There was no lack of advice for the chancellor on measures to green the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis from top economists and the government’s own climate advisers.
But the Rishi Sunak seems to have focused on just one – home insulation – to a mixed reception from green experts and industry figures.
The GBP3bn to be spent on improving energy efficiency in the next year, GBP1bn on public buildings such as schools and hospitals and the rest in vouchers of up to GBP10,000 for households, is expected to result in 650,000 warmer homes and support 140,000 jobs. Experts, from the Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to the International Energy Agency, had called for such measures, as a fast way to create jobs while making permanent emissions reductions and setting the UK on a path to net zero emissions.
“This is a really good package,” said Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s statutory adviser. “We said the government should focus on job creation, and the biggest area of job creation is energy efficiency. This is a genuine stimulus, as it is big money that has to be spent quickly.”
The voucher system will operate from September and the GBP3bn is to be spent in 2020-21. At least 15m homes need insulation, and all houses in the UK must be switched to low-carbon heating to meet net zero emissions by 2050. Stark said the next step must be to put in place policies to safeguard the jobs for the long term.
There are also question marks over the prime minister’s promise of GBP12bn to build new social housing. The CCC has said about 1m homes built since 2008 will have to be refurbished, as they were constructed to inadequate standards. But the promised new homes in the “new deal” will also fall short if government plans to introduce a low-carbon home standard from 2025 are not brought forward, Stark said. “It’s an expensive problem that we don’t need.”
Other measures that the CCC, economists and experts had called for received less attention. Renewable energy, essential to reaching the target of net zero emissions by 2050, received no new boost. Electric vehicles were parked on the hard shoulder, along with other hoped-for green transport measures.
Building out broadband would create jobs and help those working at home, but the chancellor was silent on that. Measures to restore nature also received little funding, with just GBP40m for a green jobs challenge fund, despite promises of tree-planting and landscape restoration.
Craig Bennett, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “The money allocated to help restore nature falls embarrassingly short of what is needed to tackle the twin emergencies we face: climate change and nature loss.”
There were a few unexpected crumbs for pet projects. Technology for capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air will receive GBP100m, and there was GBP10m for the automotive transformation fund, looking at blue sky projects for green mobility.
Other countries have moved further and faster. France is spending about GBP13bn on its green recovery measures, while Germany is looking to top GBP35bn. The EU as a whole is pursuing a $1tn green deal.
Anna McMorrin, the shadow minister for international development, said: “This is not what a green recovery looks like. The chancellor touts a green recovery in one breath but invests in high-carbon industry both at home and overseas in another, pumping billions into fossil-fuel projects abroad.”
Greenpeace said Sunak had had the opportunity to spend GBP15bn on “shovel-ready” projects that would have created hundreds of thousands of green jobs while cutting emissions. Rebecca Newsom, the head of politics, said: “The chancellor made many of the right noises about sparking a green recovery. But instead of digging in to deliver on this promise, he seems to have downed spades with the job only partly done. The government has missed the opportunity to kickstart the green recovery we need.”
The chancellor has delayed the national infrastructure strategy to later in the year, so the lack of detail on large-scale infrastructure projects was not surprising. Carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, green transport and large-scale energy projects might take more time to come to fruition, and could be included in the autumn statement.
However, green experts are worried that time is running out. Ed Matthew, the associate director at the thinktank E3G, said: “This was not a recovery statement, let alone a green one. It was an economic intervention to keep people spending money and save existing jobs once people come off furlough. There was very little on economic vision or recovery. But we are in a climate emergency and need urgent action to decarbonise the economy now. We need that comprehensive green recovery plan yesterday.”