The government must not lock-in higher greenhouse gas emissions in the Covid-19 recovery package, its adviser on climate change said today.
In a letter to the prime minister, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said carbon intensive industries must take “real and lasting action” on emissions in return for public support.
The CCC said UK greenhouse gas emissions had fallen during the outbreak. But it said:
“This is likely to be transient, with only a negligible impact on global warming, despite the radical changes in behaviour that have been required.”
The letter said reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change should be integral to any recovery package.
“It is right that actions are taken to protect jobs and industries in this immediate crisis, but the Government must avoid ‘lock-in’ to higher emissions or increased vulnerability to climate change impacts over the long term.
“Support for carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change, and new investments should be resilient to climate change.”
The CCC said common experiences of lockdown, in cleaner air, greater appreciation of nature and reduced business travel, could help to accelerate climate action in new ways.
It urged the government to make it easy for people to walk and cycle and work remotely. Broadband investments should be prioritised over strengthening the road network. New skills were needed urgently, it said, to develop low-carbon heating, energy efficiency and ventilation.
The letter said many sectors of the UK economy did not bear the full costs of emitting greenhouses gases. It recommended setting or raising carbon prices for these sectors.
Comprehensive plans to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change were not yet in place, the CCC said:
“The crisis has emphasised the importance of preparing for systemic risks
“Strong policies from across government are needed to reduce our vulnerability to the destructive risks of climate change and to avoid a disorderly transition to net-zero.”
Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, told BBC Radio’s Today programme this morning:
“The worst way of doing this is the expensive way and the expensive way is to reinstate a carbon-intensive economy which you then have to rundown afterwards.
“The best way is to create the new jobs which will replace those which are threatened or indeed destroyed. So, for example, if you take the North Sea oil, that is now very expensive. Oil [price] has fallen right down to a very low level. Well there’ll be people whose jobs there that ought to become jobs to create carbon capture and storage so that we will be able to have a no-carbon society.”
“Reset button on carbon-guzzling economy”
Mike Childs, head of science at Friends of the Earth, said the CCC recognised the need for the recovery to improve people’s lives, rather than rebuild profits of damaging industries:
“Eradicating fuel poverty by investing in better home insulation will save lives and increase resilience to any winter lock-down, while at the same time cutting carbon emissions and creating jobs.
“Reclaiming road space from cars will cut air pollution and free up space for people to cycle and walk safely while we still observe social distancing. Increased green spaces will deliver massive mental health benefits and help restore nature.
“We can do all these things in the recovery phase. 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.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland urged the Scottish government not to support the oil and gas sector in its recovery programme. The organisation’s climate and energy campaigner, Caroline Rance, said:
“Public money should not be used to continue drilling for fossil fuels and driving us towards the next crisis. Nor should there be public investment in technologies such as Carbon Capture or fossil hydrogen that fuel the fantasy that we can keep on using oil and gas indefinitely.”
She called for investment in a publicly-owned 100% renewable energy system, with renewable heating and insulation in all homes, a green transport network and a more circular economy.
Updated with quote from Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme