Green GB Week: a UK policy wishlist to drive clean growth action

With the Government launching the nation's first-ever Green GB Week last week, dozens of sustainability experts met throughout the week to discuss the nation's clean growth agenda. Here, edie rounds up ten of their top green policy recommendations for the Government to place the UK on the road to a low-carbon economy.

Green GB Week undoubtedly served as a catalyst for sustainable business action, with 67 organisations and counting having announced an array of bold new sustainability commitments on edie’s virtual Pledge Wall, and dozens more having convened to discuss topics ranging from science-based targets to green finance.

But while these events and commitments have helped to empower organisations of all industry types and sizes to accelerate progress towards a low-carbon economy, the business community can only make sustainability a success story with policymakers on board.

Moreover, after the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report lay bare the perils of a 2C global temperature increase, the need for an ambitious, effective and consistent green policy approach from the UK Government has never been clearer.

With this in mind, edie has rounded up ten key priorities for policymakers overseeing the UK’s low-carbon transition, as raised by politicians, business leaders and sustainability professionals during Green GB Week events.

Green GB Week: The wishlist for Government

1) Assess the impact of green policy on future generations

One of the most commonly cited barriers to taking action on emissions, water stewardship and waste management among businesses and policymakers alike is that the scale of the challenge is vast, and that stretching targets are likely to be hit outside of some people’s lifetimes.

Outlining how this challenge could be overcome at a Question Time panel in London last Monday (October 15), the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) adaptation sub-committee leader Baroness Brown argued that a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act – similar to that introduced in Wales in 2015 – should be implemented across the UK.

The Act requires all decision-makers – whether they work at a national or a local level – to assess the impact their decisions will have on the climate and society that the next generation will grow up in.

“The problem with the Climate Change Act and getting action around it, is that so much of it happens quite a long time ahead – it’s not framed as something that’s really affecting the youth now,” Brown said.

“We’re all used to governments on having to calculate the implications of policy on diversity, and I think they should also have to produce a report of every piece of legislation explaining how it affects future generations.”

2) Provide subsidies for retrofits that boost energy efficiency in buildings

Heat and power for buildings currently account for 40% of national energy usage, with the UK’s built environment generating around 30% of national emissions.

Since the CCC’s annual progress report to Parliament revealed that the UK is on track to miss its legally binding carbon budgets in 2025 and 2030, due to lack of progress in cutting emissions from buildings, the Committee has lobbied for the uptake of low-cost energy efficiency measures.

Citing the fact that the cancellation of government incentives has caused a 95% drop in home insulation installations since 2012, Brown urged ministers to “use the technologies of today” to spur immediate carbon reductions.

“We should be doing simple things, like insulation – it’s a no-brainer,” Brown argued. “We have some of the worst-insulated buildings in the developed world, yet insulation reduces fuel costs, reduces emissions and makes hydrogen and heat-pumps more worth the cost.

3) Offer financial incentives for energy efficiency measures

On a similar note, WWF’s head of advocacy Bernadette Fischler argued that the Government should offer financial incentives to homeowners and businesses that undertake actions to boost energy efficiency and water efficiency while minimising their waste footprint.

Doing so would incentivise the public and the business community to undertake “significant” behaviour change actions, she said, citing Austria’s decision to subsidise energy audits and provide grants to the owners and operators of highly efficient buildings.

“Subsidies have a very important role to play – if you invest a lot in those ways, you can really leverage a lot more change within the private sector,” Fischler concluded.

4) Introduce local laws for onshore wind

Onshore wind has been locked out of the UK’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) framework since 2015, with the current auction process only open to less-established renewable technologies such as offshore wind.

Since then, the cost of the technology has plummeted as the industry matured – leading environmentalists, policymakers and some businesses to lobby for changes to the Government’s “outdated” policy.

Among those to have called for change is RenewableUK, with executive director Emma Pinchbeck reiterating this demand at the same Question Time event. She argued that the current situation proved that even low-cost renewables require support from Government, with Brown suggesting that local laws on onshore wind could be introduced to spur its uptake.

“There really is a role for Government in making sure they set out the framework for the markets even when we are at a level where these technologies could build themselves,” Pinchbeck explained.

“We should be doing onshore wind where local communities find it acceptable – we shouldn’t be forcing it on people who are worried that it will affect their lives in negative way, but there are local communities who are in favour of onshore wind, so we should be doing it,” Brown added

5) Implement policies that enable more ‘regulatory sandboxing’

Policymakers have often been encouraged to outline laws and launch funding drives that provide platforms for innovation and opportunities to determine which actions will have the most positive impact.

Previous actions which fall under this category include the launch of the Faraday Battery Challenge and the opening of a research and innovation hub that aims to tackle plastic waste through innovative solutions, for example.

