I am delighted to launch the first call for proposals for the Sustainable Technologies Initiative.
Sustainable development is the most pressing issue we face both as a nation and as a global community. Ensuring prosperity without destroying our natural resources - without altering the earth's natural balance irreversibly - is the challenge government, business and society has to address.
However, the challenge of sustainable development should not be seen as a threat to business. Rather as an opportunity. And it is science and technology which is the key to preserving the environment and delivering new opportunities for prosperity. Scientific and technological advance can begin to square the circle of growth and sustainability.
Too often people regard science and engineering as the cause of environmental degradation. I believe the reverse is true. It is the scientists and engineers who will provide solutions to environmental problems and create a basis for new commercial opportunities. Only by using our science and engineering skills will we realistically be able to deliver a sustainable future.
Let me give an example of what I mean. The hole in the ozone layer was, of course, discovered by science. In the 1970s, three chemists, Rowland and Molina in the USA and Crutzen in Germany (who shared the Nobel Prize 3 years ago), demonstrated that CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) used in, for example, refrigerators and aerosols, can cause the breakdown of ozone when they disperse into the stratosphere. This sounded alarm bells and led to discussions about the need to phase out CFCs.
Then in the 1980's, Joe Farman at the British Antarctic Survey, first produced unequivocal proof that stratospheric ozone is depleted over the Antarctic. The quantity of ozone is now 40% of the levels in the 1960's. Similar depletion is also occurring over the northern hemisphere, with springtime levels of ozone down by 20-30% in recent years.
Farman's observation, together with the known chemical mechanism, were crucial pieces of evidence that led to the signing of the Montreal Protocol on phasing out CFCs. The replacement of CFCs has also relied on science to produce alternative solutions to refrigeration and other uses.
It is imperative that we begin to make more productive use of environmental resources, and cut waste and pollution. If we are to continue to grow, and share the benefits of that growth, we must reduce the impact of growth on the environment. Businesses must improve their environmental productivity. That means getting the most out of finite resources, maximising our use of renewable resources and minimising waste. It means designing waste out.
This is certainly good for the environment. But it makes good business sense - improving efficiency, cutting production costs, reducing dependency on increasingly expensive finite resources. New technologies, better design, new processes, new ways of doing things will mean major increases in economic output per unit of energy, materials or land. And that means competitive advantage for business.
Cutting-edge science and new technology is essential to improving environmental productivity. As Minister for Science, I believe that science has a major contribution to play in identifying and solving environmental problems. Science contributes in four ways, by: detecting change in the environment; diagnosing why change is taking place; suggesting solutions, through this diagnosis, for solving environmental problems; and defining the boundaries of uncertainty in our understanding of the environment and reducing this uncertainty
New technologies create new jobs. By achieving our environmental objectives we can improve quality of life, strengthen the science base and open up new job opportunities.
The challenge of sustainability is to turn what appear to be threats to competitiveness into new opportunities, to create new markets, develop new products, redesign processes, increase company competitiveness, reduce the use of raw materials.
Many businesses already recognise this and have made environmental considerations part of their mainstream business activity. Companies large and small have a part to play. Large companies also have influence through the supply chain, creating a multiplier effect.
With the added skills of the science community, we can not only protect the environment, but also ensure that British business wins in world markets. Creating jobs and prosperity. As the Prime Minister said in his recent speech on the environment, we can be richer by being greener.
There are large new markets to be won in environmental services. We must aim to be among the front runners in the green industrial revolution. The global market for environmental goods and services is currently estimated at 335 billion US dollars - comparable with the world markets for either pharmaceuticals or aerospace - and is forecast to grow to 640 billion dollars by 2010.
As the department for business, DTI has a key role to play in achieving this goal. Looking at how the environmental and wider sustainability agendas can create new business opportunities. Working with business to improve environmental productivity.
Last month, Stephen Byers in a speech to the Greenpeace Business Conference set out a radical new green industrial policy.
It is about creating an innovative, highly competitive and resource efficient economy that delivers continually improving quality of life and prosperity for everyone.
Harnessing innovation and enterprise to develop commercially viable internationally competitive solutions to environmental problems.
And creating the environmentally and socially sustainable industries of the future.
DTI?s Sustainable Development Strategy sets out our priorities in taking this agenda forward and de-coupling economic growth from its unsustainable impacts on the environment and people. The Sustainable Technologies Initiative represents an important step in working towards this goal by bringing business and the science base together to drive step-changes in resource productivity.
Bringing together industry and academia to succeed is the essence of LINK Programmes. The larger part of the Sustainable Technologies Initiative is a LINK Programme, supported by my Department and the EPSRC. But there is also additional funding from my Department, a DTI-only element which need not include academia. It is, though, still intended to support work of a collaborative nature. In total, this Programme is worth at least £30 million over five years.
The Prime Minister called for a new partnership between government, business and environmental groups. He called for a new coalition to 'work with the grain of consumers, business and science and not against them'.
As the Prime Minister said, government, business, the science base and environmental groups need to move forward together. With this in mind we have set up the new Sustainable Development Commission, chaired by Jonathan Porritt. It gives me great pleasure to see Jonathan here today supporting this Initiative. I am equally pleased to see that Forum for the Future is represented on this Programme's Management Committee, along with experts from the business community and academia. The Sustainable Technologies Initiative is not the final answer to the need for a coalition approach, but is an exciting first step. Targeted research is the key to ensuring that Britain is at the cutting edge of new sustainable technologies.
Science, technology and business thus have a crucial role to play in ensuring sustainable development. There must be an active dialogue between government, industry and environmental NGOs to make sure that realistic advances are able to be achieved. We must work hard at discovering the new technologies, ensuring good science, and challenging business to develop the new environmental markets. Across the world businesses, government, consumers and citizens must begin to act. We're beginning to do just that.