A green manifesto

8th April 2015


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Author

Julie S Allan

What environment and sustainability priorities should the next government target? the environmentalist finds out

The coalition promised it would be the "greenest" government ever, but most in the profession would say it has failed to live up to that pledge. So what of the priorities for the next administration? the environmentalist has asked IEMA's policy team and other leading bodies to set out three issues of prime concern to form a "green" manifesto for Westminster until 2020.

IEMA

Climate change

A policy shift is required if we are to meet carbon reduction targets for avoiding dangerous climate change. A poll of IEMA members revealed that 91% agree that the next government will need to work hard to strengthen its leadership and commitment on domestic and international climate change issues. IEMA expects the new government to:

  • take a leadership position domestically, and at the Paris summit in December to ensure an effective agreement and framework are put in place so that global greenhouse-gas emissions peak at the earliest opportunity and is consistent with keeping the temperature rise below 2°C;
  • act on advice from the Committee on Climate Change on the 2028-32 fifth carbon budget, due out in December, and draft legislation early in 2016 that is consistent with the UK achieving its 2050 target to cut emissions by 80%;
  • set climate change and energy policy frameworks that are not subject to short-term political change to secure the investment, innovation, progressive transformation and effective action to meet the second and third carbon budgets; and
  • review energy and carbon taxes, subsidies, tariffs and tax breaks to ensure they are consistent with and support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Sustainability skills

However the next government is formed, it will need to work with business, professional bodies and education providers to ensure that sustainability is placed at the heart of decision-making and that the associated skills are embedded in the economy. The next government should:

  • commit to developing a sustainability skills strategy within the first year of the new parliament;
  • undertake capability assessments as environmental policies and regulations are developed, with training programmes established where skills gaps are identified;
  • ensure the strategy encourages all university courses to support the development of sustainability skills as an integrated element of learning, and that environment and sustainability are taught in the school curriculum;
  • work towards integrating the knowledge and understanding of environment and sustainability issues into apprenticeship programmes; and
  • provide support for environment and sustainability awareness-raising programmes to stimulate business demand for environment and sustainability skills.

Government culture

In recent decades, governments have failed to set a defined vision for a sustainable economy in the UK. This lack of over-arching direction, combined with inconsistency in environmental and wider sustainability policy areas as well as regular abrupt changes in direction, generates uncertainty. This uncertainty is denting confidence in the UK as an attractive place to invest in the transition to a sustainable economy. The next government should:

  • commit to establishing a sustainability culture across public policy, which is at least equal to those being developed in comparably sized, leading private companies;
  • ensure that effective support is provided to help departments and wider agencies achieve this cultural change by creating a policy unit to support the transition to a sustainable economy; and
  • provide the unit with enough staff and access to leading-edge knowledge outside the government so that it can support the wider civil service in embedding key sustainability issues in all policymaking.

Martin Baxter, Josh Fothergill, Nick Blyth

Aldersgate group

Carbon budgets

We welcomed the current government's adoption of the fourth carbon budget as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Its delivery means increasing the flow of finance towards energy-efficient and low-carbon infrastructure, while minimising the cost of capital. This in turn is dependent on key decisions to be taken in the first
18 months of the next parliament.

Specifically, we need clarity on the next government's ambition to improve the UK economy's energy efficiency. We suggest making energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority and action to decarbonise the UK's power sector. It takes up to 10 years to build clean energy projects, such as offshore wind farms, and the government will need to clarify urgently the levels of funding available for low-carbon projects beyond 2019 under the Levy Control Framework. Setting a decarbonisation target for 2030 under the Energy Act (which will come under debate in parliament in 2016) as recommended by the CCC will also be essential to give a clear signal to investors in low-carbon generation.

Other key measures, such as increasing investment in research and development in the low-carbon sector and pushing for a meaningful reform of the EU emissions trading system, will be essential if we are to expand a low-carbon economy.

