UK Government Ministers must seize the opportunity to turn the COVID-19 crisis into a defining moment in the fight against climate change, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
In its annual report to Parliament, the CCC has offered comprehensive new advice to the government on delivering an economic recovery that accelerates the transition to a cleaner, net-zero emissions economy, and strengthens the country’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.
The CCC’s latest analysis expands on its advice provided in May to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which set out the principles for building a resilient recovery. In this new report, the CCC has assessed a “wide set of measures” and gathered the latest evidence on the role of climate policies on the economic recovery.
Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future. The CCC says there are vital new employment and re-skilling opportunities across the UK if the government supports a national plan to renovate buildings and construct new housing “to the highest standards of energy and water efficiency” to start the shift to low-carbon heating systems. It says the roll-out of ‘green passports’ for buildings and local area energy plans can start immediately.
Tree planting, peatland restoration, green infrastructure. The CCC recommends investing in nature, including within towns and cities, offers another fast route to opportunities for highly-skilled employment and outcomes that improve people’s lives. It says that by making substantial changes in land use, significant benefits can be realised for the climate, biodiversity, air quality and flood prevention.
Strengthen energy networks to support the electrification of transport and heating. According to the CCC, the government has the regulatory tools to bring forward private sector investment. New hydrogen and carbon capture and storage infrastructure can provide a route to establishing new low-carbon UK industries. It also recommended fast-tracked electric vehicle charging points to “hasten the move” towards a full phase-out of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 or earlier.
Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely. The CCC recommends creating dedicated safe spaces for walking and cycling, more bicycle parking and support for shared bikes and e-scooters to help the nation get back to work sustainably. It says that for home working to be a “truly widespread option”, resilient digital technology, such as 5G and broadband, will be needed.
Moving towards a circular economy. Within the next five years, the CCC says recycling rates must increase rapidly and the sending of biodegradable wastes to landfill should be eliminated. It says local authorities need support to invest strategically in a good quality, low-carbon service for waste collection and disposal and to create new regional jobs.
“The UK is facing its biggest economic shock for a generation,” said CCC Chairman, Lord Deben. “Meanwhile, the global crisis of climate change is accelerating. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these urgent challenges together, it’s there for the taking.
“The steps that the UK takes to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate the transition to a successful and low-carbon economy and improve our climate resilience. Choices that lock-in emissions or climate risks are unacceptable.”
Baroness Brown of Cambridge, chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, commented: “COVID-19 has shown that planning for systemic risks is unavoidable. We have warned repeatedly that the UK is poorly prepared for the very serious impacts of climate change, including flooding, overheating, and water shortages.
“Now is the moment to get our house in order, coordinate national planning, and prepare for the inevitable changes ahead.
“The UK’s domestic ambition can be the basis for strong international climate leadership, but the delivery of effective new policies must accelerate dramatically if we’re to seize this chance.”
In its latest advice, the CCC also recommended supporting the transition and recovery by investing in the UK’s workforce, and in lower-carbon behaviours and innovation:
Re-skilling and retraining programmes. The CCC says a net-zero economy will require a net-zero workforce, able to install smart low-carbon heating systems and to make homes comfortable, to design, manufacture and use low-carbon products and materials, and to put carbon back, rather than take carbon out, from under the North Sea.
Leading a move towards positive behaviours. The CCC says there is a window for the government to reinforce the ‘climate-positive’ behaviours that have emerged during lockdown, including increased remote working, cycling, and walking. It says the public sector must “lead by example” by encouraging remote working.
Targeted science and innovation funding. Kick-starting research and innovation now in low-carbon and adaptation technologies “will facilitate the changes needed in the decades ahead,” says the CCC, and build UK competitive advantage.
Commenting on the latest CCC report and recommendations, Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said: “Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) presents an unrivalled opportunity for the UK to show global leadership in a vital negative emissions technology, urgently needed to tackle the climate crisis and help protect and create jobs during the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
“Drax is pioneering BECCS at the power station in North Yorkshire – we just announced a new pilot project in collaboration with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Using BECCS at scale will help to boost the UK’s economy following the COVID-19 crisis and support the development of a zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region – delivering clean growth and protecting thousands of jobs.”