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The UK has committed to reducing emissions to net zero by 2050. This means having a balance between the emissions produced and those taken from the atmosphere. Many consider 2050 too late given the urgency of climate emergency.
Economic decisions taken in response to the pandemic may help accelerate, or further slow, the transition to an environmentally sustainable economy. Demands for a green recovery are adding new urgency to existing calls for industrial strategy and economic policy to prioritise sustainability.
Before the pandemic environmental groups said 2% of GDP needed to be spent in the UK to adequately tackle the climate and environmental emergency. Without similar action around the world there will be little hope of avoiding the most destructive consequences of the emergency.
The global Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) has concluded that it is "technically and economically possible" to have a carbon free economy in the developed world by 2050 and the developing world just 10 years later, at the cost of 1% of GDP a year to accomplish this. The ETC concludes that most areas of the economy can be decarbonised at "very low, nil or even negative cost"
The Oxford University Institute for New Economic Thinking sets out five lessons from the pandemic for climate action. These include that delay is costly, inequality can be exacerbated without timely action and that global problems require multiple forms of international cooperation.
Former Director of E3G and GreenAlliance Tom Burke has written on the need for stronger enforcement and institutional frameworks surrounding legal environmental targets.
Many proposals for delivering a green recovery argue for a significant increase in government spending and investment.
This could be done through direct stimulus of key sectors critical to environmental and climate action, such as improving the energy efficiency of buildings or repairing local ecosystems. Record low interest rates and the high social, economic and environmental return from these investments mean any increased borrowing could be money well spent.
Measures can also be taken to unlock investment from the private sector, including by creating a green national investment bank.
Bloomberg Green explain 26 different ways in which countries are attempting to build a green recovery from the pandemic. They ask where the money is going, who has taken action already and what experts think about green stimulus.
Carbon Brief has a rolling tally of nations’ green stimulus spending, which it notes is not always easy to compare. The tracker is updated to include any stimulus measures that have a direct bearing on climate change or energy.
Transition Economics, for the TUC, model an £85 billion green stimulus package that they state could create 1.24 million jobs. The report calls for a national recovery council to be formed with unions and employers.
The Green New Deal is a broad term that describes a concerted, state-led programme of green economic stimulus with a specific focus on social justice.
Originally proposed in 2008 as a response to the looming financial crash, today's version stems from its 2018 adoption by the Sunrise Movement in the USA. Backing from influential USA Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has brought it to a global audience.
There are different conceptions of the Green New Deal, but common to all are commitments to ambitious decarbonisation, a significantly enhanced role for the state, and a focus on the just transition for those particularly affected.
The original Green New Deal plan was put together by the UK Green New Deal Group and published by the New Economics Foundation in 2008. It proposed the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs in clean industries and significant regulation of the financial sector.
A Green New Deal for Europe sets out a manifesto for a Brussels-led Green New Deal, with a particular focus on a green public works programme and a European Environmental Justice Commission.
New Consensus and the Sunrise Movement summarise American proposals for a Green New Deal. Data for Progress have put together an extensive manifesto.
Responding to the environmental emergency requires changes in many aspects of everyday life, such as how we eat, with concerns growing over the high environmental impact of meat and dairy.
It can be politically challenging to increase environmental ambition without growing inequalities or negatively impacting people who depend on environmentally unsustainable work.
A particular concern is the fate of workers in high carbon industries. Trade unions call for a just transition for these workers to avoid the lasting impacts on people and places resulting from the closure of coal mines in the 1980s.
The New Economics Foundation situates the need for a just transition within the UK’s recent industrial past. It points to the lack of trust in deprived communities and suggests addressing this is central to delivering fair and rapid decarbonisation.
The Trades Union Congress calls for more ambitious decarbonisation and green economic plans to be designed in concert with those workers who will be most affected.
The LSE Grantham Institute and the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy make recommendations for how investors can support the just transition, principally by factoring in the social dimension to climate investment strategies.
The UK Government has legislated for net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, upping the ambition of the existing 2008 Climate Change Act’s target of an 80% reduction. Since then, the UK has announced a new goal of cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, 10% more ambitious than the 68% target announced in 2020.
Britain is not on course to meet even its previous commitments, and many believe that a 2050 net zero date is too late. Meeting net zero will require more concerted action in all of the main areas critical to decarbonisation: energy generation, transport, industry, buildings, and land use and agriculture. This is a challenge facing all countries.
Many local authorities have declared “climate emergencies” and are pushing ahead with their own ambitious plans for meeting them, although there are limits to how far they can go by themselves.
A team of leading energy academics submitted its Thirty by 2030 report to the Labour Party in 2019, which explores policies to deliver a 77% reduction in emissions from energy by 2030.
In his analysis of the gap between target and delivery, Green Alliance’s James Fortherby highlights we were not on track to meet the previous target and that emissions are set to be 40% higher in 2030 than needed on the basis of current policies.
IPPR has proposed a Sustainable Economy Act for the UK, which would extend the existing principle of carbon limits to a range of critical environmental indicators such as soil fertility and air quality.
The Centre for Alternative Technology’s Rising to the Climate Emergency report updates its previous proposals for reaching Zero Carbon Britain. They believe we already have the tools and technology needed to power the UK with 100% renewable energy.