Urgent steps must be taken to meet net zero challenge, say government climate advisers

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) has said.

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.

The report says that although important steps have been taken in the last year, much remains to be done. It sets out the urgent steps that must be made by each government department to initiate a green, resilient COVID-19 recovery and position the country as an international climate leader ahead of the pivotal COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year.

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

1. Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future. The report says there are vital new employment and reskilling 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, says the report.

2. Tree planting, peatland restoration, and green infrastructure. The report says investing in nature, including in 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. The report recommends new hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure to provide a route to establishing new low-carbon British industries. It calls for a full phase out of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 or earlier, supported by electric vehicle infrastructure.

4. Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely, including dedicated safe spaces for walking and cycling, more bike parking and support for shared bikes and e-scooters. It also says that 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. The CCC wants reuse & recycling rates to be increased rapidly over the next five years and to stop sending biodegradable wastes to landfill. It says local authorities need support to invest strategically in separated waste collections and recycling infrastructure and to create new regional jobs.

The report says there are also opportunities to support the transition by investing in the UK’s workforce through reskilling and retraining programmes, leading a move towards lower-carbon behaviours, and investment in low carbon research and innovation

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.”

Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, said: “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.”