The UK Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change has written to the Prime Minister urging him to focus on low-carbon work programmes after the Coronavirus lockdown as part of the drive to restart the economy and get people back to work. The committee believes that taking action to cut greenhouse gas emissions is “integral” to the UK’s recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic. The advisers are also asking for retraining programmes that provide people with skills such as installing low-carbon heating, energy and water efficiency, and flood protection for homes.
The committee advised the Prime Minister that a good place to start would be to make people’s homes ready for winter, creating new jobs through schemes to insulate houses, while tree-planting could begin, and flood barriers be constructed.
They also proposed that there should be more investment in broadband and the creation of additional space for walking and cycling as part of the “green” package rather than building more roads.
All these programmes are considered by the advisers to have multiple benefits from generating new jobs to protecting the climate and ensuring a fairer economy for everyone. It was also thought that government money could be used to encourage advances in science and innovation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future.
The committee’s chairman Lord Deben said:
“The Covid-19 crisis has shown the importance of planning well for the risks the country faces. Recovery means investing in new jobs, cleaner air, and improved health. The actions needed to tackle climate change are central to rebuilding our economy. The Government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions.”
Lord Deben, and the chair of the sub-committee on adaptation, Lady Brown added:
“Actions towards net-zero emissions and to limit the damages from climate change will help rebuild the UK with a stronger economy and increased resilience”.
The committee emphasised the importance of rescue packages for carbon-intensive sectors saying that to avoid locking in high emissions for the future it “should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change”.
The chairs advised that fairness should be a “core principle” of any recovery saying that:
“The crisis has exacerbated existing inequalities and … the response to the pandemic has disproportionately affected the same lower-income groups and younger people who face the largest long-term impacts of climate change. The benefits of acting on climate change must be shared widely and the costs must not burden those who are least able to pay, or whose livelihoods are most at risk as the economy changes. It is important that the lost or threatened jobs of today should be replaced by those created by the new resilient economy.”
It is not only the Government’s advisory committee that is pushing for this action. More than 200 UK businesses across energy, finance and other industry sectors have signed a letter making a strong case for the current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government to deliver a clean, all-encompassing, and strong coronavirus recovery plan. Interestingly, top executives from Iceland, Ben & Jerry’s, and The Body Shop, have also added their names to the appeal for the government to embrace a green recovery.
Support has been offered by Chief Executives from across the UK economy to help the government to tackle the pandemic. They are calling for the UK leader to provide “clear vision” as they undertake the recovery process, in a way that aligns with the UK’s wider social, environmental and climate goals.
In the letter the signatories stated that the endeavour to “rescue and repair” the economy in response to the current crisis “can and should be aligned” with the UK’s legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
Signatories include Eon UK’s Michael Lewis, Engie’s Nicola Lovett, Glennmont Partners’ Joost Bergsma, London Pensions Fund Authority’s Robert Branagh, National Grid’s John Pettigrew, Ramboll’s Mathew Riley, SSE’s Alistair Phillips-Davies, The Climate Group’s Helen Clarkson, ScottishPower’s Keith Anderson, and Shell UK chair Sinead Lynch. These CEOs and managing directors come from firms spanning industry sectors which include banking and investing, construction, retail, manufacturing as well as energy.
The letter stated:
“With the UK facing major economic and social concerns including the risk of high unemployment and rising regional inequality, we believe that an ambitious low carbon growth and environmental improvement agenda can do a lot to address these concerns, as well as make the UK economy better prepared to deal with future shocks such as those related to climate change. The current crisis, in moving us all away from business-as-usual, has already created shifts in how we operate, and we believe we must use the recovery to accelerate the transition to net zero. Efforts to rescue and repair the economy in response to the current crisis can and should be aligned with the UK’s legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.”
The signatories want a plan to be devised that “drives investment” in low carbon innovation, infrastructure and industries as well as working towards mitigating future environmental risks with greater attention given to sectors and activities that can “best support” sustainable growth, increased job creation and expedite both the recovery and the decarbonisation of the economy.
