Climate change needs to be at the heart of the Government’s economic recovery plans after COVID-19, a cross-party group of MPs has declared.
An Environmental Audit Committee report on how to ‘grow back better’ claims the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution is a good starting point, but needs to front load investment in issues like energy efficiency, the circular economy and nature recovery.
The Committee states that the Government's road building programme must be 'rigorously assessed against the UK's air quality, biodiversity protection and climate change targets before individual projects proceed'.
Committee members highlighted that air pollution has been linked to higher COVID-19 mortality rates and argued 'the Government should use the upcoming transport decarbonisation strategy to set out plans for long-term investment in public transport, and enhance travel infrastructure to support more walking and cycling in towns and cities'.
'It is also clear that cutting-edge manufacturing processes are required for the roll-out of electric vehicles and their batteries, with estimates suggesting the UK will require up to eight gigafactories.'
The report quotes the head of climate policy at the environmental think tank and charity, Green Alliance, Caterina Brandmayr, who said: 'The Government should be investing an additional £2.2 billion per year over the next few years in walking and cycling infrastructure and buses.'
The report calls for carbon targets for the construction of new homes and an overhaul of the Green Homes Grant and suggests ‘nature recovery must be integral to the Government’s infrastructure plans’.
Wider tax changes – including VAT reductions on repairs and recycling and carbon taxes – should be used to ‘design an economy fit for net-zero Britain,' it suggests.
Environmental Audit Committee chairman, Philip Dunne MP, said: ‘ The COVID-19 crisis must be treated as a wake-up call. It is a symptom of a growing ecological emergency.
‘The economic recovery will shape our national economy for decades to come, and it is crucial that tackling climate change and restoring nature is at its core.
‘A tax system fit for net-zero Britain is key. It will encourage innovation, give confidence to the sector and support companies to make the low-carbon transition.’
He called on the chancellor to use the Budget to start the process.
The Local Government Association said the report was right to focus on the need to address unemployment and investment in green jobs.
Environment spokesperson Cllr David Renard said: ‘The Environment Bill must be fully aligned to achieving net zero, improving air quality, protecting against flooding, and ensuring our transport, waste and energy policies are environmentally sustainable.’
He added: ‘Long-term funding would empower councils to be able to properly plan activity focused on the needs of local communities as a whole to support the delivery of net zero.’
A version of this article first appeared on our sister site The MJ.