UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


UK Manufacturing needs urgent financing to reach net zero

14 October 2021

UK manufacturing needs to be prepared to take urgent action in order to achieve net zero by 2050, according to new research undertaken by UCL, with support from HSBC UK today.

Industrial machinery with sparks flying

The report, Net Zero Manufacturing in the UK: Options and Challenges for the Biggest Emitting Sectors, led by Dr Matthew Winning and Dr Catherine Willan, from the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, examines the importance of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases in the steel, cement and chemicals sectors.

While these energy-intensive industries are vital to the UK economy, manufacturing accounts for 12% of overall greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, with steel, cement and chemicals accounting for half of that overall figure.

With increased pressure to decarbonise fully, the UK target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, has fundamentally altered what is required in terms of the scale and pace of change in manufacturing.

Emissions from UK manufacturing have already declined by an impressive 57% since 1990, as a result of energy intensity improvements, fuel switching, alongside changes to the structure of UK industry.

Building on this progress will require transformational changes to develop a long-term solution. Steel, cement and chemicals manufacturing is going to have to undergo significant structural change to hit the net zero targets.

To make the UK an attractive place for low carbon manufacturing, will require swift and close collaboration between Government, British business and financial services to unlock the innovation and investment needed.

With global momentum behind decarbonisation, the UK needs to establish a leadership position and become attractive for low-carbon inward investment. If decarbonisation proceeds elsewhere more quickly, the UK would find it increasingly difficult to sell its steel, cement and chemicals.

Dr Matthew Winning, Research Fellow at UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources and lead author of the study, said: 

Manufacturing will play a fundamental role in the UK's net zero transition. Moving the production of sectors such as steel, cement and chemicals away from fossil fuels and towards low-carbon and more circular processes, is an enormous but important and essential undertaking. This report details what approaches may be taken as well as discussing a number of key challenges, and the opportunity to forge ahead, by working in partnership with Government, the manufacturing sector and financial services.”