Checking in on the Green Recovery

The main appeal of a Green Recovery is it could unlock a windfall of investment.

The great tragedy that scientists have been warning us about for decades that governments around the world haven’t done enough to prepare for has finally hit us. No, not climate change, the other one. I was very much in two minds about writing this blog – after all, what hasn’t been said about Covid 19 at this point, including its parallels and links to the climate crisis. However, conversation about the economic recovery, including the green recovery, seems to have waned, in part because cases continue to rise in what may well have been classed as a second wave by the time I reach the end of this. So, allow me to take the next few hundred words to check in on how the green recovery is doing, and what we should be asking from it.

We’ve seen a raft of green announcements from the government over the course of the year, even at a time when the phrase ‘Covid 19’ would have brought up some very blank Google searches. The decarbonisation of transport is being increasingly looked at, due to the Department of Transport’s mega-plan in that area. Part of the government’s green plans have unusually included retrofits, £2bn worth in a new scheme, the Green Homes Guarantee. However, this fall far short of the £9bn promised in the Conservative party’s own manifesto, and many more than the £35-65bn-ish to 2035 some experts say is required. If this is ‘phase one’ then all well and good, but there has been little noise about a ‘phase two’, nor the serious questions of how to decarbonise heat. Hydrogen and CCS have got some long overdue investment too, but there still isn’t much of a strategic plan. When can we expect pilot projects? What is the market going to look like by 2030?

There’s also the matter of research and development announcements, which the government seems very fond of. While R&D announcements are always welcome, they are not a substitute for actual action. It’s worth noting that the biggest announcements this year from the government have been the 40GW offshore wind target, large public transport infrastructure announcements, bringing forward the 2040 internal combustion engine ban, and onshore wind and solar becoming eligible for future investment – all of which happened before the Covid crisis. Oops. (Although to be fair, since the first draft of this the government did make some noise about a 2030 petrol and diesel ban, only to push it back further in the year – so we’re still left waiting to see). What we’re left with are some fairly sporadic if welcome announcements which do little to tie into a wider plan.

So what should we be asking from a green recovery, if not this? A question that springs to mind to me is, what’s changed? Are we going to stop asking for renewables, or ask for five times as many now there is an economic and health crisis? Neither is the answer – renewable projects are essential, and the volume requested by environmentalists before was based mostly on practical necessity, not political calculations. So really, all the green recovery does is give a platform to ask for the the same demands as before, not a raft of new more radical demands because we feel like it. Renewables, interconnection, storage, electric vehicles, public transports, retrofits, low carbon heating, energy and resource efficiency – none of these have changed because of the economic recovery. The only thing that has changed is the opportunity – a fantastic chance to battle a major threat even in the darkest of times. That’s all the green recovery is, nothing more. It’s not a cheat code to unlock secret powers or make the previously impossible possible. It’s that, if the government yet again kicks the can down the road on heat decarbonisation, or yet again produces a transport plan that buckles on ambition at the last minute, it will be a spectacular and disastrous waste of an already disastrous year. The green recovery doesn’t allow us to go net zero tomorrow, nor does it completely change what need to happen to get us there. It’s a more emotional concept, one of a phoenix rising from the ashes, finding hope and strength in the face of adversity. And that’s completely fine, in fact it’s beautiful. The green recovery is rallying speech when all seems lost, our call to arms after defeat. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to remind us that we can do better. Because the world continues to spin new crises, and the climate flavoured one will endure for far longer than our current situation.

2030 – a partial utopia?

Boiling the kettle remains much the same, but behind this simple act are a range of new forces.

It seems inevitable now that 2020 was going to be an eventful year. Mostly for the wrong reasons. However, for many climate activists, 2019 has been by far the more eventful year, with 2020 stuck in a Covid-related holding pattern. This isn’t quite true however – renewables have soared, and not just because of reduced electrical demand, to be the UK’s largest source of power this year (so far). The citizen’s climate assembly has concluded its results only last week, the government is mulling over new plans to decarbonise transport, climate related economic recovery policies are cropping up all over the world, coal continues its worldwide death spiral, hydrogen has had a leap forward and even housing retrofits have had a new lease of life this year. However, this is all far away from the green utopia of which we are all dreaming, leading to the question – what will it all look like in ten years time? For the talk of goals and targets for future years, we don’t often take the thought experiment of what the future will look like directly.

It’s New Year’s Day, 2030. You wake up in a warm bedroom, despite the overnight storm. Your house is one of those upgraded as part of a retrofit package, which have got increasingly generous over the last decade. You’ve barely thought about the invisible cavity wall and loft insulation upgrades since they were put in a few years ago, especially as everyone eligible in the country has been offered them. More noticeable as you walk downstairs is the heat pump, which you turn down now you’re up. While many people have them now – in fact, they no longer sell old gas boilers, so you have to buy them if your heating needs replacing – it’s taken a long time to get them going, and gas is still the most common form of heating. You remember the shock of replacing the radiators and the disruption to the house when it was first installed, but since, the pump has been quiet and efficient. It’s also cheap, for the electricity supplying it has been much more affordable now that the grid runs almost exclusively off renewable energy, nuclear power, storage and interconnected grids, the storm of the night undeniably feeding in to the dominant form of offshore wind power. You make breakfast, turn on the TV, and start the kettle for a cup of tea. Unbeknownst to you, the new kettle you bought a month ago is made from recycled steel, part of a new drive to reuse industrially intensive resources. If it breaks, you have an app for that, part of a new drive to reuse common household items that’s taken off recently. After breakfast, you call for a rental car to go and visit your family. With more bus and rail links than there used to be, you don’t really need to own a car in many parts of cities and towns, but with reduced services on New Years, it’s one of those times where it pays to have a car on hand. Driving off in your fully electric vehicle, smart systems inside alert you to battery status and the different types of chargers nearby and available. You’re running short of time, so stop off at an ultra-rapid charger at a ‘petrol’ station. Five minutes later and with a fully charged battery you continue on, passing predominantly electric cars, vans, and even an electric lorry. The majority of the cars on the road are electric now, but petrol and diesel cars still have a noticeable presence, even if you can’t buy them anymore from today. With a few miles to go, your mind drifts, and you think about what 2040 will bring.

