Promises of a “green recovery” from the Coronavirus downturn must offer quick and tangible financial benefits and job opportunities, or the Net Zero agenda could face a backlash from voters, a report argues today.
The Social Market Foundation think-tank is urging politicians to back up environmental rhetoric with early action on household finances and jobs, and a sustained argument that “greener is cheaper”.
Priorities for “quick-impact” projects should include directly employing people to reduce household carbon emissions and bills by insulating homes.
Some environmental activists have argued that the crisis-management approach used to manage the virus should be applied to climate policy. Boris Johnson this week promised that Government plans will “deliver a stronger, cleaner, more sustainable economy after this pandemic.”
In a report drawing on conversations with senior politicians and officials, the SMF warned that promises of a “green recovery” should be handled with great care or risk losing public support for climate action.
Directly linking the efforts made to mitigate COVID-19 and those required to reduce carbon emissions are unlikely to win public support, the SMF said. Doing so may even prove harmful to the Net Zero agenda, if voters believe that climate action will mean more of the economic hardship they face over the coronavirus.
The SMF said that instead of appealing to the public’s willingness to endure more economic and social discomfort to deliver environmental objectives, leaders should emphasise the benefits that could arise from decarbonisation, especially for household finances and employment.
“Green recovery” policies should prioritise small-scale, quick-impact decarbonisation work, especially the decarbonisation of homes, the report concludes.
Large-scale infrastructure projects bring economic benefits and will be necessary to achieve Net Zero in the long-term, the SMF said. But the quickest way to delivering short-term economic stimulus, employment and household savings would be a programme of home insulating and other adaptations, the think-tank said.
The SMF report, entitled The Virus and the Climate, is part of the think-tank’s Towards Net Zero project, which is sponsored by ScottishPower. The SMF retained full editorial independence.
The SMF analysed polling data and previous environmental policies and concluded that despite increases in the number of voters who say they support climate action, support for the policies that will be needed to deliver Net Zero cannot be taken for granted.
Unless policymakers develop and deliver a sustained argument that “greener is cheaper”, there is a risk that voters facing economic hardship from the coronavirus recession will turn against climate policies, the report warns.
Amy Norman, SMF researcher, said:
“Voters largely accepted economic disruption to control the virus because they could see its immediate dangers. Assuming they would accept more hardship over climate change would be a big risk.
“To win and keep consent for the Net Zero agenda, leaders must explain clearly how green policies will deliver financial benefits and jobs to people living in an economy under serious strain.
“Big infrastructure projects have their place, but promising them before voters feel any benefits of a ‘green recovery’ risks losing public support.
“Better insulation and low-carbon homes may not seem exciting but delivering them could mean more jobs and lower energy bills this winter. Quick, tangible wins like this are essential to maintaining public support during the long journey to Net Zero.”
Keith Anderson, ScottishPower CEO, said:
“If we’re to have any chance of meeting government net zero targets, we need to stop talking about a green recovery and get to work on making it happen – building low carbon homes, getting people into electric cars and constructing new wind farms. We’ve set out ten practical steps that will help us do all these things in short order, with just small changes to existing government rules and regulations.
“Decarbonising the ways we heat our homes will be a major step change for communities the length and breadth of the country. And it will be a game-changer for the economy – immediately creating jobs and stimulating investment, and delivering long-term low-carbon benefits.
“Crucially, this can be done at little cost to the public purse, so it’s a no-brainer. By acting now and doing what is needed from both an economic and an environmental perspective, we can all achieve a better future, quicker.”
- For questions about this publication or to arrange an interview, contact Linus Pardoe, SMF Impact Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org
- The SMF report is published at www.smf.co.uk/publications/virus-and-climate – at 00:01, Friday 3 July. The think-tank’s Towards Net Zero project is sponsored by ScottishPower. The SMF declares all its financial support and retains full editorial independence over all its outputs.
- The report draws on a private roundtable with politicians from Government and Opposition parties, officials and experts. All conclusions and recommendations are those of the SMF alone.
- For a full list of recommendations from the report, please visit www.smf.co.uk/publications/virus-and-climate