Coronavirus: UK warned to avoid climate change crisis

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Wind farm and chemical plant on River MerseyImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The government faces a post-lockdown choice between green growth or propping up polluting industries

The UK must avoid lurching from the coronavirus crisis into a deeper climate crisis, the government’s advisers have warned.

They recommend that ministers ensure funds earmarked for a post-Covid-19 economic recovery go to firms that will reduce carbon emissions.

They say the public should work from home if possible; and to walk or cycle.

And investment should prioritise broadband over road-building, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says.

People should also be encouraged to save emissions by continuing to consult GPs online.

The government will reply later, although the Energy Secretary Alok Sharma has already spoken in favour of a green recovery to the recession.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the committee says jobless people should be re-trained for work in geographically-spread labour-intensive “green” industries such as home insulation; tree-planting; and peatland restoration.

Image source, Construction Photography/Avalon
Image caption,
Road building should have a lower priority than broadband, the report says

It makes a veiled reference to the current discussions over a potential government bailout to save jobs in aviation, which is struggling in the crisis.

The letter says: “Many sectors of the UK economy do not currently bear the full costs of emitting greenhouse gases. Revenue could be raised by setting or raising carbon prices for these sectors.”

Green groups say any bailout should include a condition that the industry shrinks until it finds a technological solution to its carbon emissions.

The letter also tackles broader social themes of fairness and risk.

It says the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted inequalities, with poorer people more in danger.

The committee notes: “The response to the pandemic has disproportionately affected the same lower-income groups and younger people - who face the largest long-term impacts of climate change.

“The benefits of acting on climate change must be shared widely, and the costs must not burden those who are least able to pay or whose livelihoods are most at risk as the economy changes.

“It is important that the lost or threatened jobs of today should be replaced by those created by the new, resilient economy.”

The committee says the government must produce policies that allow the UK to reduce emissions to Net Zero in an orderly way – unlike the chaos of the Covid-19 crisis.

The 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.”

The message is not uncontested. Some politicians have argued that jobs must be protected at all cost in the recovery from the Covid-19 recession.

The UK will chair a vital global climate conference next year. Lord Deben said the UK should set a global example by planning a climate-friendly recovery from Covid-19.

The committee has copied the letter to the leaders of Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland. It will expand on its advice in June.

The Green MP Caroline Lucas says the government should harness the lessons from the Covid-19 crisis to create a better society overall.

She says ministers should force firms to show how they will meet CO2 cuts, and give people a right to locally-produced food; affordable clean energy; and access to green space.

The environment consultancy EPR says ministers should change the balance of the planning process to ensure that green space is a top priority rather than a nice-to-have.

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