This is all hypothetical of course. Many will be angry this vision doesn’t include a completely carbon neutral UK, or conversely that everything above is wishful thinking that can’t possibly be expected to take place. Both viewpoints are wrong – it will be virtually impossible to decarbonise areas like flights and heating in the next decade, but equally radical cuts in electricity and road transport are possible with technologies and industries already available to us. It’s also not a completely optimistic view of the future – the storm that hangs over the vision could be fuel for wind turbines or an extreme weather event, depending on interpretation. My vision for 2030 is that of a partial low carbon utopia. One where serious action has been taken on climate change, and emissions are less than half of what they are today, with a lot of new technologies and ideas embraced in a relatively short space of time. Yet there is no denying, not everything can be done in the next ten years, as much as I would like it to be. The 2020s are the critical decade for the climate fight, but they will not end it, only do a majority of the damage to our opponent. If we cannot claim a green utopia in a decade, then we must do everything in our power to claim – a partial utopia.

Let’s clean up transport – right now!

UPDATE: This consultation has concluded – thank you everyone that submitted and shared your views! Now let’s see what the end result is in the coming months.

It’s easy to feel powerless and separated from the world during these difficult times. The world has effectively ground to a halt with the Covid19 lockdown, but the challenge of climate change lives on, lurking quietly behind the pandemic. If you’re wondering what to do with the self-isolation, how does fighting climate change from the comfort of your own home sound? All it takes to clean up our roads is a simple email.

The Department for Transport and Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV for short) still have an open consultation on when to phase out sales of petrol and diesel cars. DecarboniseNow have submitted our evidence already and will be here to help the department phase out our unfit-for-purpose cars and vans. But OLEV wants your views, and now is unique chance to get involved.

EV chargingThe government currently has a ‘mission’ (not a properly enforced ban) to phase out sales by 2040. This consultation is aiming to change that to 2035, and include banning hybrid vehicles, which still use oil for fuel. While this is a big improvement, the earliest that industry and environmental campaigns alike have discovered that a sales ban could be brought in is 2030. While five years might not sound like much, not only is delaying clean transport by five years needlessly wrong, but it would actually reduce emissions twice as fast as a 2035 date, and three times as fast as a 2040 one. Road transport is also the biggest source of emissions in the UK, and accounts for over a quarter of our carbon dioxide emissions. The 2035 date is also not set in stone, and a 2040 date could still be the one that the government goes for. We must make our voices heard, and accelerate the switchover to cleaner transport.

Help us in the race to clean up our roads. The consultation is open until Friday the 31st of July, and we need you!Click this link to be taken to the consultation page. Write an email to the address provided, and let them know you care about a low carbon future. Can’t think what to write, or don’t have time to put it into your own words? We’ve got you covered – below is an example letter of the kind of things you can copy and paste (just don’t forget to write your name). If you want references for any of these facts, or would just like further reading, click here. If you want more information about our electric vehicles campaign, click here.

Cleaning up transport is one of the biggest things we can do right now to fight climate change. By writing in, you’re part of the team that beat climate change. Thanks for your help, and take care!


Ban on sales of conventional vehicles by 2030

Dear Office for Low Emission Vehicles,

The UK has an existential and immediate need to reduce emissions to combat climate change. The largest source of emissions is surface transport, at 23% of the UK’s emissions. The earliest possible technically feasible and societally acceptable phase out date must be implemented, which has been highlighted by National Grid, the Committee on Climate Change and the National Infrastructure Commission and many others as 2030. The 2030 ban should extend to all petrol and diesel cars and vans, and include all hybrid electric vehicles, which risk breaching long term emission goals.

Impacts of a 2030 ban include;

-A 2030 ban on conventional vehicles reduces emissions twice as quickly as a 2035 date and three times as fast as 2040.

-National Grid have stated that the UK grid could transition as easily to a 2030 ban as a 2040 one, and would actively support a 2030 ban.

-A 2030 ban saves the economy more than a 2035 or 2040 ban, up to £20bn.

-The automotive industry plans 5-8 years ahead for new car models, and can integrate 2030 more easily into its plans.

-Fully electric cars already have lower lifetime costs than conventional models and will be cheaper to buy upfront by 2025 at the latest, making them the cheapest option well before 2030.

-Over 100,000 UK based jobs could be in electric vehicle production by 2030 if the ban is brought forward and boosts the British car industry.

Barriers to a 2030 ban include;

-Scaling up manufacturing of electric vehicles.

-Political risk and misleading information about electric vehicles.

-Slower rates of adding charging points.

-The electric grid will also need investment for upgrades.

Measures required to reduce these include;

-The 2030 ban must be more binding than the current 2040 mission, and have mandatory sales targets for electric cars for each company, with these increasing every year until 2030.

-Grants for electric cars should continue out to 2025 and increase if needed. VAT should be cut for electric vehicles, which the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders estimates could save £5,600 per vehicle. Factories and production facilities should receive tax relief.

-Yearly targets for public charging infrastructure should be implemented alongside electric vehicle sales targets, and driver payment options standardised.

-The government must source the required investment  for electric grid reinforcement, and align regulatory requirements for ‘smart charging’ wherever possible.

Yours sincerely,