Drax urges UK to seize the opportunities to build a zero carbon economy – Drax Group Director of Corporate Affairs Clare Harbord’s speech to the British Chambers of Commerce

Speaking at the British Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference in London on Thursday March 5, 2020, Clare Harbord Drax Group Director of Corporate Affairs

Thank you very much it’s a pleasure to be here again. We meet today in extraordinary times.

Britain is forging a new relationship with countries around the world following our departure from the EU; The climate emergency is gathering pace; with unprecedented weather conditions facing people and business across the country, including on our doorstep at Drax Power Station in Yorkshire. And now we have the Coronavirus – which risks unleashing a medical emergency right around the globe and has already wiped billions off global stock markets. 2020 is set to be a challenging year for British businesses up and down the country.

But it will also, we believe, be a pivotal year for Britain in achieving its net zero emissions targets; Despite all of the challenges we face – this is a year of great opportunity for British business to take the lead in tackling the climate crisis and build a zero-carbon economy. Last week, in a landmark move for Britain’s energy transition, Drax announced that we would stop using coal to generate power after nearly 50 years. We will do so 4 years ahead of the current Government deadline of 2025.

For generations, Drax has been at the heart of Britain’s energy system. We are a strategic national asset, supplying secure, reliable power to more than six million homes and businesses in the North. But we understood a long time ago that coal no longer had a place in our energy system.

So we have embarked on the biggest decarbonisation journey in Europe, transforming the majority of our Power Station at Drax from coal to sustainably sourced, renewable biomass.

 We’ve cut our carbon emissions by more than 85% – further and faster than any other energy company in Europe. Today, more than 90% of the power generated by Drax is renewable – allowing businesses like yours to choose power that is both reliable and renewable. But at Drax, we won’t stop there.  We want to go further.

That’s why we announced our ambition to be carbon negative by 2030. In fact, Drax was the first company in the world to announce this ambition at the UN climate change conference in Madrid last year.

Since then, Microsoft – and many others – have followed us with similar pledges.

Let me tell you how we will get there. We are using pioneering British technology to capture carbon from bioenergy. In doing so, we are taking carbon out of the atmosphere and creating negative emissions.

Today, we are already capturing one tonne of carbon per day, but with the right investment we could be capturing up to 16 million tonnes every year. Think of that – negative emissions. On a huge scale. The UN and Committee on Climate Change tell us negative emissions will be vital if the UK is to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This is an exciting opportunity for Drax and the UK. And It is also a huge opportunity for British businesses and communities in the North, too.

At Drax, we are working with businesses from around the country to explore how to use carbon in new ways. We’re working with Econic – a cleantech company – to remove oil from plastic production. We’re working with Deep Branch Bio to create proteins that feed animals and plants. And we’re having discussions with airlines and Heathrow about decarbonising the aviation industry with renewable jet fuel.

Scaling up our carbon capture project will help the UK’s biggest industrialists in the Humber reduce their emissions and continue to prosper.  A Zero Carbon Humber by 2040 – that is our vision. This would transform the economic outlook of the region, which already contributes £18bn towards the UK economy each year and supports over 55,000 manufacturing jobs alone.

By decarbonising the region, we will protect the businesses that form part of the supply chain for energy intensive industries, as well as establishing new ones. Not since the first industrial revolution has the Humber had this world leading opportunity.

Our vision is to put the Humber – the UK’s most carbon intensive industrial region – back on the global stage as an example to the rest of the world of climate leadership in action, creating green jobs and clean growth.

We are working with academics at leading universities who are helping to create new businesses, new innovations and new products. Through forging these partnerships, we can protect and grow new supply chains to support the green economy.

Next week the Chancellor is due to deliver his first budget. This is the first major opportunity for government to demonstrate its commitment to ‘levelling up’ the economy by investing in infrastructure in the North and tackling the climate emergency. Our message to the Chancellor is clear – support for the Zero Carbon Humber project will help secure the future of our biggest industrial cluster and put the UK on the map as a global leader in the fight against climate change.

At the heart of our ambition to decarbonise the Humber are jobs and businesses. We must ensure people are equipped with the skills they need for the green jobs of the future.

That’s why we are spearheading a Zero Carbon Skills Taskforce, which will bring together employers, government, unions, academia and others to ensure that the journey to net zero provides jobs for the future.

Right now the future seems challenging and uncertain. But at Drax we are optimistic. We know that with the right support we can meet our climate targets and boost our economy at the same time.

We can help build workforces that are equipped to meet the demands of a green economy by boosting skills and opportunity.

And as Britain seeks to secure its place in the world – we can  seize the opportunities of infrastructure and new technology investment that will put our country and our businesses at the heart of a global green economy.

Thank you.