Tackle climate emergency with same urgency as Covid, experts urge PM

Business, academic and civil society leaders have jointly written to the Prime Minister to highlight the need to rapidly catalyse green innovation, with solutions to climate change needing to be rolled out with the same focus and urgency as the development of Covid vaccines.

The letter, co-ordinated by the Green Alliance independent think tank, includes recommendations that stem from a two-year investigation by the UCL Green Innovation Policy Commission (GIPC), chaired by former CBI Director-General, John Cridland, as well as Commission Director and research lead Professor Paul Ekins, signatories to the letter.

Published today, the GIPC’s final report emphasises that the government must pay more attention to deploying proven technologies and solutions that are close to market, rather than focusing primarily on R&D, as well as targeting a broader range of technologies and sectors in its policymaking. Building on the findings of deep dive investigations into five sectors of the economy, analysing the drivers for green innovation, and what is holding it back, the report concludes that government action will be key to addressing a number of barriers and policy gaps.

GIPC Director, Professor Paul Ekins (UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources), said: "The climate and Covid crises are very different - but they are both crises, and so far, the push for rapid scale-up of climate solutions has seen nothing like the scale of efforts that was put into developing a Covid vaccine.

"Now is exactly the moment when government should be doubling down, making the most of public support for decarbonisation and the need for economic stimulus to futureproof our economy. We can’t afford to address decarbonisation a few technologies at a time, we need progress across the board, in less glamorous areas like water treatment as much as in showy new infrastructure."

John Cridland, chair of the GIPC, said: "The success of Covid vaccine development shows what’s possible when we set our mind to solving a problem. Now it’s time to boost solutions to tackle climate change and kick start a green innovation revolution across the UK economy.

"The UK can make a wholehearted decision to lead in the development and roll out of new low carbon goods and services, with the opportunities that can bring, or it can sit back and wait for others to take the risk but also to gain all the benefit."

The report authors say a comprehensive set of factors that go beyond R&D investment are now needed to turbocharge innovation in environmental solutions. They recommend the development of a National Infrastructure Bank to boost investment in green solutions that are close to market. They also suggest establishing a new Green Innovation and Sustainability Transformation Council, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson spearheading a programme that matches government ambition for a green industrial revolution ahead of hosting the Glasgow climate summit in November this year.

In addition, the GIPC is calling on businesses to play a stronger role in the transition to a green economy; the commissioners are urging companies to embed sustainability in their corporate culture and adopt net zero commitments and delivery plans. They also suggest that companies should work together, with the support of government, to experiment with alternative business models, institutional arrangements and disruptive technologies.

While the UK is considered one of the world’s innovation superpowers, it currently lags well behind other leading global economies such as the US, Germany and Japan on the green solutions needed to solve the climate emergency. Failure to invest in this type of innovation would put UK business at risk of losing out in fast growing green markets, at a time when the country is hoping to develop new trade opportunities across the world.


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