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Blog: Driving Net Zero – from ambition to delivery-Helena Anderson

Sustainable and Inclusive Growth Commission LEP Clean Energy Blog 25/08/2021

The potential to generate transformational change

The North West has laid down a carbon neutral gauntlet with ambitious plans to reach Net Zero by at least 2040 - ten years ahead of the national target.

We certainly have the potential to generate transformational change here, accelerating low-carbon energy solutions, promoting green innovation and, of course, decarbonising industry. A key part of achieving this latter goal will be the creation of 'Net Zero North West' - the UK's first low carbon industrial cluster, due to be realised by 2030.

The North West is uniquely placed to deliver the cluster given that we possess the largest concentration of advanced manufacturing and chemical production, and therefore energy intensive users, in the UK.

Cheshire and Warrington is already playing a pivotal role in helping to drive the Net Zero agenda forward; we have a huge opportunity to make a very tangible dent in the North West's carbon footprint.

I know well that the Cheshire and Warrington LEP is committed to collaborating with private sector investors, industry, the wider public sector, and with national and regional governments to catalyse decarbonisation plans. Last year, together with its three local authority partners, the LEP launched a new Sustainable and Inclusive Growth Commission, of which I am a member, to be a focal point for helping the region develop a fairer, greener economy working collaboratively with the private sector. 

The new Commission represents the interests of everyone in the Cheshire and Warrington region and is looking at opportunities to attract investment into decarbonisation of industry, transport, water and waste, agriculture and housing, as well as regeneration of our natural capital and sustainable land use. In practice, we know that this means being a first mover - getting green projects off the ground and exemplifying decarbonisation best practice, as well as showcasing successful initiatives to attract investment and promote replication.

Ikigai advised the LEP as part of a consortium led by the Cheshire Energy Hub, on its Invest Net Zero Cheshire project, the first of its kind in the UK and now the blue print for zonal Net Zero investment plans nationally. We are very proud to be part of a collective effort to move money and make transformational change achievable. Invest Net Zero Cheshire delivered a billion-pound portfolio of projects for decarbonisation of the industrial area around Ellesmere Port, which is home to a host of major manufacturing plants and big industry, complementing the HyNet blue hydrogen project adjacent to the Stanlow Oil Refinery.

One of the projects we've been working on as part of the portfolio is enabling a local authority to procure agri-waste derived biomethane and hydrogen for the conversion of their vehicle fleet. As a result, vehicles such as refuse collection trucks, are being converted to lower carbon alternative fuels. The local authority is acting as a green procurer and by doing this successfully – delivering on lower cost or improved profitability and decarbonisation – they are encouraging the private sector to follow suit.

It's important to strike a balance between the big-ticket projects and the smaller but equally viable initiatives too. Here, again, local government can lead the way.

So, for example, we wanted to identify via the Sustainable and Inclusive Growth Commission the projects that weren't seeing enough of a focus – either due to their nature, scale or timing issues, or because, notwithstanding their strong carbon impact, don’t currently benefit from sufficient commercial returns. This process has helped us to facilitate an inclusive approach to project investment - both in terms of stakeholders and the types of projects that are being covered. We can ensure that the decarbonisation of social housing or investment in natural capitalare getting the same level of prioritisation as some of the really big projects in the region.

Where else can local authorities drive the Net Zero agenda forward? Savvy investment that, in turn, spurs private sector stakeholders to support projects is key. Investing in feasibility work, where there's a lot of risk that the private sector struggles to manage, and co-investing in testing, prototyping, first manufacture and deployment of new technologies is a highly effective way for the public sector to fill a gap and get the green agenda moving. When we talk to investors about coming to the North West, the thing we emphasise is that we're trying to create value for stakeholders – that's the surest way to encourage private sector investment.

I'm really proud that the North West has taken such a leading role in industrial decarbonisation and is innovating in number of different capacities. Our LEPs and local authorities are acting as a single voice in advocating for the North West on Net Zero to central government, they are also acting as coordinators between public and private sector project initiatives and are co-investing alongside the public sector in very targeted ways.

It's now vital that we take every opportunity to highlight what we are achieving – to set an example for local government across the UK – providing them with a blueprint for success to emulate and adapt. This way we will reach our regional and national decarbonisation goals faster, protecting the environment, creating jobs and bolstering our economies in the process.

Helena Anderson

Board member Cheshire and Warrington LEP Sustainable and Inclusive Growth Commission; Co-Founder, Ikigai Capital