Why manufacturers will have to take leadership of the journey to net zero - Steve Foxley
To prove the point, our nation has just overtaken France in the world rankings for sector size. With £224bn in output, 2.6 million jobs, 49 per cent of total exports and wages a whopping nine per cent above the UK average, manufacturing is the mainstay of our economy and the absolute antithesis of the ‘here today gone tomorrow’ world of politics.
As politicians water down their net zero commitments in the hope of short-term electoral gain, now is the time for industry leaders to step up to the challenge and make the long-term investments needed to tackle the climate emergency.
They will be marching in step with the vast majority of the public on this issue. Of course, the journey will be difficult but make no mistake, we cannot reach our destination without manufacturing.
Greenhouse gas emissions from the sector account for up to 12 per cent of the UK total, with 86 per cent of these coming from fuel combustion, according to the government’s climate change committee. To clean up its act, manufacturing must achieve massive reductions in emissions over the next two-and-a-half decades or so by embracing resource efficiency, material substitution, energy efficiency, fuel switching and carbon capture and storage. Of course, manufacturing must also play a central role in reducing total UK emissions, especially in the transition to cleaner transport, housing and energy generation.
Next month, we will be bringing together some of the best minds in engineering and economics at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) to show the way for the UK to reach net zero by shining a light on the leading edge technologies that businesses are adopting to reduce their emissions. Our summit on November 22-23 will showcase the incredible research and development taking place at the AMRC’s sites in Rotherham, Sheffield, Broughton and Preston that is helping prime manufacturers and their supply chains to not only transform their operations but also boost their productivity and profitability.
South Yorkshire’s heritage as a hotbed of past industrial revolutions is not lost on us. The AMRC is built on the site of the former Orgreave colliery, once home to one of Europe’s biggest mining operations and later an emblem of the bitter industrial disputes of the 1980s. Today, we are at the forefront of a new wave of industrialisation, helping companies to use data analytics and artificial intelligence, switch to sustainable fuels like hydrogen, digitally connect their factories and supply chains to make things better, faster, cheaper and greener. By collaborating, we are generating new jobs, training apprentices, re-skilling workforces and, above all, creating hope for the future.
As politicians focus on short-term considerations in the face of extreme weather events, the time is coming for industry to take a leadership role in the journey to net zero – and secure a long-term future for our planet.
Steve Foxley is chief executive at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.