Six huge challenges Boris Johnson must tackle, according to the green economy

With Boris Johnson winning the race to become the new Prime Minister, edie has reached out to the green economy experts to create a six-pillar wishlist that could drive the UK's climate aspiration to unprecedented heights.

These six challenges should be the key focus for the new Prime Minister. Number 10 [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

These six challenges should be the key focus for the new Prime Minister. Number 10 [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Boris Johnson, the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, will be announced as the new Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon (24 July). While one of the key drivers behind the Brexit movement has an enigmatic approach to green policy, a raft of announcements from Defra and BEIS earlier in the week has set the stage for the UK to start progressing against long-term environmental strategy,.

In one of her last acts as Prime Minister, Theresa May confirmed last month that Parliament will implement the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, creating a legally binding net-zero carbon target for 2050. Since transposed into law, the net-zero target provides the long-term trajectory for Johnson and the rest of Government to deliver on the aims of the Paris Agreement.

Elsewhere, the 25-Year Environment Plan launched in January 2018, sets out the Government's goals for improving the environment, within a generation, and leaving it in a better state than it found it. The strategy details how the Government will work with communities and businesses to do this. 

Overall, it would appear that the new PM has a strong foundation to drive sustainable prosperity in the UK. However, edie’s conversations with the green economy have shown that the new occupier at Number 10 has some massive challenges to deliver.

1) Deliver a green withdrawal agreement

Johnson is an avid Brexiteer and media conversations suggest that the new PM is keen to get out of the European Union as soon as possible. This has, understandably, cast fears that the UK could crash out of Europe without any environmental regulations safeguarded or transposed.

Commenting on Johnson’s appointment both the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the Aldersgate Group called on the new PM to provide security for UK sectors by delivering a Withdrawal Agreement that accounted for climate and environmental regulation

FDF’s chief executive Ian Wright CBE said: “The UK's largest manufacturing sector, food and drink, is central to our critical national infrastructure. The industry employs more than 450,000 people across the nation. UK food and drink is globally renowned for its quality, provenance and taste.

“A no-deal Brexit would destroy that opportunity and much more. It will inflict serious and - in some cases mortal - damage on UK food and drink. Prices will rise, there will be significant shortages of some products, and disruption for shoppers and consumers will be far reaching. We urge the new Prime Minister and Government to work with us to deliver a withdrawal agreement that guarantees the closest possible trade and regulatory relationship with our nearest neighbours so UK food and drink can flourish.”

Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group, said: "The new Prime Minister will arrive at Downing Street with a significant to-do list, not least to avoid the significant negative environmental impacts that would be associated with a sudden, no-deal Brexit. Beyond Brexit, the UK’s new net-zero target and the promise of a landmark Environment Bill is a welcome backdrop for this new administration. 

“Boris Johnson now has the opportunity to deliver a significant and concrete step up in action across government and ensure the UK is on a credible path to achieving its environmental ambitions. We look forward to seeing the Environment Bill introduced as early as possible in the next parliamentary session that sets in place an ambitious and robust legal framework to drive much needed improvements in our natural environment and increase the UK’s resilience to climate change. This should include the introduction of legally-binding targets in key areas such as air, water, soils, peatland, biodiversity and resource efficiency, and a fully independent Office for Environmental Protection.”

2) Implement some ‘serious’ net-zero measures

Since the net-zero target was set, discussions have raged as to how the UK can meet this ambition, with many of the belief that carbon-intensive activities, such as flights, should be taxed appropriately.

While a lot of the response to Johnson’s appointment has been general calls to deliver net-zero, the below thread (the new initiative of Ovo Energy's chief executive and founder Stephen Fitzpatrick) outlines calls for a General Carbon Charge in a fair and just manner to start stamping out high-carbon behaviours.

“Most importantly, it will ensure the necessary transition to net-zero does not unfairly impact the less well off. Part of the proceeds raised will be returned to citizens in the form of a “carbon dividend” ensuring that those who can least afford it won’t be unfairly penalised”, is a key message here.

3) Couple sustainability and economics

The UK is leading the rest of the G20 when it comes from decoupling emissions from economic growth. However, net-zero presents some major challenges when it comes to growth, leading to some green groups and experts to argue that sustainability and growth (regardless of type) can not go hand in hand.

The Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IMEA) is the body which represents UK sustainability professionals. The organisation’s chief policy advisor Martin Baxter claims now is the time for the PM to make sustainability central to a new UK economic model.

"An economy that is fit for the future requires a long-term policy framework to deliver on the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation - unlocking investment to support our future prosperity," he said. "We look forward to working with the new government to build on work already underway on an ambitious new Environment Act, and to supporting the delivery of the UK's 2050 net-zero carbon target."

Manufacturers have, thus far, been central to discussions on job security on Brexit. For MAKE UK, the manufacturers association, Johnson’s reign could be defined by a regulatory landscape that streamlines production opportunities through energy efficiency measures.

