Ed Cox
Ed Cox West Midlands Combined Authority
Coventry
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Outreach & Collaboration
West Midlands Combined Authority's Director of Inclusive Growth and Public Service Reform, Ed Cox, lays out why our International Net Zero Local Leadership Conference is a huge opportunity ahead of the UK’s Presidency of COP26.

The West Midlands was the crucible of the first industrial revolution: developing new technologies that would transform the lives of people across the globe. But it also led to social inequalities and a transformation in our relationship with the planet as, unchecked, we began to over-exploit the world’s finite resources. 

So, as the home of the green industrial revolution, the West Midlands is playing its part in not only protecting the planet, but also helping it recover. The green industrial revolution will similarly transform our daily lives, leading to incredible economic growth and new, green, jobs. This time, we must make sure that no one is left behind, and that everyone plays a role, benefits and prospers. 

As a combined authority, we have not only set out our ambitions around net zero but also developed a clear route map for achieving them. This will include bold action to retrofit nearly 300,000 homes, enhance our transport systems, and implement smart energy solutions to tackle the inefficiencies in the energy market. But we will never achieve our goal without our communities, universities, utility companies, nature-based organisations, and of course the fantastic businesses that make up our low carbon economy, playing their part in that journey. 

The West Midlands is already the manufacturing centre of the UK – and as the transport sector looks to decarbonise, our business and research institutions will be at the forefront of providing solutions to meet that goal. Our automotive sector, with the likes of Jaguar Land Rover and LEVC, is already driving innovation in electric vehicles – from private cars, to buses and lorries – underpinned by advanced battery storage technology and recycling at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre. The region is also home to cutting edge research into rail, alternative propulsion methods, including hydrogen and biofuels, and even maritime technology. The future of mobility truly lies here.

Whilst the West Midlands may not be a primary source of renewable energy, it is a key player in the supply chain to all wind, solar PV and biomass power: from turbine control systems at Osmium to vertical blade development at McCumley’s. Even more importantly, is our focus on whole system and ‘smart energy’ solutions – focusing not just on generation but on the effective and efficient management of supply and demand through place-based solutions, as being pioneered in the RESO (Regional Energy Systems Operator) demonstrator in Coventry or at Birmingham’s Tyseley Energy Park.

Combining iron, water and steam was the catalyst for the first industrial revolution in the 18th century. We must use 21st century solutions for ours: designing out obsolescence at source, remanufacturing and recycling to deliver a truly ‘circular economy’ and maximising digital opportunities such as the 5G test-bed housed here in the West Midlands.

We know we can’t do it alone. With colleagues across the country and with central government, we will together harness the power of the public sector to create the net zero marketplace; the intellectual capital of our research institutions to develop new solutions; and the innovation and entrepreneurship of our businesses to turn that into tangible action.

And we know we can’t do it without greater freedom to act and higher levels of investment. That is why we are taking the opportunity as we gather local leaders from around the world, to call upon government to reset the relationship with local and regional leaders and to give places like the West Midlands more control and more resource to forge the path to net zero and to maximise the economic opportunities along the way. The industrial revolution was fired up by our great municipal leaders of the past, and so the green industrial revolution must be driven by our local leaders once again.

That’s why the International Net Zero Local Leadership Summit and Conference in Birmingham on 13 July is so important – to seize the opportunity of the UK’s Presidency of COP26 to reset our race to net zero. I hope you’ll join us in the home of the green industrial revolution.