Natural capital

The UK's natural capital has an intrinsic value in itself but, critically, it also provides essential services that are key to the economy and society. These services, which are often taken for granted and counted as free, include the provision of clean water. This is not just about supplying drinking water; it is also about supporting the manufacturing economy, given that, typically, 50,000 litres of water are needed to manufacture a car. Yet our reliance on services provided by nature is poorly understood and many of the UK's ecosystems are in critical decline. To reverse this, measurement, finance and institutional arrangements need to be improved. These include:

  • implementing the recommendation of the Natural Capital Committee for conventional accounting methods to monitor the state of the UK's natural capital, reporting on it on yearly;
  • setting a natural capital investment strategy and ensuring the Green Investment Bank plays a key part in this; and
  • establishing in law a permanent and independent advisory body with the powers to publish recommendations for action and hold the government to account on the preservation and enhancement of the UK's natural capital.

Circular economy

We have lived in a linear, take-make-use-dispose economy since the start of the industrial revolution, albeit with an increasing emphasis on end-of-life recycling. Given the growing pressures on global resource use, it is clear the time has come to do things differently and shift to a more resource-efficient system based on the circular economy. However, our understanding of economy-wide and business scale vulnerability to resource issues remains poorly developed.

A report published in December by the all-party parliamentary sustainable resource group found that reducing material waste and increasing the remanufacturing of components could be worth up to £5.6 billion to the UK. To move a step closer to a circular economy, the next government should immediately conduct a review into the UK exposure to resource security risks and the impact these could have on the economy. This should be followed by a national resource-efficiency action plan. The government can influence resource-efficient business models through its procurement rules, in particular by promoting designs that facilitate repairability, reuse and recyclability. It should also consider additional incentives to encourage businesses to move towards a circular economy, such as through lowering VAT on recycled products.

Peter Young and Nick Molho

EEF

Industrial decarbonisation

The EU must reform its emissions trading system, while protecting industry from the risks of carbon leakage. More broadly, the incoming government should reform domestic industrial decarbonisation policy. There is a lack of confidence that the climate change agreements and carbon reduction commitment scheme can continue to deliver the required energy efficiency improvements.

Also, the current policy landscape cannot address the challenges of decarbonising energy-intensive sectors, such as steel, cement or chemicals. Key to this will be taking on board the findings of the 2050 low-carbon roadmaps and their emissions reduction options.

Resources

UK manufacturers must have the same access to critical resources and inputs as competitors. The government must: establish an office of resource management (p.5) to review supply risks regularly and work with stakeholders to mitigate them; improve the UK's data infrastructure; and help to deliver a more strategic, informed approach to innovation.

Waste

There remains significant potential in the UK to use more of what is defined as waste. But to gain maximum benefit the regulation and incentive structures need to be integrated to capture value. Once this framework is in place waste could be used to generate high-quality materials for manufacturers and efficient energy, for example. Priorities for the next parliament should be to generate btter data on waste to support investment in the infrastructure to manage it effectively. The government should also look to establish a centre for remanufacturing innovation and explore the use of incentives to encourage resource efficiency.

Susanne Baker

Environmental Industries Commission

Sustainable infrastructure

All the main parties will enter the general election campaign committed to one of the largest infrastructure investment programmes ever. This would include new homes and new energy infrastructure, a high-speed rail line, and possibly new airport runways.

The next government must make sure this new infrastructure embeds sustainability and does not compromise environmental goals. New runway capacity must be compatible with UK carbon and air quality targets; new homes should be built on brownfield sites where possible and incorporate sustainable drainage and high-energy efficiency; and construction site machinery must have emissions filters.

Air quality

Britain's poor urban air quality is failing EU limits and is contributing to the illness and premature deaths of tens of thousands of citizens. No other environmental issue hits public health in this way. We need strong political will from the next government to tackle different elements of the problem. Buses with old diesel engines need to be retrofitted. There must be tighter restrictions on emissions from construction site machinery. The case for promoting lower-emission fuels, such as LPG, must be re-examined, while the development of zero-emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles, must continue.

Energy efficiency

The UK can meet its emissions targets only if less energy is consumed, particularly in buildings. Although there has been progress, there is far to go. In particular, the combination of the increasing complexity of the policy landscape and politicians' desire to manage the politics of energy prices have caused uncertainty among funders and building owners. The next government must take forward as a matter of urgency policies that have been announced but not implemented. A rationalisation of the policy framework is required and the barriers for commercial business with property portfolios must be examined.

