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We cannot afford to wait for a Labour government to power ahead to net-zero

Volunteers plant mangrove trees near the Arabian sea in Kharo Chhaan, Pakistan, June 2013

3 min read

With the Tories’ economic and green credentials both in tatters, it is time to look forward to the way that Labour might shape our economy in government. 

Labour’s Financing Growth paper made some eye-catching and exciting commitments, pointing to a stronger, greener economy. 

As vice-chair of the Net Zero All Party Parliamentary Group, I was particularly excited by the pledge to require financial institutions and FTSE 100 companies to publish their carbon footprint and adopt credible 1.5C-aligned transition plans.

The government has delayed the taxonomy for more than a year

As those of us who have tried dieting know, “what can’t be measured, can’t be managed”. Expanding the scope of businesses who have to report on their transition plans can only be a good thing. 

Not only will it inject some much-needed seriousness and urgency into the pursuit of net-zero, but it will unlock investment into technologies, which will help businesses abate their use of fossil fuels, stimulating growth in this crucial sector.

While businesses try to get their houses in order, there are important interim measures they can apply to business operations where there is currently no effective alternative to using fossil fuels.  

The voluntary carbon market allows companies to buy carbon credits to compensate for their use of fossil fuels while they seek carbon-neutral alternatives for the future. 

Carbon credits relate to projects that take measurable amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, or reduce emissions from occurring in the first place. Examples include: planting trees which take in carbon dioxide; replacing high-polluting cooking stoves in the developing world with cleaner alternatives; and repairing leaky gas pipes in cities to prevent waste. 

One example I recently learnt about was a project in Pakistan to re-plant mangrove forests. The project in Sindh helps to absorb CO2 emissions, and the investment there also supports community, health and biodiversity projects. 

The project speaks to the positive role of international business co-operation, as it was mainly financed by an Australian business, Carbon Growth Partners, and delivered by Indus Delta Capital, which is based right here in the United Kingdom.

In Pakistan, where I have seen first-hand the damaging effects of climate change through devastating flooding, this positive response is one to celebrate. 

Of course, it is important that the voluntary carbon market is properly regulated to ensure that the schemes are of high integrity and do all that they say they will. 

Hence Labour’s pledge to advance plans for the UK Green Taxonomy, ensuring it is science-based and interoperable with international standards, and user-friendly for business. 

The government has delayed the taxonomy for more than a year. A Labour government promises to define a clear timeline for completion of the taxonomy, and voluntary and mandatory reporting for all businesses in scope.

Good progress has already been made over the last 12 months, with some of the main companies involved in monitoring these projects agreeing robust new standards. And bodies as diverse as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization, European Union and the US State Department have all thrown their weight behind the voluntary carbon markets at COP28 as an important means to achieve this change. 

Of course, with the climate emergency already upon us, businesses should not wait for a Labour government to start making plans and taking action to transition to net-zero, whether through carbon credits or by finding less polluting ways of running their operations. Every action towards this goal counts – and the time to act is now. 

Afzal Khan is vice chair of the Net Zero APPG and the MP for Manchester Gorton

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