“It is in everyone’s interest for environmental policy to be well-designed, supporting business to make sustainable decisions rather than creating unnecessary regulatory hurdles or adding costs that don’t effectively drive change,” the association told edie.

“The current regulatory landscape is complex and can include many overlapping schemes in the same areas such as in energy efficiency. Whilst Brexit presents an opportunity to streamline some regulation, manufacturers want product regulations, such as those dealing with chemicals and energy efficiency to remain aligned with the EU for continuity and to avoid the need to produce multiple products for multiple markets.

“Fundamentally, manufacturers need appropriate, long-term goals to make investment decisions and Brexit provides an opportunity for the Government to implement these, working with business to deliver on its recent net-zero commitment.”

4) Supercharge the low-carbon transport transition

Transport is one sector that has struggled to decarbonise, despite the ongoing optimism surrounding the expected growth in electric vehicles (EVs). For those operating in the transport sector, as well as the renewables sector, the PM should be supercharging how EVs and renewables can interact as well as spurring the development of low-carbon heavy transport

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, chief executive at the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said: “Coming into this role, Boris Johnson has a lot of work ahead of him, from appointing the new cabinet to working towards Brexit, the next few months are set to be full steam ahead. However, in this time it is crucial that the UK’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 does not slip.

“The recent announcement of a number of consultations this week is another step towards achieving our targets and we urge the new administration to take this further by facilitating the introduction of E10 for transport fuels, the growth of interoperable public EV charging networks, future support for renewable heat, a flexible energy system and a route to market for the cheapest renewable power technologies that will allow for a green, cheap and flexible energy system.

Building on Skorupska’s points, Andy Eastlake, managing director of the LowCarbon Vehicle Partnership) LowCVP added: “Transport is one of the most important and challenging areas to tackle on our road to net zero.

"The new administration must grasp the opportunity to support innovation in not only transport technology but in the assessment, the use, the market mechanisms and in the fuels we use. It must refocus and strengthen policy across every area to supercharge the speed of transition.”

5) Make energy efficiency and biodiversity the built environment norms

In the Spring Statement, Chancellor Hammond announced a major global review into the economic value of biodiversity, including the financial risks of its decline and rewards of its stewardship. The review will examine the economic benefits of biodiversity on a global, national and local level.

More recently Defra announced that it will explore new legislation that ensures that built environment projects account for biodiversity net-gain. This, coupled with the fact that the built environment is estimated to account for up to 40% of emissions, means that Johnson should prioritise greening the sector.

Richard Twinn, senior policy advisor at the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) told edie: “As the new PM takes office with the UK’s net-zero target now in place, the scale of the challenge couldn’t be clearer. Beyond Brexit, he must focus on meaningful action to tackle the climate crisis, and our built environment contains some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for doing so.

“Retrofitting our homes and buildings must be made a national infrastructure priority. We need to retrofit 1.7 homes every minute between now and 2050 to decarbonise our existing housing stock. Added to that, we need to retrofit all of our existing commercial buildings. And to stop making the problem worse, we need to see tighter standards for new builds so that we don’t have to go back and retrofit the homes we’re building today.

“This year will see the long-awaited review of Building Regulations and the publication of a Government action plan for home energy efficiency. These are both key opportunities to respond to the climate challenge with robust regulations and targeted investment that drives up standards and delivers better quality buildings for people across the UK.”

Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF focused more on how Johnson had a chance to make the UK a “fighting force for our planet” by reversing worrying environmental trends.

 “Nature is in freefall – wildlife population sizes have plummeted by 60% in less than 50 years. The climate continues to change alarmingly, with nine out of the top ten hottest years on record happening this century,” she said.

“We have heard strong words from government and seen some welcome actions but now is the time to go further and faster. The new Prime Minister has the power to ramp up the UK’s leadership on climate by prioritising urgent action across government to tackle the crisis and ensuring we have an ambitious and comprehensive Environment Bill. The UK has an opportunity to be a fighting force for our planet, but only if we act now.”

6) ‘Lie down in front of the bulldozers’ at Heathrow

Unsurprisingly, Johnson’s old quotes that he would 'lie down in front of the bulldozers’ to prevent a third runway at Heathrow have already been used to create a further rallying call to stop the runway’s construction.

In the same week that Friends of the Earth was granted a hearing at the Court of Appeal for an application for permission to appeal a ruling by the High Court in relation to the expansion of Heathrow airport, the organisations chief executive Craig Bennett said:

“Boris Johnson said he’d ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’ to prevent a third runway at Heathrow. Now he has the power to cancel this polluting project along with other climate disasters like fracking. And he must. 

“The country is united in wanting an urgent response to the climate crisis. Swift government action will decide whether we are a nation with warm homes, clean air, and a thriving renewable industry or whether worsening extreme weather, wildfires and floods cause misery for millions. Prime Minister Johnson, the choice is yours."

 
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Do you have a green priority that the new Prime Minister should be focusing on? Let us know in the comments.

Matt Mace



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