COVID-19 ‘must be defining moment’ in climate change fight

Ministers must seize the opportunity to turn the COVID-19 crisis into a defining moment in the fight against climate change, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today.

In its annual report to Parliament, the Committee provides 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.

Important steps have been taken in the last year, but much remains to be done. For the first time the Committee sets out its recommendations government department by government department. These are the urgent steps that must be taken in the months ahead to initiate a green, resilient COVID-19 recovery, states the committee.

The CCC’s report finds that, overall, UK emissions reduced by 3-4 per cent in 2018-2019, a cut of 30 per cent between 2008 and 2019. Strong progress in the electricity sector has largely driven this overall trend as a result of well-designed, coherent and effective policy. The Government must now replicate that success story in all sectors of the economy while improving the country’s resilience to the impacts of climate change, the CCC states.

The UK’s consumption emissions – emissions embedded in imported products that are produced overseas but consumed in the UK – have fallen and are 18 per cent down from 2008 to 2017, despite growing consumption over the same period.

CCC chairman, Lord Deben (pictured), said: “The UK is facing its biggest economic shock for a generation. 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.”

The Committee highlights five investment priorities in the months ahead:

• Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future. There are vital new employment and reskilling opportunities across the country if Governments support a national plan to renovate buildings and construct new housing to the highest standards of energy and water efficiency, to begin the shift to low-carbon heating systems, and to protect against overheating. Roll-out of ‘green passports’ for buildings and local area energy plans can begin immediately. A ‘green passport’ is a digital passport providing detailed guidance on the actions required – and already undertaken – to improve a building’s energy efficiency and comfort, based on building fabric and operational data. The CCC sees a role for these passports to include recommendations on low carbon heat alongside this, and for the platform to be expanded to cover issues such as indoor air quality, flood resilience, water efficiency and overheating. In doing so, passports would set out a customised and holistic retrofit roadmap for each home. Passports would be transferable between building owners and help to maintain sight of long-term decarbonisation / resilience goals. They would capture EPC data digitally and augment it with other data over time.

• Tree planting, peatland restoration, and green infrastructure

• Energy networks must be strengthened for the net-zero energy transformation in order to support electrification of transport and heating. Government has the regulatory tools to bring forward private sector investment. New hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure will provide a route to establishing new low-carbon British industries. Fast-tracked electric vehicle charging points will 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. For home working to be truly a widespread option, resilient digital technology (5G and fibre broadband) will be needed.

• Moving towards a circular economy. Within the next five years, we can not only increase recycling rates rapidly but stop sending biodegradable wastes to landfill. 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.

There are also opportunities to support the transition and the recovery by investing in the UK’s workforce, and in lower-carbon behaviours and innovation:

The 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 taking carbon out, from under the North Sea. Now is the time to build that workforce and to equip UK workers with vital skills for the future, states the CCC.

Inn addition the Committee believes there is a window for Government to reinforce the ‘climate-positive’ behaviours that have emerged during the lockdown, including increased remote working, cycling and walking. The public sector must lead by example by encouraging remote working. It also needs to innovate in order that customer service can be provided effectively remotely.

Finally, research and innovation will need to be kick started in low-carbon and adaptation technologies will facilitate the changes needed in the decades ahead and build UK competitive advantage. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of research if we are to understand fully the threats and learn how to manage them.

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