May 12, 2020
Committee on Climate Change calls for a green recovery
Professor Brian Sturgess

The Committee on Climate Change, CCC, the statutory body set up in 2008 to provide independent advice to the nations of the United Kingdom on tackling climate change, has written a letter to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, cced to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, stressing that a green recovery must be a fundamental part of rebuilding the nation following the COVID-19 pandemic. CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, said: “The COVID-19 crisis has shown the importance of planning well for the risks the country faces. Recovery means investing in new jobs, cleaner air and improved health. 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.”

As the crisis has evolved the United Kingdom could be facing not a sharp downward shock in aggregate supply as was anticipated early in April, with a bounce back at the end of the year, but a deficient demand induced depression possibly as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s. On the 14 April, just three weeks into the lockdown which has lasted close to another month, the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), the independent body set up to monitor public finances for Parliament, was forecasting a fall in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of just over a third in the second quarter of the year, with a sharp rise back in the second halve leave total output down by 12.8 per cent on last year, a few points lower than the impact of the financial crisis a decade ago. The OBR predicted that the rate of unemployment would average 8.5 per cent this year after falling to 10 per cent in the three months until June.

This is now looking very optimistic. In 1930, the rate of unemployment increased from 12 per cent to 20 per cent by the end of the year and stayed stubbornly high until 1936. The economic recovery was only secured by government spending on rearmaments in the run up to the Second World War and investment spending on better military equipment. A green recovery would declare war on climate change so that the spending to green the economy would eventually pay for itself in rising national income and falling unemployment. The Committee’s letter which was also sent to the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sets out a list calling for investments in low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure such as improved broadband instead of roads most of which would be labour intensive aiding employment and also supporting reskilling, retraining and research. The letter calls for expenditure to upgrade homes, to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely. A major programme of tree planting, peatland restoration and the creation of green spaces is deemed as essential to capture carbon.

The Committee identified key sectors that require urgent action particularly extending existing progress on the use of renewables in the generation of electricity. After the recent bank holiday, for example, Britain recorded its first ever 30-day period of generation without using output from domestic coal-fired power stations. The National Grid reported that coal had been off the nation’s system since April 10 with renewables accounting for 37 per cent over the month, followed by gas on 30 per cent, nuclear on 21 per cent and interconnectors, which may or may not include power from continental coal-fired generation, providing 11 per cent. The next stage identified by the Committee is to move rapidly towards greening heating and transport. “Electricity networks must be significantly strengthened across the UK to accommodate electrification of heat and transport”, the CCC stated. This will require substantial investments in the grid and in battery storage which is already lagging behind the capacity needed as a result of the increasing proportion of renewables in generation at pre-corona virus demand levels. The Committee added that these costs can be “recovered through modest increases in customer bills over periods of several decades”, added the Committee. Last year the Committee urged regulators to allow networks to invest in ‘fatter’ wires to enable the massive increases in energy flows anticipated from the electrification of heat and transport. The National Infrastructure Commission also called for greater urgency to upgrade power networks. The Committee also called for more investment in storage claiming that and called for more investment in storage stating that to better join up renewable generation and demand, Britain has an “urgent need for measures to provide for more orderly onshoring of offshore wind power.” 

Creating green-collar jobs will achieve economic and environmental recovery, while enabling the ‘levelling-up’ that the prime minister and his advisor appear keen to deliver. “Many green jobs are labour-intensive, spread geographically across the UK and will have high multiplier effects”, the letter continued. The CCC chair Lord Deben told ministers: “The Post-COVID-19 economic recovery presents an opportunity for governments, regulators and the industry to work together to accelerate much needed investments”. He also urged governments not to bail out carbon intensive sectors without securing their commitment to take “real and lasting” action on climate change. A green recovery in Britain would mirror plans by the European Commission which launched a public consultation on its “Renewed Sustainable Finance Strategy”, part of a €1 trillion package to make the European economy greener by 2030. “We are currently battling the coronavirus outbreak, but we must not lose sight of our long-term sustainability objectives, including making Europe climate-neutral by 2050,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU Commission’s executive vice-president in charge of the economy.



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