Dr Henry Kippin, MD of the North of Tyne Combined Authority, and Professor Jane Robinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Engagement and Place at Newcastle University, on how the North East is emerging as the driving force behind the transition to Net Zero.

Last week  Britishvolt broke ground on the 95 hectare site in Blyth, Northumberland, earmarked for the UK’s first battery-making gigafactory. The move, on the site formerly occupied by Blyth Power Station, represents a seminal moment in the transformation of the North East from declining industrial heartland to green economy powerhouse.

The proposed £2.6bn investment represents one of the UK’s biggest-ever industrial investments, and the largest in the North East of England since the arrival of Nissan in 1984. And Nissan itself has recently announced a £1bn investment in partnership with Envision AESC to create a second gigafactory in the region, close to its car manufacturing plant in Sunderland. Together these two proposals could create over 4,500 direct jobs and a further 9,500 in the wider supply chain.

These are just two of many recent investment announcements which demonstrate the significant potential that exists in our region to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth and make a valuable contribution to the UK’s ambitious net zero agenda.

This was demonstrated clearly last month at the Green Economy summit which was hosted by the North of Tyne Combined Authority and Newcastle University. Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, the Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, delivered the keynote address, in which she highlighted the importance of building back better, greener and faster post-Covid. Together, we focused on what we as a region can do to contribute to national environmental targets, whilst also seizing the opportunities as we transition to a green economy.

What was clear is that we have a head start and already lots to celebrate. The North East has the expertise and assets that will allow us to seize the opportunities the transition to net zero provides to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth.

The transition to net-zero and a green economy presents a wide range of opportunities for the North East. We have the capacity to become a leader in the development and production of offshore renewables and subsea; decarbonised heat; decarbonised transport; smart grids; hydrogen; and decarbonisation of buildings and materials.  With the development of these technologies come some real opportunities for business and job growth in the supply chain.

Poster with images of Dr Henry Kippin and Professor Jane Robinson and text advertising the Green Economy Powerhouse

One example where we are implementing change is the North of Tyne Combined Authority’s Green New Deal Fund, a ground-breaking new investment fund to tackle carbon emissions whilst delivering inclusive economic growth. The Fund will deliver £18 million of investment in both low carbon infrastructure and directly into SMEs to support business growth and innovation. It will catalyse investment in green growth, stimulate innovation and enable sector and supply chain growth.

Climate change is an emergency, and we need to act now. But we are mindful that this action must be fair and just, ensuring that we create opportunities, not take them away. Collaboration is critical to the successful transition to a low carbon economy and achieving net zero emissions. This collaboration is already taking place between universities, colleges, industry, the public sector and communities.

So what puts the North East in a unique position to lead?

As the UK builds on its clean growth commitments, the North East is in a position to be the partner of choice for industry and Government in developing and delivering new technologies and solutions to drive forward green economic growth. The region’s business, innovation and skills base drives forward from our industrial heritage and positions us at the cutting edge of developing and commercialising new solutions today. This is exemplified by the key role played by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in the commercial development of the world’s largest offshore wind turbine blades.

The North East is a stunningly beautiful region with a rich engineering and manufacturing heritage, a legacy of skills and the development sites in the right locations. We are also uniquely positioned as we have rural, semi-rural, urban and coastal geographies, these natural assets can improve quality of life and boost our economy as well as improving biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

We have an arc of innovation which links opportunities from Blyth, to Tyne and Wear and beyond, where we can test new approaches in real-time and at scale, finding creative solutions to the challenges of climate change and adaptation facing the world today. Working in partnership, we are driving innovation and its commercialisation, growing the supply chains of the future and making the North East more attractive for inward investment.

It is vital that, as well as growing the jobs of the future, we support the development of the skills which will be needed. The North East boasts strong partnerships and training provision for skills at all levels – primary to PhD –  required for the green jobs of the future. These are the assets and the opportunities that we are building on to achieve our ambition, working closely with local, national and international partners to draw together the necessarily resources, expertise and investment to deliver a zero carbon North East and good green jobs. We can’t do this individually, this agenda is driven through partnership and a shared sense of purpose and ambition across the region.

We are in a strong position to lead the way to net zero and really seize the opportunities which arise in the transition to low carbon economy but there is still much to be done and some big plays to support not only national net zero targets but importantly levelling up – whether this is investment in the Tyne to safeguard the future operation of the river and attract new investment and jobs or investment in our R&D facilities to ensure we retain our competitive position or decarbonising our housing stock at scale.

We need to think globally, but also locally – we will achieve change through large scale action by Government and corporates, but also through actions of millions of individuals and communities finding solutions at local level. The success of the Green Energy Summit was testament to the willingness of people from all walks of life to join together and tackle climate change while building back better and greener. Through partnership and collaboration we can achieve spectacular things. It gives us hope that we can lead the way in solving the problems of the climate crisis whilst growing our economy in a green and sustainable way and ensuring a secure future for all.