Climate crisis: 200 top UK businesses call on Boris Johnson for green recovery plan from coronavirus pandemic

Firms put pressure on British government to meet own climate targets including hitting net zero emissions by 2050

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 02 June 2020 01:03 BST
Stock image illustrating the concept of a green economic recovery
Stock image illustrating the concept of a green economic recovery

Over 200 top UK businesses, organisations and investors have called on the government to seek an environmentally focussed recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They say a recovery plan to rebuild the economy should have a clear emphasis on meeting existing commitments to tackle the climate crisis, with greater levels of sustainability and resilience to future environmental risks.

Signatories to the letter include Asda, The National Grid, PwC, Britvic, Lloyds Bank, Siemens UK, BT, Coutts, Greggs, Heathrow Airport, Natural England, Scottish Widows, Sky, and Tesco.

Writing to Boris Johnson, the organisations outlined proposals for a plan which they said would:

  • Drive investment in low carbon innovation, infrastructure and industries, as well as improved resilience to future environmental risks 
  • Focus support on sectors and activities that can best support sustainable growth, increased job creation and accelerate both the recovery and the decarbonisation of the economy
  • Implement financial support packages which ensure receiving businesses are well managed and their strategies are science based and aligned with national climate goals

In the letter the signatories said they acknowledged the “climate leadership” of the UK and are calling for continued ambition to drive action towards next year’s COP26 climate summit and the G7, both of which will be hosted in the UK.

The united front, from business sectors including finance, energy, retail, construction, finance, transport and communications, comes as progress on meeting existing climate targets has been faltering.

Though the UK is legally committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, it is not expected to hit its targets. Currently, an increase in the projection of future emissions is outweighed by the small impact of just a few new climate policies, according to Climate Action Tracker, which examines data used by the government’s Committee on Climate Change.

The committee has previously highlighted the lack of plans for decarbonising UK heating systems, the lack of progress in developing carbon capture and storage capability, the failure to meet afforestation targets, and said the current 2040 target for banning fossil fuel vehicles is too late.

The letter from business leaders also comes days after MPs called on the government to spend £30bn in green aid to help tackle the climate crisis amid the impact of the coronavirus.

The letter said: “With the UK facing major economic and social concerns including the risk of high unemployment and rising regional inequality, we believe that an ambitious low carbon growth and environmental improvement agenda can do a lot to address these concerns, as well as make the UK economy better prepared to deal with future shocks such as those related to climate change.

“We are therefore writing to ask that the economic recovery plans you are developing align with the UK’s wider goals and deliver a clean, just recovery, that creates quality employment and builds a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient UK economy for the future.”

It added: “As we enter the recovery period, we are ready to work with you and your government to implement the steps needed to rebuild and strengthen the UK economy, while accelerating decarbonisation and ensuring we are on track to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest.”

The letter was coordinated by The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group. Eliot Whittington, director of the group said: “The UK needs a strong, sustainable economy able to withstand future shocks, and the Prime Minister’s plans to support a recovery after the Coronavirus pandemic must be cost-effective and focussed on building back better. The evidence is clear that a clean, resilient recovery is best for jobs, business, society and our environment.”

António Horta-Osório, chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group and a signatory to the letter, said: “We have all experienced the devastating effect that Covid-19 has had on our families, communities and businesses. We must make this experience count by working together to tackle the impacts of climate change. Financial Services has an important role to play, working with others to finance the solutions that will accelerate progress. That’s why we’re supporting this call to put low carbon growth at the centre of the economic recovery. Working together we can build a cleaner, greener and more resilient economy for the whole of the UK.”

Roger Burnley, chief executive of Asda, said: “This crisis has upended the way we do business, even for those of us that have continued to trade, but in recovery there is always opportunity. Our new normal must be one that is more sustainable and more resilient to the challenges of climate change than before, and it is incumbent on all businesses and government to work together to make this happen.”

Andy Wales, the chief digital impact and sustainability officer at BT said: “At BT, we have long recognised the importance of setting ambitious carbon reduction targets, and we’re using our influence, technology and reach to inspire and enable others to do the same and help tackle the climate emergency. Government, businesses and policymakers must put action on climate at the heart of their efforts to revive the economy – working together to create a more sustainable, resilient, low carbon economy.”

The Independent has contacted the government for comment.

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