Infrastructure and the construction industry in the UK could be key to unlocking net zero, according to the Net Zero Review, completed by former energy minister Chris Skidmore.
The review highlights the ‘historic opportunity’ the UK possesses, to continue leading the world on tackling climate change, while making 129 recommendations to “seize opportunities from creating a green economy”.
The publication of the review, entitled Mission Zero, has been welcomed by leading infrastructure and construction industry figures, many of whom were encouraged by several elements of the report.
Mr Skidmore said the UK’s leadership on tackling climate change had delivered real change at home and led to a global transformation.
But he added more should be done to reap the economic benefits that presents, including making better use of infrastructure and delivering more energy efficient homes.
The recommendations made in the review aim to maximise economic investment, opportunities and jobs - all while working towards achieving legally binding targets to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“We should be proud of the lead the UK has taken in tackling climate change, having exceeded expectations so far in our race to net zero emissions by 2050,” Mr Skidmore said.
“As essential as that is environmentally, it also puts us at an economic advantage globally.
“We lead in areas including clean technologies, science, manufacturing and green finance – areas that, if managed right, can lead to new jobs and strong economic growth.
“In developing this report, we have engaged with communities, economists and climate experts from across the country through more than 50 roundtables and 1,800 submissions – all of which have led to the Mission Zero findings.”
He added recommendations in the report are designed to “make the most of this historic opportunity,” so “people in every part of the country can reap the benefits of this both in their communities, and in their pockets”.
- His proposals include using infrastructure to unlock net zero, with a cross-sectoral infrastructure strategy to be implemented by 2025, to support the building and adaptation for new green energy sources such as hydrogen.
- He also advocates backing business, by reviewing incentives for investment in decarbonisation, including via the tax system.
- A Help to Grow Green campaign offering information and advice to small businesses so they can plan ahead is also proposed, alongside driving forward a ‘Green Jobs Taskforce’.
- A Net Zero Charter mark, acknowledging ‘best in class’ among firms for their work in reaching net zero could also be introduced.
- Reforms of the planning system, with net zero at its heart, are also recommended.
- Mr Skidmore suggests backing at least one Trailblazer Net Zero City, local authority and community that can lead the way by reaching net zero by 2030.
- Legislating for the Future Homes Standard so that no new homes will be built with a gas boiler from 2025 is also recommended in the review.
- A 10-year mission to make heat pumps a widespread technology in the UK is recommended.
- A reform of EPC ratings to create a “clearer, more accessible” Net Zero Performance Certificate (NZPC) for households could also be carried out.
- And Mr Skidmore also recommends creating sustainable governance structures for net zero, including an over-arching government financing strategy by the end of 2023.
- A proposed Office for Net Zero Delivery would be responsible for placing net zero delivery at the heart of government thinking, with Mr Skidmore also advocating “ramping up” investment in research and development.
- The review also explores the need to expand the government’s public reporting on net zero and the need for more public information through a new engagement plan.
- A new carbon calculator on the carbon cost of choices, and a standardised approach to ecolabelling on products is also recommended to benefit the public.
- The introduction of environmental and climate protections in future free trade agreements, removing trade barriers to environmental goods and services, is also suggested.
As he welcomed the review, business and energy secretary Grant Shapps said the UK’s wealth of talent, expertise and “track record to be proud of” means it is well-placed to ensure tackling climate change also brings new jobs and investment for businesses and communities.
Official statistics show there are already around 400,000 jobs in low carbon businesses and their supply chains across the UK, with turnover estimated at £41.2bn in 2020.
Both the British Energy Security Strategy and Net Zero Strategy aim to leverage an additional and unprecedented £100bn of private investment, while supporting an additional 480,000 British jobs by 2030.
Professor Lord Stern of Brentford, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said the review had convincingly argued the transition to a net-zero economy is the “growth opportunity of the 21st century”.
He added the UK is well-placed to benefit from the increasing demand for net-zero goods and services, “if it makes the right public and private investments”.
“It also correctly highlights the critical importance of government creating an environment that is conducive to this investment by providing clarity, certainty, consistency and continuity of policy,” he said.
“I hope the prime minister and his government will respond to the review with the urgency and scale required to prevent this enormous economic opportunity from slipping through our fingers.
“This transition, and the investment and innovation it embodies, are at the core of the UK’s growth story for the coming decade.”