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Why Global Britain needs climate innovation, by Tom Mitchell, director, UK & Ireland, Climate-KIC

It’s crucial that we ensure post-Brexit Britain responds to low carbon opportunities quickly with cutting edge climate innovation; a process that begins by fostering our home-grown start-up and scale-up talent

Why Global Britain needs climate innovation, by Tom Mitchell, director, UK & Ireland, Climate-KIC

The countdown to Brexit has begun. A critical task of Government over the next two years is to make Britain a global trading nation. This is a twofold task: to secure new trade partners for export, and to foster the creation of new, in-demand products for those prospective trade partners. So, what are we going to sell to our trading partners, now and into the future? What will Global Britain be known for?


The world needs low-carbon products, services and approaches to make the transition to a climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy. Businesses and cities all over the world are making this shift, and the UK has the potential to satisfy a bigger share of this growing demand.


UK low-carbon innovation has undoubtedly driven UK economic growth over the last six years. At the last count, the green economy generated £46.2bn turnover through 238,500 full-time jobs in 2014 (ONS 2016). The international appetite for the UK’s low-carbon innovations and expertise is also growing.


A 2015 report by the Carbon Trust forecast that the UK has a credible opportunity to triple its low carbon exports to £30bn by 2020 and double its global market share to 10 per cent. So, it is crucial that we ensure post-Brexit Britain responds to low carbon opportunities quickly with cutting edge climate innovation; a process that begins by fostering our home-grown start-up and scale-up talent.


Innovation Clusters have long proven to be a stimulus for economic growth for entire regions, via increased employment, wages, and profits, in locations from Bangalore to Silicon Roundabout. This is because innovation is an open process, which thrives when its key actors operate ‘cheek by jowl’ and where unplanned interactions are an everyday occurrence. In regions where the key ingredients of an innovation cluster are present, the financial cost and risk of innovation falls, accelerating growth and investment. Companies in a cluster compete against one another, but also share resources.


A key role of Government as we approach new trade partners is first to identify unmet needs and gaps in our export markets, and then to act as an innovation broker; connecting global demand with supply of innovation at scale. To create the right conditions for Global Britain, our cities need to be underpinned by systemic, cross-cutting Innovation Clusters, which create jobs and enhance productivity, whilst keeping pace with the world’s transition to a zero-carbon economy.


This is where Climate Innovation Clusters come in; ecosystems that emerge around local strengths in the low-carbon economy, supported by a dynamic mix of business, research, community and public sector organisations who are committed to learning from each other and focused on turning climate challenges into solutions that are positive for the environment and the economy.


Climate-KIC has experienced the benefits of such an approach first-hand through our work in the West Midlands, Dublin, Edinburgh, and London, where globally-relevant clusters are forming around solutions to climate-change challenges.


In February 2017, the West Midlands launched its Energy Capital brand to fast-track the region’s competitive advantage in low carbon manufacturing and ‘urban energy transitions’ -- including low emissions vehicles and energy efficiency, heating and cooling products. With 10,000 companies working in the energy supply chain across the West Midlands, alongside key research institutes such as the Energy Research Accelerator and Energy Systems Catapult, there is a strong base from which to grow the region’s future economy and to speed up the creation of globally-relevant energy transition solutions and stimulate regional growth.


In Dublin, a cluster is emerging around climate finance and innovation in the world of responsible, sustainable investment; in Edinburgh clusters are emerging around two key priority areas: data-driven innovation, and rural and water-based services; in London, already a strong cleantech cluster, an additional focus is emerging around turning the city’s significant food and building waste challenges into a circular economy cluster with lessons and innovations for the rest of the world.


The UK has a world-leading opportunity to meet the global demand for emissions reduction, efficiency and even carbon negative technologies. So how do we ensure that post-Brexit Britain continues to spot opportunities in the low-carbon economy and respond to them quickly with cutting edge innovation? How do we foster the home-grown climate innovation start-ups and scale-ups needed to meet rising demand?


Innovation-as-usual lacks the necessary scale and pace to tackle climate change, and a recent study by the London School of Economics found that after two decades of growth, patent filings for low-carbon technologies and public R&D expenditures on climate innovation have decreased in recent years. To protect our leadership position, these trends needs to be reversed. To appeal to global markets, we must learn from the successes of the West Midlands, Dublin, Edinburgh, and London, to foster the creation, commercialisation and scaling of game-changing climate ideas, that can be deployed both at home and abroad.


A Climate Innovation Cluster approach does exactly this, allowing policymakers, investors and collaborators to put us on the right trajectory to meet climate targets, to drive sustainable growth at home, and to strengthen low-carbon exports. Crucially, such an approach also has potential to help to heal the concerns about a lack of control over local futures surfaced by the Brexit vote. Climate Innovation Clusters must be at the very heart of plans for job creation, skills and export at all levels of Government.



Tom Mitchell is director UK and Ireland at Climate-KIC. Prior to joining Climate-KIC’s executive team, he was head of Climate and Environment at the Overseas Development Institute, and a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies.

He was a senior advisor to the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, in which he oversaw the research and knowledge management components. Tom also served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II coordinating lead author of the Special Report on Extreme Events and Disasters; and a lead author of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report. He has a PhD from University College London on national level strategy planning for strengthening resilience to extreme events.




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