UK must go ‘faster, further, fairer’ to combat climate and nature crisis and rebuild economy

By agency reporter
June 2, 2020

A cross-party commission proposes that only by going “faster, further, fairer” can we seize the significant national and global opportunities of a net-zero economy. That would enable the UK to unlock new high-skilled and high-paid jobs, develop dynamic businesses and improve the health and wellbeing for all citizens, it says. 

Failure to move further quickly risks the UK missing its climate targets, worsening existing inequalities and emerging from one major global shock only to accelerate headlong into another, says the commission in its first full report.  

Unlike the COVID-19 crisis, the report points out, the threat from the climate and nature emergency has been widely predicted. Faster and more ambitious action can both mitigate the impacts and capture the opportunities. 

The IPPR Environmental Justice Commission was set up to explore how the UK could become a 'net zero' economy while improving the lives, security and wellbeing of every citizen, and the health of the natural world. Commissioners are drawn from a wide range of ages, experience and backgrounds. 

Its report urges the UK to raise ambition and secure greater action on climate and nature around the world, as host of the next international climate summit (COP 26). That puts the UK in a unique global leadership role, an opportunity which must not be squandered, and will require a radically new approach here at home. 

The co-chairs of the commission, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP – who worked alongside Labour MP Ed Miliband, until he left to take up a shadow cabinet post – say that this is no time for “incrementalism” but a time for “transformative ambition and policies”. They argue that such action can and must both improve lives and offer opportunities for all in a thriving economy – benefiting all and ensuring no-one is left behind. 

As a first step, the commission is urging the government to accelerate action to combat the climate and nature emergency in a way that will also help kick-start recovery from the shock of COVID-19.  

It argues that hundreds of thousands of new jobs could be created as part of a recovery package that focuses on the UK’s need to reach 'net zero' carbon emissions and help stave off global temperature rises above 1.5C. 

To set the UK on the right path, the commission calls on the UK government, and devolved administrations where appropriate, to go faster, further and fairer by: 

Going faster: 

  • Commit to decarbonise the economy significantly faster over the next decade. The UK government must, at the very least, make its domestic ambition over the next decade align with 1.5°C and net zero, which must be achieved entirely through domestic action. 
  • Before the Covid-19 crisis, the UK was set to fall short of meeting its fifth carbon budget (for the period 2028-2032) which is based on the previous 80 per cent reduction target.
  • Invest at least £30 billion in a green recovery to help build the net-zero economy of the future and restore nature across the UK. At least an extra £30 billion a year of public money, above current plans, is needed if the UK is to reach net-zero by 2050 and restore nature, the report says.
  • Direct this investment initially to 'shovel-ready' green projects that will generate most jobs. This can be a win-win, with a national programme to insulate homes and make other improvements to reduce energy use, creating benefits for consumers; planting millions of trees, to restore the UK’s forests and create new ones; restoring peatland; expanding and improving the rail network; and supporting drivers to adopt electric vehicles, through investing in the charging network. 

Going further:

  • Set a target for 'consumption emissions', the carbon burnt abroad to make and supply everything the UK imports, seeking advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on how best to do so. This will also ensure that UK manufacturers can compete on a level playing field with high-carbon imports. UK consumption emissions in the 1970s were just 0.2 per cent higher than territorial emissions, compared to 37 per cent higher today. This shift is largely a result of deindustrialisation, with the UK now importing more of the products and materials that it consumes.
  • Add a target for the UK’s global environmental footprint – damage done to nature and air, water and soil, here and abroad – in the current Environment Bill, and require businesses to assess the environmental impacts of their supply chains. Evidence suggests that if everyone in the world were to live like the average UK citizen, then we would need 2.5 planets’ worth of resources to sustain us.
  • Audit all government activities, policies, rules and decision-making, to ensure they conform with the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement, including working towards net zero and limiting global temperature increases to 1.5C; revising the Treasury’s Green Book – the guide to spending decisions across government – to reflect this. This must include ending the UK’s policy of maximising the economic extraction of oil and gas which, if fulfilled, would rapidly blow the remaining carbon budget. 

Putting fairness at the heart of the transition:

  • Ensure how we decarbonise the economy is fairer by setting up a new 'Net Zero and Just Transition' delivery body. It would be responsible for plans to capture the benefits of a Net Zero economy for all, with the needs of communities most affected by the change put at their heart. This should work in lockstep with similar bodies in the devolved nations and the regions, charged with bringing together people and institutions to tailor solutions to local circumstances and the public’s views.
  • Invest £5 billion in a national Just Transition Fund to help regions that need to make the greatest changes do so fairly, with funding devolved as far as possible. According to IPPR analysis, among the top 10 regions with most greenhouse gas emission-intensive industries, around two-thirds of the 446,000 related jobs are outside London and the South East. 

Co-chair Caroline Lucas said: “The good news is that decarbonising our economy and restoring nature offers us a vital opportunity to fix an economic model that is not only driving environmental destruction, but also failing the vast majority of people across the UK, as the fall-out from COVID-19 has so brutally exposed. 

"We can build back better – but only if we embed an agenda of rapid decarbonisation within a broader social and economic justice agenda, and ensure that those communities most affected by change have the power to lead and shape it.” 

Co-chair Laura Sandys said: “A new and green economy that is fit for the future is a real possibility if only we can grasp it quickly. At its heart will be promotion of citizens’ health and wellbeing, building strong and future facing businesses with secure jobs and vibrant communities. 

“With a powerful vision, plan of action and Net Zero 'compliant' investment we can capture the health, quality of life, and the positive economic impacts of this transformation, delivering cleaner air, warmer homes, access to open spaces, and healthy diets. It’s a tantalising and enticing prospect that should inspire people to seek the change.” 

Luke Murphy, head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, said: “This is the moment for big, bold action by the government to deliver on its promises to decarbonise the UK economy and restore nature. The first step should be a no-brainer: investing right now in projects like insulating homes, planting trees and infrastructure to increase walking and cycling will create jobs and help kick-start the economy after the COVID-19 crisis. It will also help us tackle the next crisis that we know for sure is coming our way. 

 “The government has the opportunity, as host of COP 26, to show true global leadership on the climate and nature crisis. But it will require stepping up delivery here at home by going faster, further and fairer than ever before.” 

Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim, climate activist, a member of the commission, said: “Action on climate and nature must have justice at its heart, tackling unfairness across the generations, within the UK and between the UK and the rest of the world. The government has a responsibility to younger and future generations - who are least responsible for the climate and nature crisis but who will be the most impacted – to take bold and swift action now.” 

* Read Faster, further, fairer: Putting people at the heart of tackling the climate and nature emergency here

* Institute for Public Policy Research


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