Ministers urged to use coronavirus economic recovery plan to slash carbon emissions
Sir David Attenborough speaking at the first Climate Assembly in January (PA)
Six select committee chairs have written to the Prime Minister urging him to use the coronavirus economic recovery plan as a chance to also slash carbon emissions.
The chairs of the Commons Business, Environmental Audit, Housing, Science, Transport and Treasury committees say there is “unanimous cross-party support” for meeting the Government’s net-zero pledge.
And they say the Covid-19 crisis shows the public has can “respond positively and responsibly when they understand the risks posed to them by an invisible threat that demands collective action”.
Their call comes after members of the UK’s Climate Assembly overwhelmingly backed a motion saying ministers should put green initiatives at the heart of their plans to rebuild the economy.
The citizens’ assembly, whose 108 members were chosen to be representative of the general population, was commissioned by the same six committee chairs to help MPs an understand public views on how Britain should reach net zero emissions by 2050.
That goal was set by Theresa May and made the UK the first major economy to commit to such a cut.
According to its interim report, published after the assembly’s third meeting, 79% of those who took part in the initiative said steps taken by the Government to help the economy recover "should be designed to help achieve net zero”.
Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority backed a motion that ministers should “take steps to encourage lifestyles to change to be more compatible with reaching net zero” as lockdown is relaxed.
The chairs of the six Commons committees have now written to Mr Johnson urging him to consider the assembly’s stance in future policy.
The letter to the PM says: “It is vital that achieving the UK’s net zero target, which has unanimous cross-party support, is a joint endeavour between the Government, Parliament and the public across the country.
“In recent months the UK public has demonstrated its capacity to respond positively and responsibly when they understand the risks posed to them by an invisible threat that demands collective action.
“We believe that a similar approach, based on securing public support for ambitious policies through open dialogue around the science, is a sound basis for the net zero journey.”
Signatories include business committee chair Darren Jones; environmental audit committee chair Philip Dunne; housing committee chair Clive Betts; science and technology committee chair Greg Clark; transport committee chair Huw Merriman; and treasury committee chair Mel Stride.
The intervention comes as the UK approaches the next stage of reversing the country-wide lockdown.
One member of the assembly, a GP from Surrey named Ibrahim, said that the coronavirus pandemic could be seen as an “opportunity” for the country to meet its emission targets.
He said: “The Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown have had a huge effect on the economy and lives of people.
"It has become important for the Government, Parliament and business organisations to strongly consider a recovery approach that will not cause further harm to the planet.
“We discussed the Coronavirus outbreak at the climate assembly and it was quite clear that many of the assembly members felt that this period should be taken as an opportunity to encourage a green economic recovery with a focus on promoting cleaner, greener lifestyles and an economy that prizes sustainability over short term benefits that would harm the planet.
“We wanted to make sure that our views were available now so that the government can incorporate them into its economic recovery plan.”
A full review by the committee, setting out its conclusions, is set to be published in September 2020.
The interim report was welcomed by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, who said MPs “must listen” to the overwhelming support for a green recovery plan.
Campaign leader Muna Suleiman said: “It’s time to push the reset button on our carbon-guzzling and dysfunctional economic system and prioritise the health and wellbeing of our planet and its people.”
“This must include investment in walking, cycling and public transport to keep the air we breathe clean and prevent us from sinking deeper into the climate crisis.
“We must build back better – it’s what the public demands and the science requires.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Today’s report highlights that there is strong support for tackling climate change to be at the heart of our economic recovery.
“Through investing in our world-class renewables sector, we are helping the UK economy to bounce back and reach our legally-binding target for net zero emissions by 2050.”