Letter from 206 major firms provides clearest sign yet of widespread support from the business community for an economic recovery plan that prioritises climate action, and suggests taxpayer support should only go to firms that are committed to decarbonisation
More than 200 leading UK companies, investors, and organisations have jointly called for a green coronavirus recovery plan in an open letter today which urges the government to build "a more inclusive, stronger and more resilient" path towards building a net zero emission economy in the wake of the impending recession.
A raft of blue chips have added their names to the letter, including Coca-Cola European Partners, BT, BNP Paribas, Aviva, ASDA, HSBC, IKEA, Lloyds Banking Group, National Grid, E.ON, PwC, Severn Trent, Sky, Unilever, Siemens, and Britvic.
Others among the 206 signatories to the letter include Environment Agency chair Emma Howard-Boyd, as well as a number of firms working in carbon-intensive sectors, such as BP, Shell, Heathrow Airport, and cement producer CEMEX.
Together they are calling for "a clean, just recovery that creates quality employment and builds a more sustainable inclusive and resilient UK economy", backed by a plan from the government to drive investment in low carbon innovation, infrastructure, and industries.
The plan, it argues, should focus on building greater resilience to future environmental risks, as well as supporting industries and activities that can best deliver sustainable growth, job creation, and decarbonisation.
Crucially, it calls on the government to ensure any companies receiving financial support from the taxpayer "are well managed and their strategies are science based and aligned with national climate goals".
"The current crisis, in moving us all away from business-as-usual, has already created shifts in how we operate, and we believe we must use the recovery to accelerate the transition to net zero," the letter states. "Efforts to rescue and repair the economy in response to the current crisis can and should be aligned with the UK's legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week promised to bring an economic recovery plan to Parliament before the summer recess, and on Thursday he argued that "we owe it to future generations to build back better" and engineer a green recovery.
Meanwhile, reports over the weekend indicate Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is eyeing low carbon infrastructure projects such as carbon capture and storage and offshore wind farms as potential beneficiaries of his imminent economic stimulus plan.
Today's letter from 206 major firms offers the clearest indication yet of the breadth of support from the business community for an economic recovery plan that prioritises the green economy and enhances resilience to systemic risks such as climate change.
It specifically highlights building renovation, offshore wind, electric vehicles, and low carbon industrial clusters as areas which "have the potential to bring investment and job creation across multiple regions of the UK".
Moreover, it notes the UK needs to demonstrate international leadership on climate change as both co-host of next year's critical COP26 Climate Summit and host of the 2021 G7 Summit, both of which are set to take place in the UK.
The letter is spearheaded by several major business groups, including The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group (CLG), the Aldersgate Group, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), Business in the Community (BITC), the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), and the Climate Group.
"The UK needs a strong, sustainable economy able to withstand future shocks, and the Prime Minister's plans to support a recovery after the Coronavirus pandemic must be cost-effective and focussed on building back better," said Eliot Whittington, director of the CLG. "The evidence is clear that a clean, resilient recovery is best for jobs, business, society and our environment."
Business leaders also stressed how low carbon infrastructure had the potential to create much needed jobs and deliver a rapid boost to the economy right across the country.
"We've been working hard to play our part in keeping the power and gas flowing to the UK's homes and hospitals throughout the pandemic, while continuing to deliver critical infrastructure projects that will ensure our energy networks are fit for the future," said National Grid CEO John Pettigrew. "We've estimated that the energy sector alone will need hundreds of thousands of new recruits as we work towards Net Zero and believe that an economic recovery with climate action at its heart will be key to unlocking these opportunities."
There are encouraging signs the government will broadly welcome the calls for a green stimulus. Speaking at the government's daily press conference on Friday, Sunak told reporters that Ministers were preparing a wide-ranging economic stimulus programme in response to stark warnings that unemployment could hit two million people during the second quarter.
"Now our thoughts, our energy and resources must turn to looking forward to planning for the recovery," he said. "We will develop new ways to grow the economy, to back business, boost skills and help people thrive in the new post-Covid world."
The FT reported this morning that Ministers and officials are working on plans that are expected to be unveiled in July. The proposals are set to build on the priorities set out in the government's election manifesto, which focused on upgrading infrastructure outside of the South East and delivering on the UK's net zero emissions goals. One source told the paper the plan would resemble the "manifesto on steroids".
Green industries are expected to be major beneficiaries of such a plan. Sunak specifically referenced offshore wind and carbon capture and storage as priority areas, while Ministers are said to be searching for "shovel ready" projects and skills programmes that can quickly create jobs and drive investment in communities hit hardest by the upcoming recession.
In addition, the FT reported the government is considering publishing its long-delated national infrastructure strategy, setting out plans for £100bn of capital spending over the course of the Parliament.
The plan had been expected to be published alongside the Budget in March, but the court ruling that concluded the government had failed to adequately consider the Paris Agreement when approving plans for a third runway at Heathrow reportedly necessitated a delay.
The National Infrastructure Commission has recommended the government's strategy should include significant new funding for broadband deployment, smart grid upgrades, renewable energy projects, and an expanded national energy efficiency programme, among other green measures.
Meanwhile, calls are growing for the government to curb some of its planned road-building programme in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and the surge in home-working and re-allocate funding to enhance active transport infrastructure as well as broadband and mobile connectivity.
In related news, new polling today provided further evidence that a major green stimulus package would enjoy significant public support.
A YouGov poll commissioned by Sky News found that only 27 per cent of people think life will be much the same as it was before the pandemic, while far more - 59 per cent - said it will be significantly different. Moreover, a clear majority of 57 per cent embrace this change with enthusiasm, saying they want the world to be different.
Asked what issue was the biggest challenge for the world after the pandemic, climate change took a clear lead with 33 per cent of the vote. In contrast, preventing future pandemics commanded just 15 per cent of the vote, tackling poverty was chosen by 14 per cent, and the rise of China as a superpower was highlighted by 11 per cent. Just eight per cent said the biggest challenge was migration and refugees, and only three per cent pointed to international terrorism.
Moreover, while 40 per cent expect people to resume commuting to their workplaces, 47 per cent expect working from home to largely continue. And while 49 per cent think people will go back to having overseas holidays, over a third - 37 per cent - believe people will stop having holidays abroad.
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