Matthew Farrow

Environmental Services Association

Recycling supply chain

The new government needs to focus on mending the broken recycling supply chain. According to ESA members, who collect the material on behalf of councils, the quality of recyclate collected is falling as funding cuts take their toll. And the amount of material collected is flatlining as local authorities in England struggle to find the resources for services to raise performance. Also, the price paid for collected recycled materials is dropping in concert with global commodity markets. The ESA urges the new government to look into this issue, and to think about ways to stimulate the recycling supply chain.

Regulation

The second issue the next government must address is the poor enforcement of waste regulation. This is undermining legitimate businesses and harming their investments in much-needed new waste infrastructure. In 2014, the ESA identified that waste crime costs the UK economy between £300 million and £800 million a year, and has significant impacts on the environment and quality of life. The ESA calls on the new government to support proper enforcement of the law, and to provide some reassurance for industry that tougher action will be taken to identify and deter these waste criminals.

Skills and jobs

The resources industry can be a major provider of jobs, skills and innovation. Over the past 10 years, technological innovation in the sector has increased significantly, with heavy investment in new treatment facilities. These plants are a valuable source of skilled employment and help to inject funds into local economies around the country. It is vital that the incoming government recognises the economic contribution our industry can make to the country.

Jacob Hayler

UK Green Building Council

Retrofit programme

Designating energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority is the only way to meet the challenge of improving the UK's 26 million homes. The next government must ensure domestic retrofit is included in the top 40 priority investments in its national infrastructure plan and dedicate part of its infrastructure budget over the next parliament to help fund a national energy efficiency programme.

This could deliver savings of up to £300 a year on the average household energy bill and contribute to wider economic growth by creating thousands of jobs. From an environmental perspective, energy efficiency offers the UK by far the most cost-effective way of meeting its carbon targets - reducing the need for the equivalent of 22 power stations of energy by 2020, according to the government's own estimates.

Zero-carbon homes and commercial buildings

The next government must ensure that new homes are built to the highest achievable standard of energy efficiency. This is vital from a consumer perspective: a new zero-carbon home is likely to save householders more than £1,000 year-on-year on their energy bills, compared with one built in Victorian times, despite costing builders as little as £3,000 more to build in real terms. In 2007, a clear trajectory was set out to deliver genuine zero-carbon homes from 2016. Despite some relaxing of the standard, it is not too late to meet this milestone. But to do so we must ensure that there are no exemptions.

In the early stages of the next parliament the government must commit to the target for all new non-domestic buildings to be zero carbon from 2019. The construction and energy industries need to be sure that the target remains at the centre of the energy-efficiency strategy, with an explanation on how to reach this published as a matter of urgency.

Energy efficiency standards

The current government has laid the regulations for minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector. From 2018 landlords will be prohibited from renting out the worst-performing properties, amounting to some 400,000 homes. But enforcement is key to their success. The next government must ensure that the standards are effectively enforced, particularly in the early years, and that local authorities are given adequate resources to police compliance. The new government should also investigate introducing mandatory energy efficiency standards for owner-occupied buildings, particularly if progress on meeting national climate change targets requires this. A commitment to introduce a regulatory backstop would instil confidence in the energy efficiency market and encourage action.

John Alker

WSP

Paris 2015

There is a responsibility on the next government to ensure the UK uses its influence and leadership at the UN climate summit in Paris in December to secure an international deal at the pace and scale called for by climate science - that is, keeping the global temperature rise below 2ºC.

Energy efficiency

Making every home in the UK energy efficient should be a national infrastructure priority. The next government must do so with the same level of urgency, coordination, finance and goal-setting as for other major existing initiatives, such as HS2, nuclear power and the road building programme.

Skills

Most jobs will need new skills for a "future ready" economy. A strong programme must be implemented, possibly through existing sector industrial strategies, to give the UK's workforce the skills they will need in a low-carbon, circular and dematerialised world.

David Symons

the environmentalist thanks the Aldersgate group, EEF, EIC, ESA, IEMA, UKGBC and WSP for their contributions.


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