Failure to get the green recovery right could have long term impacts on our security
Prime minister Boris Johnson and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte at the launch of COP26 UN Climate Summit in February 2020| PA Images
A green recovery approach will work best if it is multi-faceted, multi-lateral and long lasting. The Government must show leadership at home and abroad
The Government’s rhetorical commitment to ‘build back better’ now requires a substantive recovery plan which embeds growth, inclusion and environmental priorities. Generating jobs and wealth, improving geographic, generational and class inclusion, and transitioning to net zero should no longer be standalone policy objectives: instead, every spending and policy decision should align with every one of these priorities.
That must mean upfront investment, in partnership with private finance over the long term, in the infrastructure upgrades and technological innovations required for us to improve productivity and to decarbonise. It must also mean investing in the British people, so they have the skills to compete inclusively and thrive in the new economy. And it must mean mobilising our soft power tools to bring the rest of the world with us in the transition to net-zero.
These objectives reinforce one another. A recovery plan built on clean growth promises not just to generate high-quality jobs in the near term, but also create training pipelines which will close our skills gap, raise productivity and deliver equitable regional investment. A skilled workforce – with the specialisms we require for the coming decades – will form the backbone of an environmentally resilient British economy. And by the time the COP26 climate talks are convened in Glasgow next November, we should aim to provide international leadership by standing on our own record of domestic success.
Against this backdrop, Rishi Sunak’s announcements on home insulation earlier this month were clearly a step in the right direction. They fuse short-term cash injection to stimulate the economy with the urgent task of upgrading our hopelessly energy-inefficient building stock, which accounts for roughly a fifth of our emissions and is the natural first step for our decarbonisation.
Failure on climate will exacerbate geopolitical tensions, create new national security threats, and do irreparable harm to British workers and businesses
But without a clear strategy to sustain this investment, neither objective will be realised. We’ve long known that money spent on shovel-ready green projects like double glazing, cavity wall retrofits and loft insulation will pay instant dividends in job creation – but the Government must ensure that these jobs last. The chancellor’s fêted £3 billion doesn’t just pale in comparison to the tens of billions set aside for decarbonisation in France and Germany this year: it also amounts to less than a third of the money promised for energy efficiency in the Conservative manifesto.
The Government should therefore confirm its spending plans on energy efficiency for the rest of the Parliament now, paired with a comprehensive Energy White Paper in advance of the Autumn budget setting out how they intend to deliver on decarbonising transport, heating and industrial processes. Plans for further investment in renewable power generation, storage and distribution should also be set out as soon as possible.
And as we embark not just on our co-presidency of COP26 but also our presidency of the G7, the United Kingdom has an opportunity to provide global leadership in reaffirming our collective responsibility to get this right. With the rules-based order under renewed challenge, we must be the driving force behind a revitalised commitment to multi-lateralism, free trade and global solidarity. This means stressing the need for the richer nations of the world – even and especially post-pandemic – to partner with developing countries to grow and decarbonise.
It’s in our national and collective global interest that development is successfully paired with rapid decarbonisation – and this work must start at home. Failure on climate will exacerbate geopolitical tensions, create new national security threats, and do irreparable harm to British workers and businesses. We neglect to tackle these towering risks, and to do so collectively, at our peril.
Darren Jones is Labour MP for Bristol North West and chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee