Prime Minister says commitment to net zero transition is 'undiminished' and tells MPs the aviation sector should look to curb CO2 emissions once flights resume, as pressure mounts on EU for green stimulus package
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given the clearest indication yet he remains committed to accelerating the UK's decarbonisation efforts, telling MPs the UK aviation sector "must keep its carbon lower" when flights resume and stressing that the government's commitment to delivering net zero emissions "remains undiminished" by the current public health crisis.
During Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament yesterday, Johnson said that with greenhouse gas emissions having dramatically dropped as a result of business and industry shutdowns to stem the spread of Covid-19, there was now a need to "entrench those gains" once the lockdown lifts.
"Inadvertently, the planet this year will [have] greatly reduced its CO2 emissions... we need to entrench those gains," Johnson said. "I don't want to see us going back to an era of the same type of emissions as we've had in the past. Aviation like every other sector must keep its carbon lower."
Johnson did not directly answer a question about whether the government would attach specific green conditions or climate targets to any potential state loans or bailout packages to support beleaguered airlines - a practice pioneered by the French government as part of its loan package for Air France.
However, when asked whether the government would prioritise investment in low carbon infrastructure - such as electric vehicle charging points and renewable energy capacity - as the economy restarts, he replied: "Yes, and to encourage the take-up of electric vehicles, we are putting a further £1bn into EV infrastructure across the country to prevent range anxiety for those who use EV."
Moreover, the PM used his appearance in Parliament to stress his government's commitment to delivering the UK's 2050 net zero emissions goal, despite the current focus on tackling the coronavirus crisis.
Johnson told the Commons that despite having to postpone the UN COP26 Climate Summit until next year "our enthusiasm and determination to get to net zero by 2050 remains undiminished".
The comments come amid growing calls for state bailout packages for struggling high carbon industries to be contingent on companies agreeing to ambitious decarbonisation goals and stringent climate disclosure rules.
Today more than one million people and 100 environmental groups across Europe added to the growing chorus of calls for the EU to restart its economy by "launching the biggest green investment plan the world has ever seen".
To date, more than 1.2 million people across the world have joined campaigns led by the groups avaaz, WeMove Europe, and SumOfUs calling for a bold, green recovery in Europe, according to the Green 10 coalition of environmental organisations.
They join green groups such as WWF, Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, and Transport & Environment in today urging EU lawmakers to design a green and just Covid-19 recovery plan backed by investing hundreds of billions of euros in renewables, habitat restoration, home renovations, green public transport and climate-friendly agriculture.
Separately, the influential World Economic Forum think tank today revealed its new CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal has met with senior European politicians and officials at the European Commission to agree to "work together to build a plan of action for mobilizing business to contribute in advancing the European Green Deal agenda".
"We must all join forces in the fight against the virus and the climate crisis," said Svenja Schulze, Germany's Federal Minister of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. "No government or business can handle this alone - strong partnerships and deepened cooperation are needed. I therefore welcome the launch of the CEO Action Group to support the European Green Deal, which must be the compass for our recovery and for building a resilient and climate-neutral future for Europe."
Chair of the group, Thomas Buberl, CEO of AXA, said businesses now have "a unique opportunity to build a greener and more resilient Europe through investment and innovation". "Today, the private sector and the public sector made a clear statement in support of a European Green Deal," he said. "As chair of this CEO Action Group, I am looking forward to working with my colleagues towards concrete proposals to make the Green Deal actionable, effective and, ultimately, successful."
The group features a raft of top business leaders, including CEOs from leading brands such as IKEA, Lego, Heathrow, Bayer, and HSBC, among others.
The interventions come ahead of a crucial vote in the European Parliament tomorrow which will see MEPs decide on what they want to be included in the EU's Recovery Fund and seven-year budget, before the EU Commission unveils its hotly-anticipated proposal next week.
The Commission has repeatedly reiterated that its longer term goal to deliver a net zero continent by 2050 remains a top priority, and this week called on national governments to use state aid to attach green conditions to bailout packages. However, the Commission itself has decided against making such climate conditions mandatory under state aid rules.
"We've heard a lot of lip service paid to a 'green recovery' lately, but now it's time for decision-makers to put their money where their mouth is," said Ester Asin, director of the WWF's European policy office. "The current crisis is a stark reminder of how closely human and planetary health are interlinked - only together can people and nature thrive. A green recovery means restoring nature, protecting our environment, and accelerating the transition to a carbon-neutral and resilient economy. MEPs must lead the way."
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