Sir David King: Businesses must ensure infrastructure investment is fit for purpose

EXCLUSIVE: The UK's Special Representative for Climate Change Sir David King has stressed the "critical" importance that the private sector matches the Government's climate obligations by investing in infrastructure "fit for purpose" in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Speaking to edie after the launch of Policy Exchange’s ‘Power 2.0: how to build a smarter electricity system’ report yesterday (07 November), King insisted that the Government has clearly positioned the nation’s direction of travel by approving the Fifth Carbon Budget. He called on businesses to gauge the pathway by avoiding capital expenditure in carbon-intensive “stranded assets”.

“The corporate sector needs to understand the direction of travel for the UK Government,” King said. “If people are wondering whether policy has changed at all, I just need to give them a reminder that the [Theresa] May Government has accepted the 2032 Carbon Budget presented by the Climate Change Comittee (ECC) – that 57% reduction by 2032 is now the Government’s commitment. So we have had no changes from policy since the Climate Change Act policy in 2008.

“That’s the direction of travel. For any member of the corporate sector, it’s critical to see that you need to avoid stranded assets being invested in. You need to ensure that whatever investment you make in infrastructure is fit for purpose, effectively in a zero-carbon world because infrastructure exists for 40-50 years.”

King noted that the UK Government is delivering on commitments to “take the rest of the world on the pathway”, drawing attention to the International Climate Fund set up in 2010, which was last year given a boost of almost £6bn to help the world’s most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change. These clear signals from the Government ought to be reinforced by private sector clean infrastructure investment, King said.

“Britain is seriously doing its bit, but at the same time there are also many members of the corporate sector that are also doing their bit, and we can all mention a few names,” he added. “But there a many members of the corporate sector that haven’t really read the direction of travel clearly enough to see that their investments are going in the right direction.”

Building momentum

King was speaking on the first day of the COP22 conference in Marrakech and just days after the Paris Agreement officially entered into force on Friday. The UK’s Climate Change representative stated his confidence that the country will go beyond the Paris objectives set out by the European Union (EU). The EU position is a 40% reduction by 2030 and the UK is currently on course to have achieved a 54% reduction by that time.

King, who leads the Mission Innovation initiative which calls for greater R&D clean investment, played down the chances of reaching a conclusion for the Paris Agreement’s legal wording in the next fortnight, but expressed optimism about the opportunity to build on the momentum of its ratification.

“COP22 is a very difficult meeting because there is no direct outcome from the COP process,” he said. “What we’re doing is discussing the legal wording to back up what was agreed in Paris. We’re not planning to reach a conclusion. So we’re not going to report at the end of this meeting on the successful outcome of legal wording – we hope to do that by 2018 and I believe we will.

“Of course, every COP meeting is about momentum building. And, since this is the first meeting since Paris, it is critically important, that ratification has come just before this meeting – absolutely wonderful. As we move forward, it’s really about keeping up momentum. My work has not slowed down one little bit. Persuading countries, cajoling countries and helping countries not only meet their National Determind Contributions (NDCs) but to take the next step.

“We’re all aware of the fact that the Paris Agreement is a tremendous step forward after 21 years, but nevertheless, it is only a step in the process. This has to be seen as a means of delivering more than just ‘catching our breath’.”

George Ogleby

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