Environmental Audit Committee – New Report in time for the Budget

VAT reductions to encourage energy efficiency, the use of recycled materials, and repair services are among recommendations the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) makes as it publishes its report on how to ‘grow back better’ after covid-19 – to create a greener, healthier and more resilient economy.

The cross-party EAC warns that if the economic recovery from covid-19 is not used as an opportunity to ‘grow back better’, climate change and biodiversity collapse may deliver an even greater crisis.

While the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution points in the right direction, it is not yet investible and underlying strategies need to be published rapidly to give industry confidence. The report calls for the Government to front-load its investment in areas such energy efficiency, the circular economy, climate adaptation and nature recovery, to counter rising unemployment by creating green jobs. The EAC heard that this investment will provide economic multipliers in terms of jobs and improved productivity and will offer wider benefits such as cleaner air and warmer homes.

Infrastructure invested in now will be in use for decades to come. It is essential that all decisions on infrastructure investment comply with the UK’s air quality, biodiversity protections and climate change commitments.
The EAC has specific recommendations in the following areas:

Investment in nature
The nature recovery network that the Government has promised must not be an afterthought established after other infrastructure is built. Nature recovery must be integral to the Government’s infrastructure plans. The EAC realises that investment in nature recovery projects could protect UK wildlife, and could create thousands of job opportunities. The idea of a National Nature Service should be piloted – in partnership with conservation charities – to test its feasibility and open up conservation opportunities.
Green transport
Air pollution has been linked to higher Covid-19 mortality rates. 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.

Together, these initiatives will improve the air we breathe, cut carbon and improve our health and fitness. 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.

Homes and energy efficiency
The EAC recommends that the Government introduce embodied carbon targets for the construction of new homes, so as to increase demand for low carbon materials, thereby stimulating growth in low-emission manufacturing of traditional, local materials and promoting the use of new low carbon materials. The Green Homes Grant must be overhauled and given a multi-year extension if it is to meet the Government’s target of issuing 600,000 vouchers.

The hydrogen strategy is long-overdue, and its publication cannot come soon enough to offer incentives for the private sector to invest in hydrogen production, which could play a key role in the low-carbon energy mix. The Government should begin scoping work on a carbon tax to incentivise low-carbon changes across the whole economy.  The EAC is also calling on the Government to investigate the merits of carbon border adjustments, to accompany work on a carbon tax, as one way of addressing carbon leakage.’

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