Going for Green: Collaboration, Innovation and Green Growth

17 August 2020 - by Matthew Jackson

As we continue to manage the implications of a global health pandemic, focus is increasingly moving towards our rebuild and recovery efforts. Many across politics, business and the environmental sector have pointed to the potential, if not the necessity, for a green recovery.

Only seven months ago the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement committed to a suite of measures around tackling climate change and driving decarbonisation. It also outlined how a new Economic Strategy “will support clean and inclusive growth and create jobs as part of a Green New Deal”, as well as committing to a Climate Change Act.

The fallout from COVID-19 has seen Executive focus switch to crisis management, while most certainly forcing a significant rethink of the kind of policy interventions needed to grow our economy. A return to NDNA commitments, albeit through a different lens, will be done in a changed policy environment requiring decisions in both Stormont and Westminster.

Several Executive ministers have already announced their support for environmental issues. From Economy Minister Diane Dodds’ commitment to decarbonisation and pitch to make Northern Ireland a centre of excellence in hydrogen technologies, to Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon’s commitment to sustainable transport and active travel.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots has also outlined his vision of a Green Growth Strategy, illustrating a clear commitment across the Executive to actively addressing climate change.

But a green approach need not be at the expense of progress in other areas if we consider how the primacy of wellbeing can help government achieve outcomes across a range of policy areas.  

For example, the Natural Capital Account recently produced by Derry City and Strabane District Council, demonstrates the economic value of green and blue public spaces for mental wellbeing, physical health, recreation, flood risk regulation and carbon sequestration, and showing how these outcomes can be complimentary.

Therefore the concept of green growth has significant environmental, economic and social potential, and can foster the necessary conditions for economic growth while building a resilient environment.

However key to delivering this will be ensuring that government invest and support green infrastructure; whether that be through ensuring that recycled plastics are available to support businesses accessing high quality packaging materials, or hydrogen refueling stations that supply low emission buses.

To achieve this, Executive Ministers will need to not only prove their green credentials, but actively work together to maximise the opportunity that the post-COVID rebuild presents. The golden thread that will enable this to work comes back to wellbeing, and a collective commitment to this approach; if there is a common understanding of this across the Executive, the potential for a greener, healthier, fairer and more prosperous society is within our reach.