UK must look to chemical sector to lead the world in sustainable growth

Posted on 4 Dec 2019 by The Manufacturer

A vision for how Britain can become the leader on delivering sustainable growth has been set out in a new manifesto published by the country’s largest manufacturing exporter, the chemical and pharmaceutical sector.

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry contributes more than £19bn to the UK economy every year.

The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) has positioned itself at the “heart” of the UK’s future environmental, social and economic performance, in a series of policy proposals for government.

Britain At Work outlines what the CIA deems the “current global challenges” around innovation, education and skills, energy and climate change, and regional and international trade arrangements, recommending a host of ways the chemical sector can lead in generating new business opportunities.

“The current global challenges are huge in areas such as population growth, demand for food, water, and healthcare.

But these also present an opportunity for business to show what we can do, and the chemical sector is right at the heart of this,” said the association’s chief executive, Steve Elliott.

“Not only now do our member companies have sustainability at the centre of their agenda, but for all time – our companies have made the very products and materials to meet the continuing expectations of society.”

“CIA member firms manufacture lightweight plastics, high-performance catalysts and new battery materials that contribute towards more sustainable mobility by lowering emissions and increasing resource efficiency, and those companies are responsible for technologies to increase renewable energy output by enabling longer wind turbine blades and anti-reflective materials for solar panels,” he added.

Britain At Work: Chemicals – the industry of industries

The world’s population will reach 8.5 billion by 2030, CIA claims. Around 60% of people will live in cities, there will be 2 billion cars on the road, the demand for food and water will have increased by 40% and there will be a need for 50% more primary energy,.

“These are huge challenges – especially when set alongside the commitment to tackle climate change through ambitious decarbonisation – but they are also enormous opportunities that can only be embraced by manufacturing nations underpinned by strong and competitive chemical and chemistry-using industries,” the report notes.

“If the UK is serious about taking a global leadership position – both in terms of responsibility and opportunity opposite these big societal challenges – then we believe that is only possible through a strong and effective partnership with business, which begins here at home,” it adds.

What the manifesto recommends:

  • Transformational Co-operation – As Britain prepares to leave the EU, there has never been a “more critical time” for the UK chemical industry and government “to work together to deliver chemistry-enabled growth over the next decade.”
  • The Chemical Industry and Brexit – An early decision for whoever is in power after the General Election must be to deliver a relationship with the European Union that ensures frictionless trade, regulatory consistency and alignment, and access to skilled people
  • Policy and Regulation – As the UK considers its relationship with the EU and the rest of the world, the CIA urges government to design policy solutions based on “scientific assessment and robust evidence”; coordinate policy across the UK that “ensures environmental, health, social and economic impacts are taken into consideration”; ensure that the impact on innovation is fully assessed whenever policy decisions are taken; and to safeguard the expertise and experience of key regulatory bodies from resource constraints

“Our manifesto is an open invitation to government and society to engage with us and explore together how Britain can lead the way on sustainable growth,” said Elliott.

The UK chemical industry in numbers

UK Chemical Industry Chemicals Science Research Laboratory - image courtesy of Depositphotos
For every tonne of greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted, its products and technologies enable more than two tonnes of GHG emissions savings

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry adds £19.2bn of value to the UK economy each year from a £55.5bn annual turnover

The sector contributes to the UK economy by leading many manufacturing supply chains and its employment of a workforce numbering 500,000.

Chemical manufacturing annually adds an estimated £10bn in gross value to the UK economy, and pharmaceutical manufacturing around £8bn

The wider chemical and pharmaceutical sector (manufacturing plus distribution) is the largest exporter of manufactured goods with annual exports of more than £55bn

63% of companies export what they make, the highest proportion of any goods manufacturing sector in the UK economy. 60% of exports go to the EU and 75% of imports and raw materials come from the same source

The sector’s average level of business investment is around £5bn (automotive £3.6bn and aerospace £1.5bn), while the expenditure on R&D is £5bn (automotive £2.7bn and aerospace £2.1bn)
The products and technologies of the chemical industry are essential parts of medicines, food and drink, telecommunications, energy-saving, IT and clothing

For every tonne of greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted, its products and technologies enable more than two tonnes of GHG emissions savings

By Rory Butler, Staff Journalist

*Images courtesy of Depositphotos