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COVID-19 could be historic turning point, says Committee on Climate Change

Mark Moran
25 June 2020
The CCC wants to see the transition to a net zero economy accelerated
The CCC wants to see the transition to a net zero economy accelerated


Ministers are being urged to turn the COVID-19 crisis into a defining moment in the fight against climate change, a statutory body has advised the government.

In its annual report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) provides advice 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 committee also argues that the UK has the potential to be an international climate leader ahead of the pivotal COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Its membership comprises scientists, economists, energy experts and politicians.

The CCC says that important steps have been taken in over the past year on transport, buildings, industry, energy supply, agriculture and land-use. However, the CCC says these steps do not yet sum to meet the size of the net zero challenge, nor do steps taken in recent years deliver adequate progress in addressing even the unavoidable impacts of climate change, let alone the risks of expected levels of global warming of around 3°C above pre-industrial levels

For the first time the committee has set out its recommendations government department by government department. To initiate a green and resilient COVID-19 recovery, the committee calls for its recommendations to be delivered through strong coordination across Whitehall.

For the Department for Transport, the CCC recommends:

  • investment in active travel and public transport
  • improving infrastructure to lock-in behaviours that reduce travel demand such as home-working
  • bringing forward bans on new petrol/diesel and plug-in hybrids to 2023
  • investment in electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure
  • developing a strategy for zero-carbon freight, including developing zero-carbon HGVs and vans, and encouraging cargo bikes
  • support for Network rail in removing all diesel trains by 2040
  • working internationally to deliver cleaner aviation and shipping.

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 an 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.”

The committee’s analysis expands on its May 2020 advice to the Prime Minister in which it set out the principles for building a resilient recovery.

In its new report, the committee has assessed a wide set of measures and gathered the latest evidence on the role of climate policies in the economic recovery.

The CCC report highlights five investment priorities for the months ahead:

  1. Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future. There are new employment and reskilling opportunities across the country if its 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. The roll-out of ‘green passports’ for buildings and local area energy plans can begin immediately.
  2. Tree planting, peatland restoration, and green infrastructure. Investing in nature, including in towns and cities, offers a route to opportunities for highly-skilled employment and outcomes that improve people’s lives. Substantial changes to the use of land, which are needed to meet the UK’s Net Zero target, could bring significant benefits for the climate, biodiversity, air quality, and flood prevention.
  3. Energy networks must be strengthened for the net zero energy transformation to support electrification of transport and heating. Government has the regulatory tools to bring forward private sector investment. New hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure will provide a route to establishing new low-carbon British industries. Fast-tracked electric vehicle charging points would hasten the move towards a full phase out of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 or earlier.
  4. Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely. Dedicated safe spaces for walking and cycling, more bike parking and support for shared bikes and e-scooters can help the nation get back to work in a more sustainable way. 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. Within the next five years, we can not only increase reuse and recycling rates rapidly but stop sending biodegradable wastes to landfill. Local authorities need support to invest strategically in separated waste collections and recycling infrastructure and to create new regional jobs.

There are also opportunities to support the transition and the recovery by investing in the UK’s workforce, and in lower-carbon behaviours and innovation.

The CCC’s report finds that, overall, UK emissions reduced by 3-4% in 2018-2019, a cut of 30% between 2008 and 2019.

In 2020, global emissions are expected to fall by a record 5-10% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a potentially larger fall for the UK. But the CCC said effect is only temporary. CO2 emissions must still be cut consistently year-on-year until they reach net zero globally in order to slow and halt global warming.

The UK’s consumption emissions – emissions embedded in imported products that are produced overseas but consumed in the UK – have fallen and are 18% down from 2008 to 2017, despite growing consumption over the same period.

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