Coronavirus recovery package must rescue 'net zero' climate pledge, government advisers warn

Boris Johnson told to dump road-building plans, refit energy-leaking homes and plant millions of trees - when economy opens up

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 06 May 2020 07:03
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Boris Johnson must dump road-building plans, refit energy-leaking homes and plant millions of trees to rescue his climate change promises when the lockdown ends, his advisers are warning.

The coronavirus recovery package must not “lock-in higher carbon emissions” if the UK is to achieve its legal commitment of ‘net zero’ discharges by 2050, they say in a letter to the prime minister.

The independent committee on climate change (CCC) warns that “comprehensive plans to reduce emissions and to prepare for climate change are not yet in place”, despite the net zero law.

And it warns the prime minister it will vet progress in a new report next month, adding: “Our credibility as an international leader rests on taking action at home.”

The immediate pressure on Mr Johnson over global heating has eased with the postponement of the landmark ‘Cop26’ summit in Glasgow for a year. It was to be staged in November.

However, he remains on the back foot after delaying a strategy to achieve net zero until the end of the year and after sacking the conference president – who promptly attacked his lack of knowledge of the issue.

Now the CCC has demanded a six-pronged strategy for recovery, urging ministers to:

* Invest in projects to cut emissions – with the benefit that they will be “labour intensive” across the country and act as a “timely stimulus package with lasting, positive impacts”.

* Encourage new travelling habits – investing in safer cycling, social distancing on public transport and better broadband for remote working, instead of new roads.

* Require businesses to reveal “full disclosure of climate risks” – pointing out the pandemic has laid bare “the importance of evidence-led preparations for the key risks facing the country”.

* Ensure the costs of defeating climate change do not fall on “those who are least able to pay or whose livelihoods are most at risk as the economy changes”.

* Refuse support to heavily-polluting sectors that fail to take “real and lasting action on climate change” – to prevent rising emissions being “locked-in” by the recovery.

* Hike taxes on industries failing to “bear the full costs of emitting greenhouse gases” – arguing the oil price crash “provides an opportunity” to do so without hurting consumers.

Specifically, the report calls for “upgrades to our homes ensuring they are fit for the future” and “tree planting, peatland restoration and other green infrastructure”.

“Recovery means investing in new jobs, cleaner air and improved health,” said Lord Deben, the committee’s chairman and former Conservative cabinet minister.

“The actions needed to tackle climate change are central to rebuilding our economy. The government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions.”

And Baroness Brown of Cambridge, chair of the adaptation committee, added: “The UK now finds itself in a unique position to ramp-up climate action at home and supercharge the international response to climate change abroad.”

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