The Government must seize the opportunity to turn the Covid-19 crisis into a defining moment in the fight against the climate crisis, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says.

In its annual report to Parliament, the Committee argues that recovery from the Covid-19 health crisis provides the Government with an opportunity to reshape how the UK tackles the climate emergency.

The report points out that net zero is a key goal of the Government and the Prime Minister but steps taken so far on transport, buildings, industry, energy supply, agriculture and land use, do not yet measure up to the size of the challenge. Launching the report, CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, said the climate crisis “is accelerating” at a time when the UK is facing its biggest economic shock for a generation.

“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.”

The Committee report sets out urgent steps that must be taken to initiate a green, resilient Covid-19 recovery, which it says can be delivered through strong coordination across Whitehall departments.

CCC investment priorities for the months ahead include the following.

  • Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future — offering vital new employment and reskilling opportunities across the country to begin the shift to low-carbon heating systems and to protect against overheating.

  • Energy networks to strengthen net zero — supporting electrification of transport and heating, using regulatory tools to bring forward private sector investment. Invest in new hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure, and fast-tracked electric vehicle charging points towards a full phase out of petrol and diesel cars, and vans by 2032 or earlier.

  • Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely — providing dedicated safe spaces and supporting shared bikes and e-scooters. Invest in resilient digital technology (5G and fibre broadband).

  • Move towards a circular economy — increase recycling rates and stop sending biodegradable wastes to landfill. Local authorities need support to invest low-carbon service for waste collection and disposal, and to create new regional jobs.

  • Tree planting, peatland restoration, and green infrastructure — investing in nature, including in our towns and cities would make substantial changes in our use of land, which would bring significant benefits for the climate, biodiversity, air quality and flood prevention.

The report argues that the transition process is an opportunity to build a net-zero workforce for the future, able to install smart low-carbon heating systems, manufacture low-carbon products and materials, and capture carbon. The recovery process will also lead to more positive behaviours, the report says, reinforcing the “climate-positive” behaviours that emerged during the lockdown.

Commenting on the CCC report Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group, said the report “hits the nail on the head” and that actions taken during this parliamentary term will have a “decisive impact on whether the UK can meet its net zero target, build a competitive low carbon economy and successfully recover from the Covid-19 crisis.”

A CBI paper, also released this week, backs up the CCC report and highlights opportunities to accelerate progress to net-zero emissions as the country continues to fight the virus. The paper calls on the Government to focus on a low-carbon economy to “stimulate a green recovery through smarter regulation” and to “build the foundations of a green economic recovery into plans to support companies recovering from the pandemic.”

Summing up the challenges and opportunities ahead, 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.”

Last reviewed 25 June 2020