To adapt or mitigate: that is the question

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I don’t know what the collective noun is for a group of low carbon initiatives but 2009 saw an absolute profusion of them. I’m willing to believe that they were sufficiently far ahead of the general election for them to be genuine rather than headline and vote grabbing parts of the election machinery.

Of course, the legal nature of the global targets that HMG has signed up to focuses the mind of policy makers and there has been relatively little party political posturing on it: partly I suspect because of its sensitive nature generally, and partly because there is a genuine generational divide in the way we look at climate change and its remedies. The political gamble of wrong positioning has of course been exacerbated by the media frenzy surrounding the probity of some of the scientific community involved in the subject.

The focusing of the “HMG mind” has led to initiatives from DfT, BIS, Defra and DECC, to name but a few. To be fair, there is increasing evidence of joined-up thinking with BIS taking a lead. The devolved administrations also have clear angles on low carbon for the same reasons but I am yet to see very clear evidence of the joined-up thinking stretching that far, beyond “joint meetings” at this stage. Unsurprisingly for regular readers of this column, I believe there to be a very clear skills element to HMG’s drive to low carbon. However, much of the part that skills development can play in the “Big Low Carbon Picture” is being wasted through the focus that government departments are putting on the subject.

Let me explain. The drive towards a sustainable future was rebranded during 2009 as a drive towards a low carbon economy. Previous HMG policy and initiatives were focused on two areas: the development of a case and capability for nuclear power and the general development of renewable energy sources.

Various estimates have been forthcoming of 60,000 new jobs in this exciting promised land in the future. In the skills arena, there is much debate as to whether this is ever to be the case. Will they be completely new jobs with new competence devised from scratch or will there be an evolution of the skills of current employees to meet those roles.

We have been repeatedly making the point to government policy makers that this approach is forcing us into what I’ve termed “step change thinking” where the big sexy breakthroughs are being targeted for 2030 and 2050. If skills thinking follows the same pattern, there is a very real danger of missing the opportunity over the coming decade to deliver a lower carbon economy on the ground.

The transport sector as a whole currently contributes some 21 per cent of UK emissions, with freight accounting for around a third of that (seven per cent of total). If we very conservatively add on the contribution of warehousing to that we can estimate (because it makes the maths easy) the overall contribution to be ten per cent – now – today and tomorrow and the day after.

DfT, in its low carbon strategy published last July, makes a strong case for eco-driving as a route to delivering carbon savings. We believe that can be built on through a series of low carbon demonstration supply chains to show the extent of potential savings through better supply chain management and, crucially, collaboration both within and between supply chains. Following these approaches, we can start reducing the ten per cent tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, without waiting for a step change in 2030 and beyond. Furthermore, in so doing, we are truly laying a sound foundation for the low carbon economy that the logistics sector will serve.

Our persistence on this point with HMG appears to have paid off. My understanding is that going forward, there are two new terms about to enter the HMG low carbon lexicon: Adaptation and Mitigation. The long term, step change thinking approaches will be corralled under mitigation while Adaptation will cover what you may refer to as the “greening of current behaviour and jobs” and the emergence of new roles that are critical to making a low carbon economy tick.

As is often the case, we can learn from other economies with more advanced thinking. In this case, Australia seems to be ahead of the curve in its institutional adoption of low carbon. Our equivalent in Australia, The Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Council, recently commissioned a study looking at both emergent job roles and emergent skills in the move towards low carbon logistics.

We have just replicated that survey among the members of our employer forums and they are due to publish the findings any time now. There is no doubt that we need a dual approach to developing a low carbon economy and I feel that we are at last starting to address the evolutionary approach through skills development rather than sitting back and waiting for a revolution.

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