Paul's Latest Column - starting a green jobs revolution

20 November 2018

“There is no bigger threat facing humanity than climate change”, said Jeremy Corbyn in his speech to the 2018 Labour Party conference in Liverpool.  “Labour will kick-start a Green Jobs Revolution that will help tackle climate change, provide sustainable energy for the future and create skilled jobs in every nation and region of the UK”. 

Green jobs is shorthand for those jobs which make a contribution to improving the environment rather than damaging it.  They are jobs that use renewable materials to manufacture the products we need rather than finite fossil fuels.  They are also jobs that use recycled raw materials and waste.

The need for a green jobs revolution has become increasingly urgent since the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported last month that we only have 12 years left to prevent irreversible climate change.  Our own Committee on Climate Change last week endorsed the IPCC’s findings and called on the UK government to “ensure our use of land helps to reduce the emissions that are warming our atmosphere.  We must also improve the resilience of the land to climate change.  New legislation on agriculture and the environment provides us with a unique opportunity to reward land owners and farmers for actions such as tree planting, restoring peatlands and improving soil and water quality”.

As an MEP I have three clear priorities that flow as opportunities out of the threat of climate change.  Here in the North East of England we need to plant at least three new mixed species forests and double our overall forest cover in the next 20 years. My second priority is the construction of an engineered timber plant in the region that can supply a replacement building material for concrete, the production of which is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions. The third priority is to have several tall landmark buildings in the region constructed out of timber.

These priorities are reflected in the agenda of a major conference to be held at Northumbria University next month. Titled ‘Superwood’ the conference, organised by the Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor), will explore how the north of England can capitalise on significant economic and environmental opportunities by planting far more trees and building creatively with timber and thereby drive a low carbon economy.  Despite the immense Kielder Forest, tree cover is just 8 per cent in Northumberland, lower than the rest of England, which is in turn well below the UK average of 13 per cent.  The conference aims to bring together the whole supply chain, from tree nurseries and forest managers to wood processors and architects building with wood - to strengthen existing connections and create new ones and to put forestry and timber at the heart of a low-carbon future.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, I’m off to Helsinki at the personal invitation of the Prime Ministers of Finland and Norway to attend their Forest Academy for Decision Makers.  In his conference speech Jeremy Corbyn referenced Scandinavia as being on track to meet their climate obligations.  With the UK now off track I hope that by attending I can bring back to our region some of the latest green jobs thinking particularly with regards to the bio-economy where we are close to being able to make all the products we once made from oil from wood, including textiles, sugars and a substitute for plastic.  In this way the North East can play a critical role in putting the UK back on track to meet our climate change obligations.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been promising a UK bio-economy strategy for over a year now.  I know people who have seen drafts so I’m hoping its publication is imminent as this will give us the opportunity here in the North East to develop a regional bio-economy strategy using wood as the feedstock, as in Scandinavia.

We are pushing at an open door.  Our region has already rightly prioritised more and better jobs, in addition making as many of these green jobs will enable us to develop a regional specialism that delivers a better environment for our children and makes a significant contribution to tackling climate change, a threat even greater than Brexit.

Do you think the North East needs its own voice in the EU exit negotiations?

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