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EXPERT VOICES: Matthew Pencharz, Environment and Political Advisor to the Mayor of London

“There is no contradiction between being resource efficient and fostering economic growth and jobs,” Pencharz writes of his city’s growing low carbon and environmental goods and services sector.

In the last month atmospheric CO2 levels have passed the symbolic 400 parts per million mark. And in the past year a series of natural disasters — from Hurricane Sandy on the Eastern Seaboard, to Moscow’s heat wave and the floods in Bangkok, Jakarta and Buenos Aires — have brought home the need to both reduce our CO2 emissions and adapt to a changing climate and the more frequent extreme weather it will bring.

As Western economies continue to struggle, and the need for governments to reduce their budget deficits endures, policy decisions are often being driven, understandably, by short-term cost considerations. To get a return to growth, however, it is absolutely vital that the economic benefits and opportunities — both immediate and long-term — of the low carbon and environmental goods and services sector are recognized and understood by policy makers. There is no contradiction between being resource efficient and fostering economic growth and jobs. The growing low carbon and environmental goods and services market can play an important role in helping to diversify our industrial base, moving us beyond an age of austerity into an age of innovation and enterprise.

The United Kingdom has been suffering severe economic difficulties for almost half a decade. While the majority of sectors have at best remained flat or contracted, the low carbon and environmental goods and services sector has continued to grow at a healthy average rate of 5 percent a year. This sector is now worth £25.4 billion to London alone and employs 160,000 people in over 9,000 businesses, and is expected to continue to grow even faster by up to an average of 7 percent a year to 2020.

Cities play a vital role in further stimulating demand for this market by setting policy frameworks and targets that move us toward a resource efficient economy that delivers increased but sustainable prosperity for our residents. For example, the Mayor of London has set a target of reducing CO2 emissions by 60 percent, from a 1990 baseline, by 2025 and has established a series of programs in buildings retrofit, decentralized energy, and transport to help deliver these savings.

The Mayor is also leading on the climate change adaptation agenda. London was the first city to publish a strategy to manage climate risks better, increase our resilience to climate change, and seize the market opportunities that become available by addressing these challenges. London is the home of some of the world’s leading architects, engineers, project managers and the best finance, insurance and reinsurance companies. We want London to become the ‘one-stop shop’ for climate services — providing a range of the skills and services that the world needs to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Addressing climate change is one of the most serious challenges we face. But in these challenges lie great economic opportunities. The global market in low carbon and environmental goods and services was worth around £3.5 trillion last year and is growing rapidly. The Mayor wants to ensure that London is best placed to capture as much of that as possible to create the jobs and economic growth we need to get London — and the UK — out of our current economic difficulties.