The UK must ensure post Covid-19 economic recovery measures support the growth of low-carbon infrastructure by giving a leading role to renewables rather than propping up carbon-intensive sectors, warned the Committee on Climate Change, the independent body that advises the government on climate policy.
In open letters to the UK prime minister Boris Johnson and the First Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the committee said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change must be integral to the UK’s financial recovery package from the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Covid-19 crisis has shown the importance of planning well for the risks the country faces. The government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions,” said Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC.
The CCC letters said government support for the carbon-intensive fossil fuel sectors should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change, and all new investments need to be resilient to future climate risks.
The UK has set stretching net-zero targets for 2050 and is due to co-host the next UN COP climate change summit next year.
“What we are suggesting in these letters is that there are plenty of opportunities here for the UK’s economic recovery to move in line with low-carbon goals, and one of those could be to encourage more renewable electricity generation,” Mike Hemsley, the CCC’s team leader for carbon budget, told Recharge.
Hemsley welcomed the government’s commitment to increasing the UK’s offshore wind target to 40GW by 2030. “We already have the Contract for Difference auction which could start delivering those objectives from next year. However, we think there is a case that we need increased volumes and more frequency in those auctions,” he commented.
The committee said revenues could be raised by setting or raising carbon prices for sectors of the economy which do not bear the full costs of emitting greenhouse gases. “Low global oil prices provide an opportunity to increase carbon taxes without hurting consumers,” said the CCC.
Industry lobby group RenewableUK said the climate emergency “has not gone away” and, if anything, the Covid-19 pandemic had underlined the need to make sure the UK economy is sustainable and resilient in the long-term.
The group said the CCC had highlighted that “climate investments support economic growth and jobs, and this is precisely what renewable energy companies are doing through investing tens of billions of pounds in new infrastructure”.
EnergyUK’s interim chief executive Audrey Gallacher said the energy sector has led the way in reducing the UK’s carbon emissions to levels that – even before the pandemic – were last seen in the 1890s.
“It will be ready to play an integral part as we further expand low carbon sources of power, develop further alternatives to fossil fuels like hydrogen, make our homes and businesses energy efficient and decarbonise heating and transport.”
The International Energy Agency forecast last week that renewables, especially wind and solar, will grow this year while coal, oil and gas are suffering “staggering” reverses as demand plunges in the biggest shock to the global energy system since the second world war.