CCC: COVID-19 can be historic turning point in tackling global climate crisis


MINISTERS must seize the opportunity to turn the COVID-19 crisis into a defining moment in the fight against climate change, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today.

In its annual report to Parliament, the Committee provides comprehensive new advice to the Government on delivering an economic recovery that accelerates the transition to a cleaner, net-zero emissions economy and strengthens the country’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.

CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, commented on the announcement: “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 Committee’s new analysis expands on its May 2020 advice to the Prime Minister in which it set out the principles for building a resilient recovery.

In its new report, the Committee has assessed a wide set of measures and gathered the latest evidence on the role of climate policies in the economic recovery.

Its report highlights five clear investment priorities in the months ahead:

  1. Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future. There are vital new employment and re-skilling opportunities across the country if Governments support a national plan to renovate buildings and construct new housing to the highest standards of energy and water efficiency, to begin the shift to low-carbon heating systems, and to protect against overheating. Roll-out of ‘green passports’ for buildings and local area energy plans can begin immediately.
  2. Tree planting, peatland restoration, and green infrastructure. Investing in nature, including in our towns and cities, offers another quick route to opportunities for highly-skilled employment, and outcomes that improve people’s lives. By making substantial changes in our use of land, which are needed to meet the UK’s Net Zero target, we will bring significant benefits for the climate, biodiversity, air quality, and flood prevention.
  3. Energy networks must be strengthened for the net-zero energy transformation in order to support electrification of transport and heating. Government has the regulatory tools to bring forward private sector investment. New hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure will provide a route to establishing new low-carbon British industries. Fast-tracked electric vehicle charging points will hasten the move towards a full phase out of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 or earlier.
  4. Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely. Dedicated safe spaces for walking and cycling, more bike parking and support for shared bikes and e-scooters can help the nation get back to work in a more sustainable way. For home working to be truly a widespread option, resilient digital technology (5G and fibre broadband) will be needed.
  5. Moving towards a circular economy. Within the next five years, we can not only increase recycling rates rapidly but stop sending biodegradable wastes to landfill. Local authorities need support to invest strategically in a good-quality, low-carbon service for waste collection and disposal and to create new regional jobs.

There are also opportunities to support the transition and the recovery by investing in the UK’s workforce, and in lower-carbon behaviours and innovation:

  1. Re-skilling and retraining programmes. The net-zero economy will require a net-zero workforce, able to install smart low-carbon heating systems and to make homes comfortable; to design, manufacture and use low-carbon products and materials; and to put carbon back, rather than taking carbon out, from under the North Sea. Now is the time to build that workforce and to equip UK workers with vital skills for the future.
  2. Leading a move towards positive behaviours. There is a window for Government to reinforce the ‘climate-positive’ behaviours that have emerged during the lockdown, including increased remote working, cycling and walking. The public sector must lead by example by encouraging remote working. It also needs to innovate in order that customer service can be provided effectively remotely.
  3. Targeted science and innovation funding. Kick-starting research and innovation now in low-carbon and adaptation technologies will facilitate the changes needed in the decades ahead and build UK competitive advantage. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of research if we are to understand fully the threats and learn how to manage them.

Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, added: “COVID-19 has shown that planning for systemic risks is unavoidable.

“We have warned repeatedly that the UK is poorly prepared for the very serious impacts of climate change, including flooding, overheating and water shortages.

“Now is the moment to get our house in order, coordinate national planning, and prepare for the inevitable changes ahead.

“The UK’s domestic ambition can be the basis for strong international climate leadership, but the delivery of effective new policies must accelerate dramatically if we’re to seize this chance.”

The number one priority for Government must be backing a national buildings renovation programme as part of a green recovery, according to Caroline Bragg, Head of Policy of Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE).

In the Association’s reply to CCC’s report, Ms Bragg explained: “The UK is falling behind on meeting our carbon budgets.

“As the Climate Change Committee has set out, net zero must sit at the heart of our economic recovery.

“To achieve this, the number one priority for Government must be backing a national buildings renovation programme.

“Better buildings will create 50,000 real quantifiable green jobs in the next two years and nigh on 200,000 by 2050.

“Better buildings will predominantly create jobs outside of the South-East – putting decarbonisation to work to level up our regions.

“And, better buildings will be a crucial part of the just transition, allowing those impacted by these extraordinary times to re-skill and be part of the future green economy.

“From the beginning of the pandemic response, the ADE has been keeping information on risks and issues moving between industry and Government and- in consultation with our members- we have identified key priorities for the Green Recovery:

  • Infrastructure investment to drive economic recovery
  • Aligning investment with net zero
  • Addressing regulatory barriers to investment
  • Supporting businesses to access low carbon markets and helping carbon intensive sectors transition to net zero

“We are delighted to see these priorities reflected in the CCC interim report to Parliament today and we look forward to the Government response to these pressing concerns.

“The choice of a U-shaped recovery or an L shaped recession, rests on the strength of Government’s commitment to a nation-wide retrofit of the UK’s buildings.”

ADE’s response to BEIS Green Recovery Consultation can be downloaded here