MPs to probe whether Covid-19 recovery package is truly ‘green’

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has launched a new inquiry into the environmental and social implications of the UK Government's Covid-19 recovery package, just one day before the plan's key aspects are due to be unveiled by Boris Johnson.

MPs to probe whether Covid-19 recovery package is truly ‘green’

The inquiry will run for three months

Called ‘greening the post-Covid recovery’, the three-month inquiry will see MPs on the Committee analyse the key facts, figures and mandates of the recovery package. They will also quiz key figures from across the green economy. Business leaders, experts from NGOs and local authorities, academics and the Climate Assembly for citizens are expected to take part.

The overarching aim of the inquiry is to determine whether the allocation of the funding in the package, along with any changes to policy, are aligned with the UK’s long-term climate goal of net-zero by 2050. Climate impacts generated by the plan abroad, as well as domestically, will be considered.

In addition to climate mitigation measures, the EAC will also assess the plan’s likely impacts on the UK’s climate adaptation. Recent reports from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) concluded that the current UK policy framework has borne vulnerabilities to extreme weather events in the past and will leave the nation poorly prepared for shocks which are now inevitable but yet to be felt.

EAC members will also examine whether the package delivers against the Conservative Party’s commitment to “level up” economies and communities across the UK, ensuring that the short-term costs of recovering from the pandemic and creating a low-carbon economy, as well as the long-term benefits, are felt proportionately across geographical regions and social groups.  

Also launching an inquiry today (29 June) is the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee. The group’s ‘post-pandemic economic growth’ inquiry, also running for three months, will forecast and record the recovery package’s economic impacts in detail, making conclusions at sector and regional level as well as nationally.

In a joint letter penned to Chancellor Rishi Sunak today, BEIS Committee Chair Darren Jones MP and EAC Chair Phillip Dunne MP wrote: “The EAC has heard the international post-crisis stimulus spending is likely to dwarf existing spending on climate change.

“If recovery packages are not aligned with net-zero, then the world’s nations could end up investing in carbon-intensive energy, transport and industrial infrastructure projects that lock us into high carbon pathways for many years to come. This would be a historic mistake.”

The letter also warns that if the package grants unconditional multi-billion-pound bailouts to high-emitting sectors or businesses, the UK will not “have credibility” as the host of the COP26 summit, now postponed until November 2021. Boris Johnson has previously said that a key aim of the event will be to encourage other nations to follow the UK’s lead in setting a legally binding net-zero target – an aim which MPs are sceptical will be achieved if accusations of hypocrisy continue. Bail-outs have already been assigned to corporates in the aviation, fossil fuel and chemicals sectors by the Bank of England. 

What next?

The letter has been sent just one day before Boris Johnson is expected to outline the basics of the package in a televised speech. Sunak will then flesh out additional details through a series of speeches and Treasury publications in July.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, published this weekend, Johnson said he would unveil a “decade of investment” in major infrastructure projects. Schools, hospitals and roads were all mooted as areas for priority support.

Giving a separate interview to The Times, Sunak unveiled plans to create and lead an Infrastructure Delivery Taskforce in a bid to remove “bottlenecks” for major projects.

As such, speculation is rife that the National Infrastructure Strategy could be published within a month. The policy package was due to be unveiled at the 2020 Budget in March but was delayed, with Treasury representatives claiming that more time was needed to align the Strategy with the net-zero target. Groups including the Sustainable Energy Association have urged the publication of the Strategy as a matter of urgency, in order to provide businesses and investors with the confidence needed to make low-carbon investments.

Sarah George

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