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G7 opportunity to position our region at the forefront of a green industrial revolution

In just six weeks’ time world leaders will arrive in Cornwall for the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay from June 11-13, writes Mark Duddridge.

The UK, which holds the Presidency of the G7, will be joined by the US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Japan.  Leaders from Australia, India, South Korea and the EU will also attend as guests. Between them they represent over 2.2 billion people, and over half the world’s economy.

High on the agenda is tackling climate change and supporting a ‘green’ economic recovery from the global pandemic. Priorities include moving to a net zero carbon G7 by 2050 at the latest, and supporting the transition to a low carbon economy.

Fast-tracking carbon targets

The UK Government has just announced that it is speeding up its target to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, having already fast-tracked plans to phase out petrol and diesel new car sales by 2030.

And President Joe Biden committed the US to slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, nearly doubling its previous target. Biden called the climate crisis “the biggest existential threat we face”.

Meanwhile the UK is preparing to host the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow in November

Green industrial revolution

Against this backdrop of growing urgency to prevent a catastrophic climate crisis, the G7 is a massive opportunity to position our region at the forefront of this new ‘green industrial revolution’.

And it’s an opportunity for the UK Government to demonstrate its commitment to tackling climate change and start ‘levelling up’ the UK economy, not least by ensuring that the legacy of hosting the G7 in Cornwall is one of investment in a net-zero carbon future.

The good news is that we are seeing progress. In recent months there have been a number of announcements spanning technology metals to offshore wind energy which recognise Cornwall’s potential to contribute significantly to decarbonising our economy.

Support for lithium extraction

Last month, St Austell-based British Lithium was awarded £2.9 million from the Government’s Sustainable Innovation Fund to progress plans for a pilot plant to extract battery-grade lithium from granite.

The company hopes to produce 21,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate a year in the next three to five years, enough it says to support production of around 350,000 electric vehicles annually.

Meanwhile Cornish Lithium recently secured £680,000 from the Automotive Transformation Fund, a collaboration between the UK Government and automotive industry, for a feasibility study into plans for a hard rock lithium extraction plant near St Austell.

This will complement the company’s proposed pilot plant at the United Downs Deep Geothermal Project, which aims to extract lithium from geothermal waters deep underground and is being part-funded by the LEP via the Getting Building Fund.

The project is mentioned in the Government’s recently-published integrated security and defence review, which talks about the need to explore opportunities for the domestic extraction and processing of ‘critical minerals’ like lithium.

And the Crown Estate, which manages the seabed and much of the foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, confirmed earlier this year that it has granted Cornish Lithium rights to explore for lithium in underground areas off the north and south coasts of Cornwall.

Policy support for floating offshore wind

The Crown Estate has also recognised the potential for the Celtic Sea to accommodate large scale floating windfarms in the future.

It announced in March that is was launching a new leasing process for 300MW of floating wind in the Celtic Sea, allowing windfarms to be built further away from shore where it is windier, generating more power.

This was the latest in a string of policy announcements which have seen floating wind move up the Government’s low carbon agenda.

The LEP has been working for over two years to promote floating wind as an economic and environmental opportunity for Cornwall and the South West, building on our region’s marine and offshore renewable energy expertise, and one of the best wind climates in Europe.

Ten Point Plan

A report we commissioned last year with the Welsh Government predicts that a 300MW project in the Celtic Sea could generate £232m in regional spend in the South West and South Wales, and support 1,132 jobs.

The Prime Minister wants to see floating wind generating 1GW of electricity by 2030, with offshore wind a cornerstone of the Government’s ‘Ten Point Plan’ for a green industrial revolution.

And in November, the Government confirmed that floating wind would be eligible for its price support regime for the first time, helping to de-risk projects for developers and investors. This is something we and industry had called for.

The Crown Estate is reporting ‘strong interest’ in the Celtic Sea, describing floating wind as the ‘next frontier’ of the UK’s clean energy ambitions. Indeed, the planned sale of the Wave Hub offshore test facility by Cornwall Council, which has been repurposed for a floating wind demonstrator project, has attracted international interest.

Funding bid

Floating wind is a global investment opportunity for Cornwall, creating clean energy and well paid jobs. That’s why we’re backing a regional bid to secure £35 million from the Government’s Strength in Places Fund to make sure we can take advantage of the floating wind revolution by investing in our supply chain, expertise and port facilities.

A decision on that bid is believed to be imminent. Our view is that a positive outcome would be a major boost to the G7’s legacy in Cornwall.

It would also be a vote of confidence by Government in the ability of a region to capitalise on its unique strengths to translate national ambition into local delivery, and forge a new industry along the way.

As the Director General of the CBI Tony Danker said recently, reinforcing successful business clusters will be central to kick-starting the regional revival at the heart of the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda. That means supporting our towns, cities and regions to develop their strength industries, increase productivity and raise living standards, because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

We had some good news this month with confirmation of the £23.6m Truro Town Deal, and now await the outcome of similar bids for Penzance, Camborne and St Ives.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (with the emphasis on local), have a vital role to play because as Tony Danker said, true levelling up will not be achieved by regions working towards identikit and sometimes competing economic strategies.

Instead we need to concentrate on inherent local advantages and seize the opportunities they present to benefit our people and places.

LEPs convene a broad church, drawing together business, education, local government and communities in pursuit of a common good.

That’s why our Local Industrial Strategy focuses on what we do well and how we can do it even better, and on future industries with strong growth potential that can put Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly at the forefront of a green recovery.

Mark Duddridge is Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.

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Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, PO Box 723, Pydar House, Pydar Street, Truro, TR1 1XU
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