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26 November 2020updated 16 Sep 2021 4:49pm

Spotlight leader: Going for green

Why action on the climate should become the guiding principle for the economy.

By Spotlight

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson announced his £12bn climate plan, with measures including a ban on petrol and diesel car sales by 2030, the quadrupling of offshore wind capacity in the next decade, a £525m investment in new nuclear power, and further spending on carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen technology.

The responses were mixed. While many welcomed the measures as a positive first step, others decried the plan’s lack of ambition. The former government chief scientist David King, chair of the Centre for Climate Repair at the University of Cambridge, said the plan was “nowhere near enough either to manage the commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 or to provide a safe future”.

A report by PwC, released the same week, estimated that the net zero transition would require £400bn of spending over the next decade, and a boost to infrastructure.

Read more: How to get to net zero

The chorus of responses also made clear – lest we needed reminding – that the economic recovery from the pandemic and the move to a low-carbon economy are inseparable issues. As Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader put it, the downturn is a moment “to fast-track the transition.”

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But if there is another lesson to learn from the Covid-19 crisis, it is that ensuring momentum across the UK for moving to a low-carbon economy requires a regional approach. As local leaders face the economic fallout, with businesses shuttered and jobs lost, there may be pressure to opt for short-term wins over long-term sustainability. As unemployment rises and public finances suffer, for many the temptation to allow and encourage any kind of new economic activity may be too great, no matter the environmental cost.

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Read more: Covid-19 had underscored the urgency of the climate crisis

Consider that in October, for instance, Cumbria County Council voted in approval of the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years; the project is expected to create 500 jobs. The intentions are there, however. The vast majority of councils have declared a climate emergency. Bristol this month approved a £4m package of measures on the climate. But with the downturn set to continue, and the effects of Brexit looming, Westminster must ensure its climate plan comes with the resources and standards to ensure the move to net zero is nationwide.

This article originally appeared in supplement on energy and climate change. Download the full edition here.