London — The UK's official advisory body on climate change has urged the government to speed up planning for a post-pandemic economic recovery, setting out a range of recommendations to achieve a net-zero emissions target sooner while protecting the economy from future climate shocks.
Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience.Register Now
In its annual report on emissions reductions to parliament on June 25, the influential Committee on Climate Change said emphasizing green investments, including on energy networks and new technologies such as green hydrogen, could speed up progress on climate targets and position the UK as an international leader on climate action ahead of the COP26 climate summit in 2021.
"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," Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, said in a statement on June 25, describing policies that would lock in emissions or climate risks as "unacceptable."
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the CCC in May made a case for a green recovery, warning against locking in higher emissions or increased vulnerability to climate change by supporting carbon-intensive sectors without requiring them to take action on climate change. Recovery packages in some countries have been criticized for no-strings-attached bailouts of airlines, for example.
The committee's report follows similar calls for a sustainable recovery from organizations around the world, including the International Energy Agency, which outlined its own recommendations earlier in June. The CCC previously recommended the government adopt a net zero emissions target across the UK economy, which was adopted into law under former Prime Minister Theresa May in 2019.
The committee said annual emissions in the UK dropped by 3% to 4% in 2019, adding up to a reduction of 30% since 2008, which has been driven in large part by the decarbonization of power generation.
But while global emissions are expected to fall by up to 10% this year as a result of the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the CCC warned that this effect would only be temporary. And although the government has announced new policies towards the net zero target since it was adopted in 2019, the measures do not add up yet to what is needed, the report said.
The committee identifies five investment priorities for the coming months, including a call to incentivize the build-out of energy infrastructure — ranging from strengthening power grids to support the electrification of the transport and heating sectors, to building hydrogen and carbon-capture infrastructure, to rolling out electric vehicle charging networks. Targeted funding for science and innovation could also spur growth in low-carbon and adaptation technologies, it said.
The government still needs to "address the challenges faced as renewables take an ever larger share: how they will be contracted, how the economic benefits of flexibility will be realized and how energy supply resilience will be ensured," according to the report.
A policy package for building supply and demand of low-carbon hydrogen should also be developed, it said.
"To meet net zero and recover from Covid, we need to put a rocket under our economy and that rocket has to run on clean energy," said Rebecca Williams, head of policy and regulation at renewable energy association RenewableUK.
"The CCC is clear about the huge opportunities right across the renewable energy sector and if we can invest early in emerging technologies like floating offshore wind and renewable hydrogen, the UK can build world-leading industries," Williams said.
The UK's Nuclear Industry Association, meanwhile, urged the government to make a prompt decision on future funding of new nuclear power plants, which it said would give a significant boost to the economy and add jobs.
It said the next generation of power stations could be built at GBP60/MWh and, eventually, as little as GBP40/MWh, which would be less than half the cost of the Hinkley Point C reactor currently being built by EDF.
Outside of the energy sector, the CCC's priorities include retrofitting buildings and constructing new housing to the highest efficiency standards; land use measures such as planting trees and restoring peatlands; building low-carbon infrastructure such as bike lanes; and enabling a circular economy by investing in recycling and waste collection.
"Climate-positive" behaviors that have increased during lock-down, such as remote working, cycling and walking, should also be reinforced, according to the report.