On 15 July, the same day the government set out its ambitious plans for climate-changing emissions reductions, TV broadcasts featured the imminent closure of one of the UK's few wind-turbine manufacturing facilities. Owned by Denmark-based Vestas, the closure of the Isle of Wight turbine blade plant was a tragic blow to the firm's 625 employees. It was also symbolic of the setbacks that have for years dogged the development of cleantech firms in the UK.
Even oil majors with vast research and development budgets have scaled back their modest commitments to clean energy. BP has gone from "beyond petroleum" back to oil, and Shell has gone in the same direction. Its decision to withdraw from the £2bn Thames Array offshore wind farm (the world's largest) marked a massive downscaling in that company's green ambitions. Meanwhile, both BP and Shell have invested billions in the environmentally disastrous tar sands developments in Canada. So what is going wrong?
The inconvenient truth is that aspirational targets and the market on their own cannot deliver. Serious official intervention is also needed in the form of clear, significant and sustained financial incentives alongside regulatory action across all countries. Market mechanisms can certainly play their part but need to be backed up. Look at Denmark and Germany, where renewable power has rapidly expanded.
From encouragement for landowners to favourable planning laws, from tax breaks to feed-in tariffs that transform the economics of renewable energy systems, governments have intervened to elevate the level playing field in favour of clean technologies. As a result, these and other countries have seen a dramatic expansion in more sustainable technologies.
The point has been made repeatedly by British ministers on how we can create jobs in a greener economy. Yet when the real choices are made, this obvious joining-up of policy at best remains weak. A survey for HSBC bank on the strength of green policies in the various stimulus packages that followed the recent financial crisis showed how the UK was again far down in the international league table. Only 7% of the UK's economic stimulus package was judged to be "green", compared with 69% (Korea) and 34% (China).
While the speeches have at times been inspirational, cleantech companies in the UK have been backed with derisory financial incentives and householders have had to make financial sacrifices to install green energy systems. Even the social scandal of fuel poverty has continued, due to lack of public finances to improve the energy efficiency of our wasteful housing stock - and yet solving this problem could generate tens of thousands of construction-sector jobs.
In recent months, and following the passage of the 2008 Climate Change Act, there has been a detectable change in the tone of government ministers. There is apparently more determination. It is, however, too late and of little comfort for the workers at Vestas. We've been big on speeches but still failed to come forward with the joined-up policies that will simultaneously cut emissions, create jobs and drive innovation.
In a world of diminishing natural resources, rapid environmental change and social challenges borne of economic crisis, this is - to put it mildly - quite an oversight. This top 100 list shows plenty of innovation and ideas exist in Britain that need support and finance. As time runs out to correct climate change, it is vital that this opportunity is taken to correct these past mistakes.
Originally published by The Guardian.