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Climate change action should drive coronavirus recovery

Out-Law News | 26 Jun 2020 | 8:26 am | 3 min. read

The UK government's policy response to the economic challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak should reflect its broader obligations on climate change, an influential statutory body has said.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) used its annual report to the UK parliament and each of the devolved administrations to recommend both immediate and longer-term action the government can take to address climate change. It said environmental considerations can be built in to coronavirus recovery policy making.

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Energy expert Paul Rice of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the CCC's report is essential reading for most businesses, in particular those active in the energy, infrastructure, transport and real estate sectors. He said business looking to future proof and grow in a sustainable way should familiarise themselves with the recommended policy landscape set out in the report for their sectors.

While it acknowledged that there has already been a reduction in UK emissions, the CCC called on the UK government to "act courageously" and to "seize the opportunity to make the Covid-19 recovery a defining moment in tackling the climate crisis". The report builds on the principles of resilience that the Committee laid down in its letter to the government last month and is framed as advice on accelerating the transition to 'Net Zero' through a green recovery.

The term 'Net Zero' reflects the government's ambitions of achieving carbon neutrality. Last year the government amended the Climate Change Act 2008 to introduce a statutory target for at least a 100% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions – compared to 1990 levels – in the UK by 2050.

Rice said: "Quite rightly, the report acknowledges the success to date of decarbonisation in the energy sector and that more needs to be done in other sectors but that time is of the essence. In December of this year the Committee will give its recommendations on UK emissions for the period 2033-37 after which the government will legislate with new Climate Change Act targets. In the meantime, and in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow next year, there is much to be taken from the Committee’s detailed and specific recommendations," he said.

"In designing for recovery, the report calls on the government to have an immediate policy focus on energy efficiency of buildings, decarbonisation of infrastructure and transport, a flexible and resilient energy system with expansion of low carbon power, support for low carbon initiatives in the technologies and industrial sectors, support for protective measures in the Environment and Agriculture Bills as well as a range of measures on carbon storage, flood defence and biodiversity," he said.

For the first time the recommendations outlined by the CCC are broken down by and addressed to each government department. Fiona Ross of Pinsent Masons said that it was clear from the CCC's report, however, that it believes the government has an opportunity to address climate change issues on a holistic basis.

All departments have been urged to integrate 'Net Zero' ambitions into their policy making, and the CCC also said they should also be able to "demonstrate adaptation planning for a minimum 2°C and consideration of a 4°C global temperature rise" by June 2021.

The CCC further called for cross-departmental work, involving the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy among others, on a new "UK Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)" by December 2020. An "exemplar" NDC should set out the government's "commitments on adaptation and climate finance" and reflect the expectations of the Paris Agreement on limiting global warming. The CCC envisages that the NDC be published and used as a diplomatic tool, particularly with the UK due to assume presidency of the G7 and COP in 2021.

Other recommendations outlined include aligning government spending reviews and the eagerly anticipated new UK infrastructure strategy with Net Zero and climate adaptation objectives, while the CCC also said the government should support the development of "high integrity" international carbon markets, develop plans for funding decarbonisation, and deliver a revised clean growth strategy by the middle of 2021.

The CCC was established by the Climate Change Act 2008 and, among its functions, it is required by the Act to report annually on its views on the UK’s progress towards meeting the carbon targets and any corrective measures needed. The CCC is distinct from the separate Cabinet Committee on Climate Change chaired by the prime minister, which was established in October 2019.