Charities to Boris Johnson: Pandemic response will determine whether UK meets climate goals

Johnson is at the helm at a "critical juncture in history"

In an open letter coordinated by The Climate Coalition, signatories including Oxfam, National Trust and WaterAid warn that 2020 is a “crucial juncture in history”, whereby actions to kick-start the economy after Covid-19 will either spur the transition to a net-zero, socially inclusive world, or lock humanity into dependency on high-carbon systems which produce disparities.

“Next year, the UK will host the UN Climate Summit, COP26, to deliver a strong global lead on climate action,” the letter summarises. “The best way to show this leadership is to put resilience at the heart of our economic recovery by accelerating the transition to net-zero, restoring nature and supporting the most vulnerable at home and overseas.”

The letter reiterates the key calls to action from The Climate Coalition’s green recovery plan, which is being promoted using the #TimeIsNow tag.

Bailouts for corporations should be linked to strict conditions around decarbonisation, nature protection and social equality, the plan states. There have been reports that BEIS and the Treasury have not blocked the Bank of England from allocating emergency funding – and planning to allocate more – to key corporates in the aviation, road transport and fossil fuel sectors, without green strings. The central bank is also under fire for its decision to unconditionally lend £1bn to chemicals giants BASF and Bayer, major producers of pesticides.

The Climate Coalition is also calling for Ministers to guarantee more funding for public transport, energy efficiency upgrades to existing buildings and nature restoration projects. The creation of a net-zero aligned finance strategy, building on the existing Green Finance Strategy, and the devolution of key funding and responsibilities around decarbonising buildings and transport to nations, mayors and local authorities, are also encouraged.

International action should also be aligned with net-zero and with the scale of the nature crisis and the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the recommendations urge. The Climate Coalition would like all aid and export finance to be aligned with a just transition to net-zero, following numerous investigations into the UK’s spending on fossil fuel projects in developing nations, and for the UK to cancel the debts of developing nations “in line with its historic contribution” to warming whose worst impacts are felt overseas.

Broadly, all aspects of the recovery plan should undergo a stress test to ensure they are aligned with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, the Coalition’s recommendations conclude.

These recommendations have been jointly supported by 55 charities collectively representing 22 million members to date, along with a handful of businesses including Ben & Jerry’s. At least 210,000 jobs could be created and £90bn a year generated for the UK economy if they are followed in full, The Climate Group claims.

Mounting pressure

Representatives for the UK Government have repeatedly verbally shown support for a “green” recovery.  

At the 11th Petersberg Climate Dialogue in April, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “It will be the duty of every responsible government to see that our economies are revived and rebuilt in a way that will stand the test of time. That means investing in industries and infrastructure that can turn the tide on climate change.”

Since then, Boris Johnson has said that his Government’s efforts to create a “fairer, greener and more resilient global economy” after Covid-19 should be centred around “working together to get shared goals back on track, including the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement”.

Nonetheless, the fact that the UK has been slower to produce detailed recovery plans than nations such as Spain and Germany has proven both a concern for economists and an opportunity for green economy stakeholders to attempt to shape the plan’s contents.

A string of missives have landed on Johnson’s desk in recent weeks calling for a policy package which enable UK organisations to “build back better”. Key takeaways, from an embedding of the SDGs to the prioritisation of nature, vary, but the overarching message is that the opportunity to accelerate the transition to an economy which delivers long-term benefits for people and planet must be seized.  

Johnson is expected to make a speech by the end of the month in which the full recovery plans will be outlined. The framework will reportedly contain major initiatives to upskill workers for roles in the renewable energy sector, kick-start the development of key low-carbon infrastructure projects and increase investment in technologies which aim to decarbonise transport and heat.   

Sarah George

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