The UK has “once-in-a lifetime opportunity” to move to a low-carbon future and stimulate the economy after the Covid-19 outbreak, the government’s climate adviser said today.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), in its annual progress report to parliament, said post-Covid choices that locked in carbon emissions or climate risks were not acceptable. Ministers must turn the crisis into a defining moment in the fight against climate change.
Launching the 200-page report, the committee’s chairman, Lord Deben, 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 report said a range of low-carbon and climate adaptation ‘green stimulus’ measures could be delivered quickly and create high numbers of jobs. They would boost spending and, in turn, stimulate further boosts to economic activity.
It also warned:
- Poorly-targeted measures aimed at tackling unemployment and inequality could lock in higher emissions in the long-term
- The pandemic could threaten progress on climate change – continued social distancing could hinder a move towards public transport and delay some low carbon investments
- Any bail-outs for the oil and gas sector should support their transition towards net-zero business models
The report said the government had taken what it called “initial steps” towards policies that would achieve the legally-binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
But it said:
“this was not the year of policy progress that the Committee called for in 2019”.
There had been new announcements on transport, buildings, industry, energy supply, agriculture and land use. But the report said:
“These steps do not yet measure up to meet the size of the net zero challenge and we are not making adequate progress in preparing for climate change.”
Emissions from fossil fuel production had barely fallen since 2008, while emissions from flaring and venting were up over the same period, the report said.
Mechanisms announced to drive investment in low carbon industrial technologies had been piecemeal. Policies for manufacturing had been too narrow and progress too slow.
Policies on heating in buildings continued to lag behind what was needed, the CCC said. Two million homes had been built since the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. They were now likely to need expensive zero carbon retrofits. Ministers had also failed to publish detailed plans in past year on phasing out high carbon fossil fuel heating
“More ambitious policies and faster delivery”
The CCC said:
“This is a moment to confront the range of climate risks that face the UK, including flooding, over-heating and water shortages, with realistic planning for the inevitable temperature rises ahead.”
It called for more ambitious and extended policies that were delivered faster in areas including energy supply, surface transport, industry, buildings and aviation.
It said its recommendations would deliver an improved economy, better public health, greater biodiversity and access to nature, cleaner air, more comfortable homes and highly productive and rewarding employment.
Business and energy
- Set out policies to significantly reduce the emissions intensity of fossil fuel production
- Ambitious reductions in leakage of methane from the gas grid
- Legislation required to encourage a resilient and flexible energy system, as well as expanding supplies of low carbon power
- Carbon capture and storage must be operational at multiple sites by the mid-2020s
- Strategy for low-carbon hydrogen use, production and infrastructure, with largescale trials in the early 2020s
- Clear deadlines to ensure listed companies and large asset owners report on climate related risks and opportunities
- New standard that ensures no fossil fuels are burnt in new homes by 2025
- National effort to improve energy efficiency of UK buildings and ensure safety/comfort as climate warms
- Tax or levy changes that favour low carbon heating over fossil fuels
- Confirm the ban on new petrol, diesel and hybrid car and van sales has been brought forward to 2032
- Support development of plans to remove all diesel trains by 2040
- Dedicated safe spaces for walking and cycling, more bike parking and support for shared bikes and e-scooters
- The public sector must lead by example by encouraging remote working
- Resilient digital technology needed to make homeworking a widespread option
“Recommendations are very different from implementation”
Friends of the Earth urged the government to adopt all the CCC’s recommendations. The organisation’s climate specialist, Muna Suleiman, said:
“The UK government can’t be viewed as anything like the climate leader it wants to be until the measures in this report are introduced. It’s a tale as old as time, recommendations are very different from implementation.
“Lockdown made pollution from emissions go down, because we didn’t have a choice.
“Now we can travel again it’s up to government to keep pollution down by giving people better choices to walk, cycle and take public transport when it’s safe to do so. It can also stop squandering tens of billions of pounds on new roads.”