Boris Johnson and his cabinet are coming under increasing pressure to ensure the economic stimulus helps to shift the UK to a low-carbon future, as green campaign groups set out their demands and the Prince of Wales weighed in on the need for a green recovery.
The prime minister has given vague assurances that the economic recovery will be “sustainable”, but despite urging from the government’s statutory advisers, there has been little detail so far on how green measures could be used to stimulate the economy.
Greenpeace published its manifesto for a green recovery on Wednesday, calling for investment in cleaner transport; renewable energy and a smart grid for electricity; refurbishing buildings to improve their energy efficiency and move to low-carbon heating and cooling; reducing waste and improving recycling; and protecting nature and wildlife, especially through restoring degraded habitats.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “For all of the suffering and sacrifice people have endured during this health crisis, it has provided us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform the way we live, travel and work – tackling the health, climate and nature crises all at the same time. The choices our government makes now will define the shape of our society and economy for the next decade, and whether or not we succeed in the fight against the climate emergency. If we fail to get this right, we may never get another chance.”
On Thursday, the Bank of England will disclose which companies have received GBP18.5bn in loans and GBP38.8bn in other government funding, as part of the coronavirus rescue package. It will be the first opportunity to judge whether the economic rescue package is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or propping up high-carbon activities.
ClientEarth, the environmental lawyers, urged ministers to ensure that all UK-listed companies, or those with an annual turnover greater than GBP45m, that hope to benefit from the government’s stimulus money must make a legally enforceable commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with a clear business plan and directors’ pay linked to the targets, and must report on their climate risk.
WWF published a report which found the UK could reap GBP90bn in annual benefits through improved health and living conditions from moving to net zero emissions, as well as creating 210,000 green jobs by 2030 from investing in the low-carbon economy. These include 85,000 jobs in insulating, installing low-carbon heating and other green retrofits to housing; 28,000 jobs in renewable energy, and 16,500 jobs in manufacturing electric vehicles, batteries and charging infrastructure.
Prince Charles is convening a series of meetings with businesses alongside the World Economic Forum, called The Great Reset, urging companies and governments to put in place a green recovery. He said: “As we move from rescue to recovery [from the pandemic], we have a unique but rapidly shrinking window of opportunity to learn lessons and reset ourselves on a more sustainable path. It is an opportunity we have never had before and may never have again. We must use all the levers we have at our disposal, knowing that each and every one of us has a vital role to play.”
On Friday, to coincide with World Environment Day, the government will also call on businesses around the world to play their part, laying out plans alongside the UN for companies to take part in a “Race to Zero” by committing to cut their emissions in line with the net zero by 2050 target. The initiative is part of an attempt to put new momentum behind the stalled UN Cop26 climate talks, to be hosted by the UK, which have been postponed by a year to November 2021.
Businesses including National Grid, HSBC and Heathrow airport have also called on the government to put in place plans for a green recovery.
Data from the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday showed the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions when measured by residency – that is, emissions from UK residents and UK registered businesses, excluding foreign visitors and businesses but including the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping – stayed roughly the same between 2017 and 2018, the latest years for which comprehensive data are available.
This came despite a 2% fall in the UK’s emissions over the same period when only the UK’s territorial emissions – excluding aviation and shipping – were considered. Only territorial emissions count towards the UK’s targets under the Paris agreement.