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London, UK, April 17 2019 - Protesters hold a banner and an Extinction Rebellion flag at a climate change protest outside Oxford Circus underground station.

Speed up climate action with post-pandemic green recovery, advisers say

Image credit: MaddieRedPhotography/Dreamstime

The UK Government must seize the ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to deliver a pandemic recovery that accelerates the fight against climate change, its own advisers have urged.

In its annual report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has warned that the UK is not making the progress it needs to drive down emissions and prepare for the impact of rising temperatures.

Last year, Britain became the first G7 country to announce plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which will require wholesale changes in the way Britons travel, generate electricity and manage their housing stock.

Recovering from the economic shock of coronavirus and at the same time accelerating moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050  is “absolutely necessary and entirely possible,” the advisers said.

“If we are to emerge successfully from Covid-19 there is only one route and that route is one which enables us also to fight climate change,” said John Gummer (aka Lord Deben), chairman of the CCC. 

The report calls for rapid “green stimulus” measures, including upgrades to homes so they are more energy-efficient; schemes to make it easier for people to cycle and walk; more tree planting and the restoration of peatlands.

Such green policies can create thousands of jobs across the country and keep money and employment within the UK, as well as having other benefits, such as for health and nature and cutting emissions, the report said.

The committee also calls for the target to phase out new petrol and diesel cars to be brought forward to 2032 from the current ambition of 2040. It also said money should be ploughed into electric vehicle charging and incentives to encourage people to buy low-carbon cars. 

Furthermore, it suggests for any bailouts of polluting industry to have “green strings” attached and for taxes to be used to drive emissions reductions – for example, increases on fuel duty – with the potential for carbon taxes able to raise £15bn a year over the next decade. 

“The UK is facing its biggest economic shock for a generation. Meanwhile, the global crisis of climate change is accelerating,” said Lord Deben“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these urgent challenges together; it’s there for the taking.”

He added a green recovery was the only way out of the “terrible” situation of Covid-19 and the economic crisis that would create resilience, jobs and prosperity, but that the “window of opportunity is closing already”.

“What is now happening is a real opportunity to make a change which will be remembered forever as the great leap forward, which really could be done, but it is now, it isn’t tomorrow,” he said.

The committee’s report said investment in clean technology such as heat pumps, which are a clean alternative to boilers, can help drive down costs in the longer run. It also called for training programmes to help builders and plumbers install these heat pumps.

Furthermore, the highly skilled North Sea oil and gas workforce could be retrained and redeployed in areas such as technology to capture and store carbon emissions from power plants and industrial processes.

The Government has also been urged to encourage the public to stick with positive behaviours such as walking and cycling and to invest in science and innovation in technology to help tackle climate change.

A Government spokesperson said: “We agree with the committee that tackling climate change should be at the heart of our economic recovery,” adding that the UK was investing to deliver more offshore wind than any other country and to reduce emissions from homes and industry.

“We believe that the actions we need to take to achieve our zero emissions target can help to deliver a stronger, cleaner, more sustainable and more resilient economy after this pandemic,” the spokesperson added. “There are already over 460,000 UK jobs in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains.”

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