Green policies essential for UK’s economic recovery

Green policies such as increasing use of renewable energy and investing in electric vehicles should be at the heart of Government recovery plans after the Covid-19 crisis, according to a briefing paper co-authored by Professor Paul Ekins (UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources).

The document, put together by the COP26 Universities Network of which UCL is a member, draws on new research assessing the economic and climate impact of taking a green route out of the crisis. It outlines a climate-friendly path to recovery following the Covid-19 crisis, identifying ten fiscal recovery policies that combine high economic impact with long-term benefits for the climate.

The briefing paper argues that stimulus packages following Covid-19 will not only significantly affect the UK’s future prosperity but also its potential to meet its legally mandated net zero emissions obligation.

Among the policies emphasised are:

  • Investing in renewable energy and modernising the grid to support use of renewables and the electrification of the heat and transport sectors.
  • Reducing industrial emissions, for instance by introducing financial incentives.
  • Investing in low and zero-carbon infrastructure projects, such as public transport infrastructure, that are also resilient to the impacts of climate change.
  • Investment in high impact sustainability technology research and development.
  • Investment in broadband internet to increase coverage.
  • Increasing uptake of electric vehicles through financial incentives and by enhancing infrastructure.
  • Higher carbon standards for new-build homes; financial support for households installing insulation and other energy efficient improvements
  • Nature-based solutions such as planting trees and restoring carbon-rich habitats.
  • Bailouts to be made conditional on the industry implementing climate-friendly improvements.

The group has also called for the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change to be renamed the Climate Change Emergency Committee and to be chaired by the Prime Minister to reflect the urgent need for action.

Professor Paul Ekins (UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources) said: "The UK has led the world in setting ambitious carbon-reduction targets. But it is not on track to meet an 80% reduction in 2050, let alone net zero.

"The country needs a Climate Change Emergency Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, to give the required urgency to the task of decarbonisation, and a Net Zero Delivery Body to coordinate the contributions from different government departments, industry and the energy and financial sectors to drive the low-carbon post-Covid economic recovery that the UK so urgently needs."

The COP26 Universities Network is a growing group of more than 30 UK-based universities, including UCL, that has been formed to help deliver climate change outcomes at the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow and beyond. The network aims to improve access to evidence and academic expertise for COP26 for the UK Government, NGOs and the international community.

The briefing highlights the leadership role of the UK in the lead-up to COP26, as well as the opportunity to lead by example with a green recovery package. But the document warned that the specific designs of any policy would ultimately determine its effectiveness.

The document has drawn on new research from an international team of economists, to be published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, that assesses the economic and climate impact of taking a green route out of the Covid-19 crisis.

The study catalogued more than 700 stimulus policies into 25 broad groups and conducted a global survey of 231 experts from 53 countries, including from finance ministries and central banks. It found that climate-friendly stimulus policies are often superior in overall economic impact, not just in slowing global warming.