What do green economy leaders want from the next UK government?

The UK will go to the polls on Thursday (4 July) to choose a new government that could play a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s climate and environmental policies at this key juncture. What do green economy leaders want new Ministers to prioritise once the dust settles?

What do green economy leaders want from the next UK government?

The industry has laid out five major policy demands for the Government to ensure the nation achieves its net-zero by 2050 goal.

It’s election week, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a snap general election on 22 May. This was a decision that came earlier than anticipated, prompting the nation’s first July election since 1945.

Pre-election debates and media coverage have largely shied away from how the new Government will help – or hinder – the UK as it strives to reach net-zero by 2050, halt nature’s decline, cut waste and accelerate levelling up.

The limelight has instead been taken by approaches to education, the NHS and immigration. When the environment has been spotlighted, the issue at hand has most often been the sewage scandal.

Nonetheless, the new government will have a hefty in-tray in terms of green policymaking. Items on the to-do list include making the net-zero strategy lawful and pressing ahead with promises to deliver a land-use framework and green finance taxonomy.

edie asked several green economy leaders from across Britain for their top policy asks of the next UK Government. Here’s what they said.

Rachel Solomon Williams, executive director at the Aldersgate Group:

“An ambitious policy programme which addresses climate change and the decline of nature while boosting the economy is essential. Businesses will play a key role in driving the change that’s needed, so providing them with a reliable policy landscape is vital, as it will enable them to invest confidently in climate and nature.

“In particular, we need to see a holistic approach that embeds sustainability in the next Government’s plans for land use, infrastructure, buildings, transport, industry and the workforce. With climate targets becoming increasingly challenging to meet and the UK economy stagnating, we need to see progress accelerate quickly.”

Sebastiaan Van Dort, director of sustainability and energy at BSI:

Significant strides have been made towards net zero in recent years, with many UK firms increasingly recognizing the benefits of decarbonizing, from financial benefits to enhanced reputation, increased resilience and a positive impact on customer loyalty.

“However, turning ambition into action is crucial. Our research shows nine in ten of UK businesses are calling for more government support to meet decarbonization targets, especially regarding the cost of transition.

“The request to the new government is clear: now is the time for consistent, long-term policy commitments. These long-term policies can encourage organisations to invest and innovate towards net zero, ensuring sustainable outcomes and inclusive growth. To support these efforts, standards can help deliver policy outcomes and provide clear guidance to businesses, helping them effectively transition to net-zero.”

Alainah Amer, Katy Haigh and Rob Allen, sustainability team at Policy Connect:

With the climate at a tipping point, the new Government should focus on policy to deliver a carbon-neutral economy and a less wasteful society. Forthcoming legislation should help to build just, resilient, and thriving communities, and unlock the UK’s capabilities as a global leader in sustainability.

“Among other things, a new Government should implement Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act and provide policy certainty to drive investment for net-zero in the first 100 days.

“It should also commit to executing existing packaging reforms, first promised in 2018, to promote investment and green job creation.”

Steve Malkin, chief executive and founder at Planet Mark:

“The next government will be sitting for a period of up to five years, years that are critical to climate action. For too long, we’ve neglected putting net-zero at the heart of policymaking, seeing it as a hindrance rather than an opportunity.

“We now need to lead. It is crucial for the next government to craft an inspiring narrative for change and provide the necessary resources to support it. This is particularly important for SMEs who have been left in the dark with no clear timeline for emissions reduction or government assistance to facilitate the transition.”

Andrew Griffiths, elected member of the Institute of Directors and co-founder of the Carbon Accounting Alliance:

“We are quickly approaching several crucial climate tipping points. It is vital for the next government to recognise net zero as an investment opportunity, paving the way for a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous society.

“To do this, the new Government needs to first set a policy-driven timeline and deadline for businesses to report at least Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions on an annual basis to deliver emissions transparency. It also needs to encourage education and training in the green sector to fill the crucial demands from businesses for carbon emissions measurement, reductions and strategy.”

Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF:

“Unfortunately, politicians have largely gone AWOL on the environment during this campaign but the next five years will be absolutely vital in bringing nature back from the brink both at home and around the world. As the campaign enters the final straight, we’re calling on all parties to commit to action on nature and climate that’s hugely popular with the public.”

Fergus Moffatt, head of UK policy at ShareAction:

“The next government should harness the power of sustainable finance to deliver long-term economic stability and financial security for individuals.  This should begin with reforming fiduciary duty rules to allow pension scheme trustees to think beyond the narrow and near-sighted confines of short-term financial gains and better consider the long-term interests of people and planet.

“Additionally, without a clear timeline for a UK Green Taxonomy and the introduction of mandatory Transition Plans, the UK risks falling behind global efforts to combat climate change. This will limit genuinely sustainable investment and hinder progress towards a nature-positive, just transition.”

Clare Jackson, chief executive, Hydrogen UK:

“Seeing is believing with any innovative technology. To showcase hydrogen’s true value, we must ensure pioneering projects reach final investment decisions as soon as possible. The incoming government must prioritise this within its first 100 days, or risk jeopardising all progress made thus far.

“We’re at a critical juncture and must be reaffirming investor confidence to drive the inward investment. Further delay and stagnation risks net-zero goals, establishing energy security, and ultimately missing out on the economic growth that the industry can bring to the UK.”

Jonathan Cheng, sustainability manager at Dandara:

“Whichever party is elected, we need clear policy direction and fast. Climate change is happening now, and we can’t keep kicking the can down the road.