Within the financial support packages, they want “measures to ensure receiving businesses are well managed and their strategies are science-based and aligned with national climate goals”.
They believe in the UK’s climate leadership and are asking for “continued ambition” to drive action towards next year’s COP26 summit and the G7, which will both be hosted in the UK.
Chair of the committee on climate change, Lord Deben and Lady Brown, chair of the sub-committee on adaptation, stressed the importance of the UK showing leadership by linking the economic recovery and the climate crisis.
“Our credibility as an international leader rests on taking action at home”.
Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of the Lloyds Banking Group said:
“We have all experienced the devastating effect that Covid-19 has had on our families, communities and businesses. We must make this experience count by working together to tackle the impacts of climate change. Financial services has an important role to play, working with others to finance the solutions that will accelerate progress. That’s why we’re supporting this call to put low carbon growth at the centre of the economic recovery. Working together we can build a cleaner, greener and more resilient economy for the whole of the UK.”
ScottishPower chief executive Keith Anderson added:
“Economic and environmental objectives are aligned today as never before, highlighting the urgent need for a green recovery to the current crisis. The UK Government’s recovery plan should recognise this and put us on track to deliver the 2050 climate target. As the first integrated energy company in the UK to generate 100% renewable electricity we are ready to accelerate our investment in powering a clean recovery that helps create jobs, support communities and tackle the climate crisis.”
National Grid chief executive John Pettigrew said:
“We’ve estimated that the energy sector alone will need hundreds of thousands of new recruits as we work towards Net Zero and believe that an economic recovery with climate action at its heart will be key to unlocking these opportunities.”
Other experts have added their voices to the request for a green economic recovery. A group of top economists, including the Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz presented evidence showing that if the government were to spend more on low-carbon and other environmentally friendly activities it would provide a bigger boost to the economy both in the short and long term, than following a traditional recovery that ignored the climate crisis by pouring money into fossil fuels.
Green campaigners are pushing for the government to listen to the advice they are receiving from so many different quarters.
Mike Childs, head of science at Friends of the Earth, said:
“Improving people’s lives and saving the climate needs to be central to recovery, not rebuilding the profits of damaging industries. The right post-pandemic investment can push a big, positive, reset button on our carbon-guzzling and unsustainable economy and build a clean, healthy and fair world.”
Head of oil for Greenpeace UK, Richard George, said:
“When you have both the economy and the environment on the same side of the scales, the debate is over. The only question now is whether the government will listen to the experts and support a recovery package that protects our jobs, our health and our climate.”
Chris Venables, of the Green Alliance thinktank, believes that the Coronavirus crisis is responsible for altering the public’s view of what is possible in terms of fighting climate change as well as altering their perception of the government’s role in improving society.
“The recovery can change the way we think about public health and the health of the planet, whether that is preferring online connectivity to carbon-intensive travel or making greater efforts to conserve forests and improve access to green spaces. In response to coronavirus, the government has taken decisive measures. Similar courage can lead us to a healthier world in recovery.”
Trade body RenewableUK are promoting the CCC’s recommendations to the Prime Minister to boost economic recovery after the Coronavirus pandemic by supporting the growth of low-carbon infrastructure.
Nathan Bennett, RenewableUK’s public affairs manager said:
“The CCC highlights that climate investments support economic growth and jobs, and this is precisely what renewable energy companies are doing through investing tens of billions of pounds in new infrastructure. This investment boosts local economies all over the country, particularly in coastal communities which urgently need new job opportunities. We’ll be working with Ministers to ensure we have the right policies in place to accelerate this investment and deliver net zero. Our industry will play a pro-active role in getting the economy back on track as we move out of lockdown. Renewables are a UK-wide opportunity to have a sustainable, forward-looking recovery and to boost productivity across the economy”.