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Nature recovery should be in plans to ‘grow back better’ from pandemic

Words: Laura Edgar
Nature / Shutterstock_115621966

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has stated that it is ‘vital’ that the recovery of nature is prioritised in the UK's economic recovery efforts alongside action on climate change to grow back better from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The committee’s report Growing Back Better: Putting Nature and Net Zero at the Heart of the Economic Recovery warns that if measures to promote economic recovery are not treated as an opportunity to “grow back better”, then the global collapse in biodiversity, together with the impacts of pollution and the climate crisis, “may, if left unchecked, result in an even more catastrophic crisis”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's 10-point plan, which was published in November 2020, “points in the right direction for the committee, but it is not yet investible and underlying strategies need to be published rapidly to give industry confidence”.

The report acknowledges the levels of unemployment in prospect because of the pandemic, which will “inevitably” mean that the government must intervene. Therefore it should, where possible, front-load its investment in areas such energy efficiency, the circular economy, climate adaptation and nature recovery in order to provide a green jobs boost to counter unemployment.

Such an investment would provide economic multipliers in terms of jobs and improved productivity, as well as provide wider benefits like cleaner air and warmer homes. The committee advises that consideration should be given to how investment in energy efficiency and nature recovery can be used to rebalance the UK by supporting communities most in need.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Establish clear and ambitious statutory targets for the state of nature, waste minimisation, water quality and air quality under the environment bill once enacted.
  • The government should set out in its forthcoming transport decarbonisation strategy what plans it has for substantial long-term investment in better public transport and in traffic reduction measures, and how such investment will reduce levels of road congestion, improve air quality and contribute to achieving net-zero.
  • The government must set out a clear strategy for carbon capture, usage and storage, with timelines and impacts, and support the development of the technologies needed where absolute zero-carbon cannot be achieved.
  • The government must publish a hydrogen strategy as soon as possible, setting out clear mechanisms to support the development of green hydrogen systems in the UK.
  • The government should 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 scheme be overhauled and extended to provide greater long-term stimulus to the domestic energy-efficiency sector. The government must be mindful not to repeat the mistakes of the failed Green Deal energy efficiency incentive scheme.
  • The government, in developing further its strategy for economic recovery, must give greater priority to strategic projects to encourage nature recovery. It should work with conservation charities to pilot the idea of a National Nature Service this summer to open up conservation opportunities.
  • The government should clarify that the Bank of England’s monetary policy remit should include climate and nature objectives in the conduct of UK monetary policy, including when considering any extension of the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) or future such mechanisms. The committee recommends that if any future support is offered through the CCFF, the bank should require recipients to publish climate-related financial disclosures in line with the government’s Green Finance Strategy as a minimum condition.

Environmental Audit Committee chairman Philip Dunne 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.

“There are endless initiatives that can lead to a greener future and the chancellor should use his upcoming Budget statement to start this process. Boosting energy efficiency of homes by reducing VAT on retrofits can spur growth in low-carbon manufacturing. The funding allocated to the Green Homes Grant should be rolled over to meet the target to issue 600,000 vouchers. The electric vehicle transition must be accelerated with further tax incentives to encourage take-up.

“But a greener future hinges on the health of biodiversity and ecosystems. The economic recovery must not overlook nature recovery. Planning and infrastructure decisions must take into account the impact of nature, and piloting a new national nature service can protect wildlife while offering employment opportunities.

“There will be no vaccine against runaway climate change, and it is our responsibility now, using the opportunity of the economic recovery, to set the UK on track for net-zero."

Growing Back Better: Putting Nature and Net Zero at the Heart of the Economic Recovery can be found on the UK Parliament website.

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