Learnings from Covid-19: a glimpse into a low carbon future?
Amidst emergency budget responses to COVID-19, climate change and the net zero challenge still hold a key place within the 2020 Budget.
Understandably, the immediate thoughts of businesses over the last few weeks have centred on the challenges posed by COVID-19. As this seems likely to continue over the next few months, some have been concerned that, amongst this, the sustainability movement from the last year might lose momentum1. However, it is positive to see that climate change, addressing prevention, impact and achieving net zero, still feature prominently within the 2020 Budget.
Preventing climate change
Biodiversity has an important role in preventing climate change. Encouragingly, the Budget announced the Nature for Climate Fund which builds on the existing 25 Year Environment Plan2, promising £640 million to plant trees covering an area larger than Birmingham. Alongside this, the Nature Recovery Network Fund and The Natural Environment Fund aim to encourage more partnership work.
Waste and the role of circular economies were also included in this year's budget. In support of the ongoing Plastic Packaging Tax consultation3, £7.2 million will be invested in a system to track and reduce waste across the economy. Meanwhile, an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme aims to encourage responsibility within IT waste.
Mitigating the impacts of climate change
Funding for flood prevention was expected following the February storms, but the mitigation of climate change impacts alongside their prevention reflects wider business approaches. Committing £120 million to repair the damage done by the storms, the Government also plans to invest £5.2 billion in flood defences over six years, to reduce flood risk across the UK by 11%. Alongside this, £200 million is available for further initiatives to prevent flooding and coastal erosion in high-risk areas.
In the face of future climate change impacts, the government has also committed to investing £39 million in water supply assets to maintain resilience.
Creating a sustainable future
An additional £10 million of funding for net zero policy support indicates that this remains a key objective for the Government, with infrastructure and accessibility as the key targets. With strategies for improving energy, heat and transport and an emphasis on innovation and digital connection, it seems likely that businesses will be encouraged to be more future-focused and data-driven in their sustainability journeys.
To enable the decarbonisation of energy, the Government has committed to doubling the Energy Innovation Programme and investing £900 million in new technology, including fusion and electric vehicles. With Carbon Price support frozen to encourage decarbonisation within the energy industry, there is also a commitment to prevent the potential intermittency caused by increased renewables through further development of nuclear, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS). The new CCS Infrastructure Fund indicates that, at least initially, CCS might be expected to be key amongst these.
Both business and domestic supply are being incentivised towards more sustainable choices. The Climate Change Levy is to be raised on gas whilst being frozen on electricity, and the Climate Change Agreement scheme is to be extended by 2 years, supporting large energy users in their sustainability efforts. In addition, the Green Gas Levy aims to encourage more biomethane on the grid.
Strategies regarding heat focus primarily on domestic and small businesses, with schemes to help invest in heat pumps and biomass boilers. However, the Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Initiative received some support, aiming to protect larger projects.
- Public transport
Decarbonisation of transport is also tackled, as the Budget outlines several ways local transport connections are to be improved whilst achieving net zero. Continued investment in the Midlands Rail Hub, as well as the allocation of funds from the Transforming Cities Funds, aims to see new and redeveloped cycle freeways, bus routes and metro systems across the country. With £50 million dedicated to improving accessibility at railway stations, increased travel via public transport seems to be important in reducing emissions.
- Electric vehicles
Alongside a boost to public transport, the Budget aims to incentivise low emission vehicles, making them more accessible. With the ultimate aim of a fast-charging station within 30 minutes of every UK driver, the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles will be undertaking a review and development of current infrastructure. To encourage the uptake of these opportunities, the Rapid Charging Fund will offer financial support to businesses, whilst Plug-in Grants are being extended for vans, taxis and motorcycles to 2023. Altogether, this aims to make electric vehicles a more accessible and reliable option and therefore encourage their uptake.
Climate change and sustainability have clearly been recognised within the 2020 Budget and have remained important despite other current challenges. With sustainable development apparently likely to continue, and clear links between net zero, innovation and growth, there is huge potential for businesses willing to take advantage of the opportunities that will appear over the next few years.
You can read the 2020 Budget in full, here.
- 1. https://news.sky.com/story/sir-david-attenborough-hopes-coronavirus-crisis-will-not-hinder-uk-climate-change-summit-11955590
- 2. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan
- 3. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/871368/Plastic_packaging_tax_condoc_template_final_1.0.pdf
- 4. https://climate.nasa.gov/faq/16/is-it-too-late-to-prevent-climate-change/
- 5. https://www.iso.org/standard/68507.html