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Leadership at last on global warming

David Fowler MIStructE, Editor

Editor. David Fowler MIStructE

In early May the Committee on Climate Change issued its call for the UK to adopt a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, and stressed that the government needed to intensify its planning and policies to achieve that.
A week later technology giant Bosch announced it would become carbon neutral worldwide 30 years earlier – by next year (see News). This will make it the first major industrial enterprise to reach that goal.
The move has been made possible through a multi-stranded strategy of buying renewable energy – as well as generating its own on some sites – and a long-term policy of improving energy efficiency.
Over the next year it will reach net zero emissions by buying more green electricity and compensating for “unavoidable” CO2 emissions through carbon offsets.
It’s possible to quibble about the offsetting element: long-term, planting more trees can only make a marginal contribution to combating global warming. Bosch doesn’t publish the extent of the offsetting, though it says it will “scale back” offsets up to 2030.
But its intent and leadership must be applauded. The move will incur additional costs of €1bn up to 2030. In addition Bosch will invest €1bn in energy efficiency over the same period, which it expects will pay for itself by saving an equivalent amount.
Bosch is no doubt not acting solely out of altruistic motives. Clearly it will have calculated that there are benefits to the business to be gained by taking this path. Long-term, it can be argued that the survival of the company is at stake, but in the shorter term increased efficiency of its operations (via a strategy which will also include monitoring the power consumption of the individual machines in its plants) will produce a commercial benefit.
Nevertheless the company has shown commendable realism as well as leadership by its action.
Climate change has been acknowledged worldwide as an urgent threat at least since the UN convened the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Yet too often the response from governments and industry alike has been to ask: where is the gain by being the first to move, and will I not be put at a competitive disadvantage? Governments have set targets and failed to follow them through with policies strong enough to achieve them. Businesses have waited for others to make the first move.
Bosch has concluded that the goal of carbon neutrality is achievable and that, overall, its business can benefit – from the efficiency savings, and, not insignificantly, in reputational terms.
It may be a matter of regret that it has taken so long to reach this point. But Bosch’s move is to be welcomed. The most important question is: now Bosch has shown the way, who will be next?

Time to tackle the missing middle

The engineering skills shortage has been a matter of concern as long as anyone cares to remember, but the new report to the government from the Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel, chaired by Dr Philip Augar, sheds new light on an important contributory factor to shortages at technician level (page 16).
The panel (whose remit was limited to England) turns the spotlight on a gap in educational provision and achievement which it calls “the missing middle”.
After A-level, the number of students going on to study at the higher technical level – HNC, HND, BTEC diplomas and the like, usually at colleges of further education – is in long-term decline. The further education sector has suffered from decades of neglect under successive governments – with a “steep, steady decline in funding”. Uniquely among the international competition, in England the number studying of technical and vocational skills at sub-degree level is small and declining.
The report finds that the decline has been the (largely unintentional) result of government policies dating back at least to the late 1980s, and in particular the different funding regimes covering the further and higher education sectors. Addressing the disparity is not just a matter of fairness but is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals and the country at large, the panel says. It makes a series of proposals for reform, especially to the funding of the FE sector, which the government should accept and act on without delay.