2019 this was equivalent to 21,400 full-time Scottish employees.

Office for National Statistics figures also reveal producing clean energy is a growth industry with 13,500 Scottish businesses in the low-carbon and renewable sector in 2019 – 35 per cent more than the previous year.

Almost one third of all UK offshore wind jobs are based in Scotland. The enormous potential of renewables is illustrated by the fact that last year Scotland generated enough green energy to power all homes north of the Border for three-and-a-half years.

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More than 60 per cent of this renewable energy was exported outside Scotland with an estimated wholesale market value of £0.76 billion.

But we can do much more. The UK’s low-carbon economy could grow by 11 per cent a year between 2015 and 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy – and the global export market for the sector is set to grow to £1.8 trillion by 2030. This rapid expansion represents a major opportunity for the UK, driving growth across the country and further investment in Scotland.

Some £12 billion of UK government investment will be mobilised by the end of the decade to create a further 250,000 UK green jobs.

The UK government is also helping firms in the north-east of Scotland to use the expertise built up over decades of North Sea exploration to develop techniques like hydrogen power and carbon capture, as well as harnessing natural resources.

The most recent UK Budget allocated £27 million for Aberdeen’s Energy Transition Zone, which will support 2,500 green jobs plus another 10,000 related posts by 2030. The UK government is also investing £90 million in Aberdeen’s Net Zero Technology Centre through the Aberdeen City Region Deal.

And our proposals to create Freeports across the UK will create high-value jobs and promote sustainable export growth.

But cutting harmful emissions across the globe cannot be achieved in isolation. The UK may have managed to lead the G20 by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 44 per cent since 1990 but we must not rest on our laurels.

As well as creating high-value, sustainable jobs in the UK, fostering green trade with other countries is crucial. We must use free trade, free markets and free enterprise to accelerate the global green transition.

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Using the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year and the UK’s presidency of the G7, we can shape the 21st century trading system to support the global effort to tackle climate change and nature loss. We shall encourage countries to commit to shared climate action goals.

We are already supporting international efforts to clean-up the environment. One example is the UK government co-sponsoring Fiji/China informal dialogue on trade and plastics. In addition, UK exporters are now subjected to tighter rules on shipping plastic waste.

UK trade levers can accelerate the global green transition and make a major contribution towards achieving the Paris Agreement goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Our aim is to champion reform of the trading system, so it helps drive the green transition. We will do this by liberalising green trade, while addressing market distortions such as industrial subsidies which incentivise over-consumption of environmentally damaging goods and services.

This includes seeking Free Trade Agreements based on liberal, green principles which safeguard the UK’s right to regulate on the environment.

We can use foreign direct investment to stimulate our green industries while exporting our green products to accelerate the low-carbon transition.

Foreign investment can also help raise the £50 billion per year needed by 2030 to achieve our net-zero commitments. Already there are examples of the type of cash injection required. For instance, the US commercial vehicle manufacturer Meritor is building a new Scottish technology centre along with its Welsh facility to develop electric powertrains for HGVs.

Meanwhile the Mitsubishi Electric factory in Livingston is making low-carbon heat pumps to decarbonise housing which are being exported to Europe.

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It is a fine example of the type of business which can make the most of the UK government’s clean growth strategy.

The Board of Trade has a long and proud history. It has fought for the benefits of international commerce for almost 400 years. But never before has trade had a more important role to play when it comes to the planet’s future.

Alister Jack is Secretary of State for Scotland and Conservative MP for Dumfries and Galloway

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