UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Green innovation should be central to economic recovery, recommends expert commission

12 January 2021

The UCL Green Innovation Policy Commission (GIPC), a high-level commission of 11 business leaders, environmental experts and academics, is urging the government to act rapidly to support jobs and meet the challenges of the UK’s legally binding net zero target.

Green Innovation Policy Commission logo

The Commission, chaired by John Cridland and directed by UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources director Professor Paul Ekins, published its final report today. The report ‘Innovation for a Green Recovery: Business and Government in Partnership’ concludes that a comprehensive, cross-government focus on green innovation, making use of all available policy levers, must be at the heart of planning for the UK’s economic recovery.

Alongside Prof Paul Ekins, UCL ISR was also represented in the GIPC by Dr Will McDowall, (Associate Professor, Deputy Director of GIPC) and Dr Michal Miedzinski (Senior Research Associate, Senior Research Associate in Eco-Innovation and Policies GIPC).

The commission looked at five sectors of the economy, analysing the drivers for green innovation, and what is holding it back, and holding a series of workshops with businesses and other experts.

Based on its findings, the commission has outlined six overarching policy priorities to unlock green innovation across the economy:

  1. A strategic framework, ensuring policy coherence across government and greater collaboration with business and civil society. This should include a new Green Innovation and Sustainability Transformation Council, chaired by the prime minister.
  2. Creating demand, including through fiscal incentives and public procurement, to accelerate the transition of novel solutions from niche to global markets.
  3. Boosting investment, by ensuring net zero and environmental goals are central to the remit of the new National Infrastructure Bank and by rebalancing public investments from R&D towards experimentation with, and the commercialisation of, new green solutions.
  4. Changing the rules of the game, using progressive and performance-based regulation to drive innovation, leveraging the UK’s strong track record in pioneering ‘regulatory sandboxes’ to establish new green innovation regulatory sandboxes.
  5. Nurturing innovation partnerships, fostering cross sectoral and place-based collaborations, supported by a government review of the capabilities and skills needed for green transformation.
  6. Making infrastructure work for a green economy, by ensuring that all infrastructure decisions align with net zero and wider environmental goals, and through greater emphasis on natural and digital infrastructure.

Professor Paul Ekins said:

Now is exactly the moment when government should be doubling down, making the most of public support for decarbonisation and the need for economic stimulus to futureproof our economy. There’s been huge progress in a small range of technologies and the government has picked its next targets, including hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. But we can’t afford to address decarbonisation a few technologies at a time, we need progress across the board, in less glamorous areas like water treatment as much as in showy new infrastructure.”

The commission's main recommendations to policy makers are also summarised in the report 'How to fast track innovation for a green industrial revolution’, written by Green Alliance.

The commission also calls on businesses to play a stronger role in the transition to a green economy. To boost green innovation, companies should embed sustainability into their corporate culture and adopt net zero commitments and delivery plans, with sector associations taking a leadership and coordination role.

The reports will be discussed in an online event ‘New solutions for a green recovery: unlocking the UK’s innovation potential’ with speakers Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP (minister of state for business, energy and clean growth), Angela Francis (chief advisor, economics and economic development, WWF-UK), John Cridland and Professor Paul Ekins.

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