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Governments / Sustainability

COVID-19 recovery must focus on new jobs, cleaner air and improved health

By Andrew Sansom 06 May 2020 0

An independent advisory body for the UK and devolved governments has urged leaders to shape the economic recovery to the COVID-19 crisis by prioritising actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that perpetuate higher carbon emissions.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warns that reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change are integral to the UK’s recovery package. Governments, it says, can influence the recovery path through a number of policies, including encouraging new social behaviours that benefit wellbeing while reducing emissions, and only supporting carbon-intensive sectors if they commit to take significant and lasting action on climate change.

In letters to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the first ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it sets out six key principles to rebuild the nation following the COVID-19 pandemic while also delivering a stronger, cleaner and more resilient economy. 

Immediate steps are needed to support reskilling, retraining and research; to build a climate-resilient economy; to scale up housing retrofits and build new homes that are fit for the future; to invest in low-carbon, resilient infrastructure, such as improved broadband instead of new roads; to make it easy for people to work remotely, walk and cycle; and to expand tree planting, peatland restoration, green spaces and green infrastructure.

“The COVID-19 crisis has shown the importance of planning well for the risks the country faces,” said CCC chairman Lord Deben. “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.”

Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee Baroness Brown of Cambridge said: “This pandemic has shown that global risks need global solutions. As president of next year’s pivotal COP26 climate summit, the UK now finds itself in a unique position to ramp up climate action at home and supercharge the international response to climate change abroad. 

“The risks we face as a globalised society are now in sharp focus – for their part, UK leaders must act decisively on a climate-resilient recovery, and do so together.”

Governments in all UK nations should prioritise actions to recover from the pandemic based on six resilience principles. These are:

  1. Use climate investments to support economic recovery and jobs. The CCC has previously identified a detailed set of investments to reduce emissions and manage the social, environmental and economic impacts of climate change. 
  2. Lead a shift towards positive, long-term behaviours. The Government can lead the way to new social norms that benefit wellbeing, improve productivity and reduce emissions – including actions to support home-working and remote medical consultations, and improve safety for cyclists.
  3. Tackle the wider ‘resilience deficit’ on climate change. Strong policies are needed to reduce the UK’s vulnerability to the destructive risks of climate change and to avoid a disorderly transition to net zero emissions. They must be implemented alongside the response to COVID-19 and will bring benefits to health, wellbeing and national security.
  4. Embed fairness as a core principle. 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. Lost jobs of today should be replaced by those created by the new, resilient economy.
  5. Ensure the recovery does not lock-in greenhouse gas emissions or increased vulnerability to climate change in the longer term. Support for carbon-intensive 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.
  6. Strengthen incentives to reduce emissions when considering tax changes. Revenue could be raised by setting or raising carbon prices for sectors of the economy that do not bear the full costs of emitting greenhouse gases. Low global oil prices provide an opportunity to increase carbon taxes without hurting consumers.

The Committee’s letter details the steps that governments can take as a priority, emerging from these six overarching principles.

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