The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has released its annual report to Parliament, calling on the government to utilise the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate plans to tackle the global climate crisis.
Released yesterday (25 June), the 2020 Progress Report to Parliament tracks the UK Government’s progress towards its climate goals and makes policy recommendations for where further urgent progress is needed.
The report does not make for reassuring reading, with the CCC finding that the UK has failed on 14 out of 21 progress indicators, falling further behind in many areas. Only two of 31 key policy milestones have been met in full.
Although emissions have seen a rapid decrease since the passing of the 2008 Climate Change Act, falling 28 per cent during 2008-2018, progress has been uneven, with areas such as buildings and transport seeing little change.
The CCC has identified five key areas where investment should be focused and ‘urgent steps’ should be taken to initiate a ‘green, resilient Covid-19 recovery’, underpinned by strong coordination across government departments. These are: low-carbon retrofitting of buildings; natural environment restoration; strengthened energy networks; improved walking and cycling infrastructure; and transition to a circular economy.
These recommendations are being made to specific departments across Whitehall, with the CCC requesting that strategies for delivering the recommendations be put in place between 2020 and 2021.
The report has urged the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to make a ‘step change’ in the building sector this year, which can play a significant role in the UK’s green recovery and will provide ‘vital new employment and reskilling opportunities across the country’. According to the CCC, the government must support a national plan to renovate buildings and construct new housing according to energy and water efficiency standards, with a shift towards low-carbon heating systems.
The Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture (Defra) is urged in the report to make substantial changes to land use if the UK is to meet its net-zero target. Investment in nature, ‘including our towns and cities’, through measures such as tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure are also high priorities. The report points out that is another ‘quick route’ to opportunities for ‘highly-skilled employment, and outcomes that improve people’s lives.’
The report praises the government’s substantial cuts to the power sector, and sees the government’s move to bring onshore wind and large-scale solar back into power auctions as ‘welcome plans’. The CCC urges the UK to strengthen energy networks in preparation for the net-zero energy transformation. New hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CSS) can provide a route to establishing new low-carbon British industries.
Plans to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 are highlighted by the CCC as a key measure that must be confirmed by the Department for Transport. According to the report, this should be supplemented by rising obligations for carmakers to sell electric vehicles, reaching 100 per cent by 2032. Fast-tracked installation of electric charging stations will also ‘hasten the move’ towards the full phase out of petrol and diesel cars and vans.
The report also recommends measures to help the public walk, cycle and work remotely in the aftermath of Covid-19. Dedicated spaces for walking and cycling, new bike parking, and support for shared bikes and e-scooters are all raised as potential ways to ‘help the nation get back to work in a more sustainable way’. Widespread 5G and fibre broadband are needed in order to make home working truly accessible.
Over the next five years, the CCC has called for the transition to a resource-efficient circular economy. The report calls for a 70 per cent recycling rate target for 2030 and for a ban on biodegradable waste being sent to landfill by 2025. Local authorities are called on to support the strategic investment in separated waste collections and recycling infrastructure, which could create new regional jobs.
The government is urged to invest in the UK’s workforce in order to support economic transition and recovery and in low-carbon behaviours and innovation. The report recommends that action is taken to reinforce ‘climate-positive’ behaviours, such as increased remote working, cycling and walking.
The CCC stresses the importance of getting the UK back on track with its climate goals this year given the fact that the UK is set to host the postponed COP26 climate talks in 2021.
CCC 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.”
Public and political momentum is building behind calls for a ‘green recovery’, one that places addressing the climate crisis at the heart of any stimulus package aimed to inject life into the economy post-Covid.
This echoes increasing calls from the Green Party for a Green New Deal, both in the UK and Europe. In April, the Green Party called on the government to avoid a business as usual approach when responding to the economic crisis in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and implement a Green New Deal.
The European Greens have also urged action on a Green New Deal linked to the ‘Future of Europe’ at a European level, calling for economic stimulus to be linked to climate goals.
The public mirrors this sentiment, as results from Climate Assembly UK show that 93 per cent of the public favour greener lifestyle changes in order to meet the government’s net-zero targets post-coronavirus.
Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, took to Twitter to agree with the CCC’s recommendations: “Incremental change is not enough - we need to completely rethink our economy to deliver a zero carbon, green jobs, nature & wellbeing-focused future. We have the chance to #BuildBackBetter – let’s seize it.”
Co-leader of the Green Party, Jonathan Bartley, also tweeted: “It is a lack of leadership that is stopping the UK from addressing the #climateemergency. The CCC has concluded that the window of opportunity continues to close. Whether it’s Covid or climate, this is not a prime minister you want in charge of any crisis.”
You can read the CCC’s 2020 Progress Report to Parliament on the CCC website.