Today’s headline Budget announcements have rightly focused on measures for supporting the resilience of the UK’s economy as the impact of the Covid-19 continues to bite.

Few would argue that continuing to prioritise spending in a way that is focused on protecting jobs and businesses across the country isn’t the right thing to do in this moment. After all, the economic impacts of the pandemic have been unprecedented and without the volume of public spending that continues to be committed, these impacts would undoubtedly be far worse.

Yet there is a tricky balancing act that the Treasury, and government more widely, must get right in all of this and that is ensuring that the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic is geared at the other immediate challenges that we face. These include those in relation to the management of our natural environment and efforts to mitigate and adapt to the earth’s changing climate.

Recognising the immediacy of environmental and climate challenges

Although in most cases the delivery of government policy in these areas will be done over a period of decades e.g. achieving the net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target by 2050, coordinated action and investment is required now.

And it is only this type of approach that will bring much of the rhetoric that we have heard in relation to a ‘green recovery’ come to fruition.

There were some welcome spending commitments made by the Chancellor in this respect. These include £12 billion of initial funding for a UK Investment Bank, with a remit to invest in cleaner infrastructure.

The bank, which will be based in Leeds, replaces the access the UK has lost to European Investment Bank (EIB) finance following our withdrawal from the European Union.

The EIB has historically acted as an anchor investor in many emerging clean sectors e.g. offshore wind to draw in support from other institutional investors that may have otherwise considered them as too risky. The UK has benefited from billions of euros of this type of investment over a sustained period.

Other promising announcements included confirmation that the UK Government will launch its first sovereign green savings bonds that will enable widescale investment in renewable energy schemes and other ‘green projects’, alongside a new group to establish the UK and the City of London as the leader of the global voluntary carbon markets.

The need for a strategic approach to our environment and climate goals

But the challenge of bringing the Chancellor’s spending pledges together with other government policy to deliver progress on the UK’s long-term environment and climate goals remain.

In addition to our domestic 2050 net-zero target, the Government has committed the UK to achieving 68% GHG emissions reductions (based on 1990 levels) by 2030 as part of global efforts to curb climate change. At present the UK is lacking a comprehensive strategy and spending plan for delivering both targets.

The Government’s intentions to publish a net-zero strategy ahead of the UK hosting COP26 are therefore an important step in the right direction in this respect. The fact that the COP is taking place on home soil should also act as an incentive for ensuring that the strategy is appropriately ambitious.

An important aspect in this, particularly from IEMA’s point of view, is that the strategy is cognisant of the growing need to ensure that the UK has the right provision in place in terms of green skills. An area that was also briefly acknowledged in the Budget.

Through our recent evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) inquiry into green jobs and skills we have highlighted the case for an ‘all jobs greener’ approach. Details of the written and oral evidence that we submitted to the EAC can be found here.

Finally, in the case of the 2050 target specifically, there is also a pressing need for the advice that the Committee on Climate Change has set out for the 6th Carbon Budget to be entered into law in order to maximise the chances of the UK achieving the target.

IEMA and COP26

As the UK builds up to host COP26, IEMA will be running a series of events and publishing a range of relevant content to ensure our members voices are heard at the summit.

If you have an idea for an event, blog or any other COP26 related activity do please get in touch at [email protected].

Commenting on today’s Budget, IEMA said:

‘The Chancellor recognises that when crises come, we need to be able to act - this is never more true as we face the challenge of the climate crisis. While we welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to put greening the economy at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery, aligning investment and the financial system towards environmental sustainability and our 2050 net zero target is critical as we build a sustainable future.

The incentives announced to encourage more apprenticeships and the investment stimulus provide an opportunity to embed green jobs throughout the economy, but in the longer term, we must address the advice the Climate Change Committee set out on the UK’s 6th carbon budget and the clean growth strategy needed to get us there, which needs to come together urgently ahead of COP26.’

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Ben Goodwin, Head of Policy, IEMA

Ben joined IEMA towards the end of 2020 to take up the role of Head of Policy. In this capacity he looks after the delivery of IEMAs core policy and practice outputs across a range of environmental and sustainability issues. Prior to joining the organisation Ben worked in several similar policy roles at organisations including, most recently, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Renewable Energy Association.