Speaking at the same Question Time event, Climate-KIC’s chief executive Kirsten Dunlop called on policymakers to introduce similar initiatives and frameworks that allow businesses to experiment with innovation without the need for upfront regulation – something she claimed could “paralyse” efforts.

“In this particular area, there is a critical interface between what is happening in the ground in terms of innovation and what can happen in terms of rapid-cycle learning around policy change” Dunlop said. 



6) Foster investment opportunities arising from the clean growth agenda

Investors are increasingly recognising the financial sense to integrate climate change considerations into the investment process, decision making and dialogue with companies in with they invest. Indeed, a recent survey from the Environmental Audit Committee showed that 80% of 25 of the UK’s largest pension funds have a climate strategy, with seven having committed to reporting in line with Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations.

The UK Government recently provided new guidance on the responsibility of pension funds, a move that was welcomed by Legal & General Investment Management’s head of sustainability and responsible investment strategy, Meryam Omi. Speaking at a Green GB Week event hosted last week by The Aldersgate Group, Omi said she wanted to see more “policy direction” to foster investment opportunities arising from the energy transition and the shift to a cleaner economy.

“We want to offer that mainstream solution in terms of investment,” Omi said. “That is the journey that we are on. In order to make that happen, policy direction is absolutely vital. One of the vital things that came out of the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) is that all pension schemes now have to talk about how climate change is important and what they should be doing about it. That cross-cutting aspect of Government policy will be key.”

7) Support offshore wind through more regular grants

For the last decade, the offshore wind industry has been a great British success story: increasing productivity, raising earnings and improving lives in communities across the UK. The results from the latest CfD auction saw the cost of offshore wind halve over the last two years to set a record low-strike price of £57.50 per MWh.

The UK already has more than 7GW of operational offshore wind capacity – the largest of any nation – with a further 7GW already confirmed through secured contracts. But investment in offshore wind has fallen over the past year, with many in the industry citing a stop-start approach from Government.

Dean Drinkwater, managing director, Hutchinson Engineering, told attendees at The Aldersgate Group event: “We’ve had no work in the offshore industry for months because the way the Government released the offshore subsidies is in huge chunks. The wind farms have got bigger, the turbines have got bigger, the components have got bigger and the factories can’t cope. 

“What we need to do is ask the Government not to introduce them in large chunks, but to drip feed them into the industry and then UK businesses can cope better, invest money and upskill our staff and have a nice steady stream of work.”

8) Bolster charging infrastructure to accelerate the EV shift

The EV revolution is sweeping the country, with all corners of the industry witnessing unprecedented change. Many businesses are now seeking to build up EV portfolios and enhance charging infrastructure. One of the most notable firms is Ikea, a member of the Climate Group’s EV100 initiative, which urges corporates to ensure that all vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes are electric by the year 2030.

Speaking at The Aldersgate Group event last week, Ikea’s UK country sustainability manager Hege Sæbjørnsen called on the Government to support companies looking to profit from the EV revolution with an enabling policy environment.

“We would like to see some ambitious targets on how we can move fast on EV100,” she said. “Look at what has happened in Shanghai where legislation has helped to support EV uptake very quickly.”

Many commentators have welcomed the UK Government’s decision to stop the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, a pledge that was matched by a £1bn investment to support the take-up of Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs). But now, attentions are turning to the rollout of EV charging infrastructure, which struggling to keep up with the rapid EV uptake.

“We see EVs as an infrastructure challenge,” said WSP’s director of sustainability David Symons. “We must have a route to deliver the roll out and ambitions to deliver that 2040 target to phase out new petrol and diesel vehicles.” 

9) Double down on promises to improve resource efficiency

The Government’s landmark Green GB Week was designed to raise awareness of the benefits of clean growth, but Symons was keen to highlight the central role that resource efficiency should play in the clean growth agenda.

“Clean growth is more than just carbon,” he said. “For every £10 of UK GDP, the UK economy uses 3kg of stuff, which just seems an enormous amount. We think the Government’s plan to double resource efficiency by 2050 is ambitious but nowhere near ambitious enough.

“It will still not deliver sustainability by 2050 – we still think we will be using two planet’s worth of resources in the UK economy. If we can make stuff using less and create a circular economy, that is great for carbon and business innovation.”

10) Bring about an end to the ‘siloing’ of climate, economy and biodiversity policies

The challenge of combining of climate action, economic growth and biodiversity preservation was highlighted in the IPCC’s special report, which outlines multiple 1.5C trajectories and the potential negative effects on nature and global finances they could bring about.

In the wake of the report, WWF’s Fischler urged ministers to adopt a more “joined-up” and “systems-orientated” approach to this trifecta of issues, which have been proven to be interrelated.

“I think that if you have an integrated approach, you are able to better manage trade-offs between factors such as biodiversity and climate change,” she said. 

“It would be foolish to think that if you tackle climate change really well, you will also stop nature loss, or that you will also have a sustainable economy. That is not the case.“

Sarah George & George Ogleby

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