Opinion: We can't slow down the race to net zero

Professor John Latham CBE, Coventry University Vice-Chancellor

Professor John Latham CBE, Coventry University Vice-Chancellor

University news / Opinion

Wednesday 27 September 2023

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Following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's announcement to push back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035, Coventry University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor John Latham CBE discusses what this means for the automotive industry and explains how Coventry University Group (CUG) is contributing to a sustainable future.

Industrial delays, market uncertainty, reputational damage. These are just a few examples of the potential fallout caused by the government's recent announcement to postpone the ban on purchasing new petrol and diesel cars until 2035. The original announcement proposing a 2030 deadline may have seemed a little optimistic, however, the decision to formally delay this ruling could have significant consequences on the automotive industry in this country. The window for opportunity is quickly closing and we must act now if we are to have the materials and industry in place for a successful clean future.

Electric vehicles are of course a part of this, but they are not the one-size-fits-all solution the government may suggest. There is so much more at play here and, through our cutting-edge research, pioneering innovation and strategic partnerships, Coventry University Group is determined to deliver global clean growth opportunities that have a local impact.

This starts and ends with people. We need smart and innovative individuals with the right skills and capabilities to research, design and implement the solutions of tomorrow. As a global education group, we are helping support this in a multitude of ways - with undergraduate education being one of the most important aspects. At the heart of this is delivering subjects designed to help find solutions to major world challenges, including clean growth. Whether it’s an Electrical and Electronic Engineering course from our Future Transport Engineering school or a Bachelor’s in Renewable Energy within our Energy, Construction and Environment school, we’re ensuring that our graduates are equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in a cleaner future.

This education takes place not only within the walls of the university. Continuing Professional Development (CPD), allows us to deliver hands-on training as we upskill the current generation of engineers. One example of this is our partnership with JLR, where we're providing a pilot training scheme teaching the vital skills that underpin electric vehicle development as the company focuses on the future. And it’s not just the current workforce we are supporting. Through apprenticeship initiatives, like South Essex Advanced Technical Skills (SEATS), we are delivering high-quality education to increase the capabilities of residents and address the skills gap in the local area in the context of the automotive industry.

Our strategic partnerships support our work in enterprise development, local growth and regeneration. In the past few months alone, we have partnered with several notable groups to deliver clean growth and sustainability initiatives in the communities that we serve. Our work with the National Centre for Accessible Transport is focussed on how we can change the face of transport for people with disabilities and ensure that it is accessible and sustainable for future generations. We also collaborated with the Connected Places Catapult to help launch the Clean Futures programme, which forms part of the wider West Midlands Innovation Accelerator.

At our annual Chancellor’s Dinner last week, keynote speaker Dr. Andy Palmer, CEO of PodPoint and Chair of InoBat, HiLo and Brill Power remarked that:

“Universities are the think tanks, the incubators, the launch pads for the next generation.”

Transcending everything we do, whether that is innovative teaching or developing strategic partnerships, is the critical role we play as collaborators in research. We cannot afford to have blind spots when discussing themes like clean growth and net zero and I am proud that our research encapsulates much more than just electric vehicles. We have one of the largest clean mobility project portfolios in the country and our experts in the E-Mobility and Clean Growth, Manufacturing and Materials and Future Transport and Cities research centres were able to highlight these at the Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle event in September. From hydrogen power to smart cells and lithium batteries, we are developing a wide range of solutions to reduce carbon emissions and support a sustainable future.

Dr Palmer said we had ‘sat on our hands for too long’ when discussing the UK’s approach to securing the future of the automotive industry. The government's decision to apply the brakes has not been well received by an industry which needs certainty, plans years ahead and supports 800,000 jobs in the UK. At Coventry University Group, we are putting our foot on the accelerator and through our teaching excellence, strategic partnerships and research collaborations, we will continue to deliver innovative solutions for a cleaner tomorrow.