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‘Faster, further, fairer’ climate breakdown action needed

Image credit: Stanislav Duben | Dreamstime

The UK must go “faster and further” to tackle climate change, loss of nature and rebuild the economy after the coronavirus pandemic, a report has urged.

The report, published by the Environmental Justice Commission, said ministers must also make sure efforts to shift to a low-carbon economy are fairer to those whose jobs and communities are most hit by the change.

It also said there should be greater efforts to cut emissions by 2030 and an additional £30bn a year of public money should be invested to cut emissions from the economy, generate green jobs, protect nature and improve people’s lives.

Thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) launched the Environmental Justice Commission to help lead Britain out of the coronavirus crisis and towards solutions to climate breakdown.

Such solutions include a national programme to insulate homes and cut fuel poverty, tree-planting projects and schemes to restore peatland that will also boost nature. Furthermore, investment in an electric vehicle charging network will help tackle air pollution.

“This is the moment for big, bold action by the Government to deliver on its promises to decarbonise the UK economy and restore nature,” said Luke Murphy, head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission. “The first step should be a no-brainer: investing right now in projects like insulating homes, planting trees and infrastructure to increase walking and cycling will create jobs and help kick-start the economy after the Covid-19 crisis.”

Prior to the pandemic, the UK was already set to fall short on existing targets to tackle climate change in the next decade – and those targets only put the country on track to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. But the legal goal for “net-zero” emissions requires a 100 per cent reduction in pollution overall by mid-century.

In an interim report, the commission called for the Government to commit to a tougher interim target for 2030, of 66-69 per cent emissions reductions from 1990 levels, compared to the current equivalent target of 61 per cent.

The report said that the UK should go a step further by adopting new targets to tackle emissions and the environmental impacts, such as deforestation associated with products imported from other parts of the world.

The report also said the move to cut carbon from the economy needs to be fairer, with a £5bn investment in a national “just transition fund” to support communities and regions most affected by the change.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, co-chair of the commission, said: “The good news is that decarbonising our economy and restoring nature offers us a vital opportunity to fix an economic model that is not only driving environmental destruction but also failing the vast majority of people across the UK, as the fall-out from Covid-19 has so brutally exposed.

“We can build back better – but only if we embed an agenda of rapid decarbonisation within a broader social and economic justice agenda, and ensure that those communities most affected by change have the power to lead and shape it.”

There will need to be support and training from employees with new skills and new job opportunities for those working in fossil fuel-related industries, it said. For example, support is needed to secure jobs for those working in the oil and gas sector in other areas which could use their skills such as technology to capture and store carbon, transporting hydrogen and offshore wind.

In response to the report from the cross-party commission, Labour MP Ed Miliband, who was one of the commission’s chairs until he took up the position of shadow business and energy secretary, commented: “This important report shows why a green recovery is essential for jobs, tackling the climate crisis and improving quality of life. This is the way we can build back better and create a fairer economy and society. There is a real urgency for the Government to respond and rise to this moment.”

In light of this development, Helen Fry, an associate in Planning and Environment law at BDB Pitmans, commented on the report published by the Environmental Justice Commission. 

“The last few years have seen ambitious schemes across the UK in response to the climate emergency, but it is clear that the pace of change has to accelerate,” she explained. “The Court of Appeal’s recent decision on Heathrow expansion means that the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement are now locked in at the top of the government’s agenda (until the matter reaches the Supreme Court in October, at least).”

She added that the commission’s report highlights the ways in which Paris-compliant decision making could support a sustainable recovery from the impending economic shock. She said this can be achieved by prioritising public transport networks, investing in infrastructure to boost our resilience to extreme weather events, and developing schemes to drive down urban pollution.

As we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, the government will need to create the infrastructure to support in the long-term some of the behavioural changes which the crisis has fast-tracked,” Fry explained. 

For example, the introduction of clean air zones had, pre-coronavirus, started to bring down urban emissions up and down the country; an even more radical reimagining of how we live in cities has now become possible, and local authorities will be looking to capitalise on that.”

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