Over the past few months, headlines have been both calling for and anticipating the Chancellor would commit to a green recovery from the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. To the delight of environmental campaigners, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have been clear in pledging that the recovery will be green “with concern of the environment at its heart”. The much-anticipated Summer Economic Update, which was made by Sunak on Wednesday 8th July, was therefore the first test to the authenticity of the government’s pledges for a green recovery. Whether it passed the test, it remains unclear. Yet again the announcements made seem to postpone more ambitious and comprehensive measures aimed at accelerating the transition to a sustainable future, at the pace needed to meet our climate targets.
On Wednesday, on the green front the Chancellor confirmed previously announced plans for a new £3bn energy efficiency programme, made up of a £2bn Green Homes Grant and £1bn to better insulate public buildings such as schools and hospitals. Explaining the Green Homes Grant, Sunak said “From September, homeowners and landlords will be able to apply for vouchers to make their homes more energy efficient and create local jobs.” In numbers, the new measures will make over 650,000 homes more energy efficient; save households up to £300 a year on their bills; cut carbon emissions by more than half a mega tonne a year; and support around 140,000 green jobs. Documents published following the statement unveiled a number of other green initiatives that were being considered as part of a green recovery, including a Green Jobs Challenge Fund to create and protect 5,000 jobs in England that are focused on improving the natural environment.
Since the UK has the lowest performance in the EU on buildings heat loss, investing in energy efficiency is certainly key to net zero. However, the measures failed to roll out further support to key green sectors such as renewables. As the energy sector remains the greatest contributor to climate change, accelerating the energy transition is pivotal for a game-changing green recovery. Along with other trade associations representing the renewables industry and related sectors, ADBA had sent a joint open letter to the Chancellor arguing for renewables to be embedded into the UK's stimulus packages to revive the economy and at the same time combat climate change. The letter set out the economic reasons that should compel the government to prefer investing in renewables over oil and gas.
The Summer Statement came as part of the government’s recovery plans which will be executed in three phases. After the initial emergency measures to avert bankruptcies and job losses, Wednesday’s announcement kicked-off a new “Plan for Jobs” to both protect jobs and create new ones as the furlough scheme is due to end in October. A third phase “where we rebuild” will follow in the coming months. ADBA will therefore continue pushing the government to commit to more green ambition and to recognise the AD industry as a strategic sector in the recovery.
Despite calls around the world to reject a return to the status quo and to use these new financial measures to create a greener reality, new research on G20 recovery packages released this week shows that twice as much recovery money has been given to fossil fuels as clean energy. Considering its incoming presidency of the next UN climate summit, COP26, it is crucial that the UK leads by example in the fight against climate change. However, once again we are left waiting for greater leadership by the UK’s Government, which we demand to see in the “rebuild” phase.