“Consistency in policy direction and certainty in timescales are fundamental if we are to reach our 2050 target. The elected Government must avoid changes and delays to policies in the pursuit of short-term goals or party politics. We need long-term policy plans that raise standards, but also focus on delivering for the here and now.

“We must invest in enablers to transition….Industry should not be forgotten in the process. Our materials manufacturers and associated supply chain require long-term support to help the construction sector build greener and assist in delivering the Future Homes Standard and net-zero

“Beyond policy setting, decision-makers and government institutions need to communicate with clarity and take the public on the journey to net-zero. Education and awareness raising are key to share learnings and create change.”

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation (BPF):

“The UK will not meet its climate commitments unless we decarbonise our buildings, which are responsible for around 25% of all carbon emissions. However, progress has stalled in recent years and we need urgent and decisive action from Government to deliver a net zero carbon property sector by 2050.

“Our BPF Carbon Manifesto puts the climate centre stage and we offer the next Government our support in delivering on our shared net zero ambitions. As our latest research reminds us, we cannot build our way to net zero. We need to significantly increase investment into retrofitting our existing homes and buildings. This will require policy certainty and stability, targeted financial incentives, a properly resourced and skilled planning system and more grid capacity and connectivity.”

Paul Holland, managing director for UK, Australia and New Zealand fleet at Corpay:

“The problems facing the UK’s transition to electric vehicles aren’t the matter of shifting public will or building consensus, they’re the transition from a 20th century technology to a 21st. They’re a matter of engineering: building new types of drivetrain for heavy goods vehicles so that they can stop running on diesel. They’re a matter of building infrastructure: not just new EV chargers, but an electricity grid that can support many more megawatts of electricity running through it.

“Lastly, it’s a matter of giving people the information that they need: being radically transparent about fuel prices so drivers and businesses can make an informed decision about how to fuel their vehicles.

“It’s hard to see the changes we need happening when we’ve had four Secretaries of State for Transport in the past five years, one in office for only seven weeks. Party politicians just don’t have incentives to do much more than placate drivers with fuel duty freezes or play culture wars by setting the date for phasing out sales of new internal combustion engine vehicles back by five years.

“A new Government could change the way that energy and transport works in the UK by running the sectors more like the Bank of England, as a separate entity apart from party politics that just has to deal with the facts, not necessarily what wins votes. Freed from the political cycle, it could make long-term changes knowing that they won’t be overturned by the next party and start to really make progress on bringing the UK’s transportation system into the 21st century.”

Joe Iles, Circular Design Programme Lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:

“There is a need to stimulate investment into circular economy infrastructure where no individual organisation is going to it themselves and to de-risk the process.

“There is also a need for the incoming Government to galvanise support for this economy change. We are, frustratingly enough, seeing green innovative ideas become polarised. Every government in the past has helped reinforced linear economy practices, so it will take some real bold action and envisioning to bring the economy in line circular principles.”

Marie Godward, knowledge transfer manager for net-zero at Innovate UK Business Connect:

“I’d like to see an expansion of our current Right to Repair law. At the minute, its scope is very limited in coverage that there is not much incentive for businesses to consider it within the development of their products. We must take inspiration from the EU.”

Jen Emerton, head of business engagement at WRAP:

“The next government has to create a level playing field so that circular products and services are competitive with linear, and that could be through tax incentives or other levers. At the moment, there is no way to compete.

“And the other is EPR and just implementing it. Businesses are potentially holding off making decisions and investments regarding packaging and textiles until they understand what the future regulatory framework looks like, and that delay is causing the progress to slow down.”

Dan McGrail, chief executive at RenewableUK:

“The general election is being dominated by questions about the cost of living crisis, and how the next government can boost the UK economy after a difficult few years.

“Fortunately, the transition to clean energy can provide cheap electricity for billpayers, drive investment in new manufacturing, boost the competitiveness of UK businesses and support tens of thousands of jobs across the country. The latest polling shows that voters are well aware of this and that they support it.

“We have to be honest: rapidly increasing the UK’s clean energy supply won’t be easy…We’ll need a forward-thinking and ambitious government to get us there. That government will need to ensure we remain competitive in the global race for skills and supply chains and reform our planning system to enable communities to benefit more from the transition.

“If we work closely together to get this right, the next five years will see a massive transformation of the UK’s energy system.”

Alan Baird country manager for UK & Ireland, Danfoss: 

“As the UK’s electorate prepares to cast their votes, there is still a missing piece of the puzzle in all party manifestos – energy efficiency. While there are some passing mentions of improving insulation for housing in parties’ manifestos, the current thinking around energy efficiency is stuck in the fossil fuel era, and this outdated understanding of energy efficiency is jeopardising our ability to meet global climate goals.

“If those in power do not undergo a radical rethinking of energy efficiency, we have virtually no chance of meeting our future energy needs, and certainly no chance of achieving net zero by 2050. In an energy system driven by fossil fuels, energy efficiency has been almost exclusively thought of as reducing fossil-fuel energy consumption at the point of use, such as by increasing vehicle fuel economy.

However, in a world dominated by clean electricity, we must begin to think about how we can use that electricity as efficiently as possible and ensure we are using energy at the right time. This, of course, means we need to electrify as many elements of the grid as possible, while still aiming to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors through hybrid electric technologies and ever-evolving applications of hydrogen and e-fuels. In fact, by transitioning from a fossil energy system to a fully electrified one, it’s possible to cut up to 40% of final energy consumption. This means electrification is itself a form of energy efficiency, as most electric technologies have a lower rate of energy loss than a fossil-driven equivalent.”

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