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Climate change – an economic issue

Climate change – an economic issue

 The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) responds to the Committee on Climate Change Progress Report 

Harry Huyton, Programme Manager, Corporate Leaders Group 

30 June 2015


Our economy is beginning to change. In the UK, our greenhouse gas emissions are now 36 per cent below 1990 levels whilst GDP has grown by about 60 per cent over the same time period. The low carbon energy and transport sectors have grown into sizeable industries, with over 460,000 people now employed in them. Appliances and vehicles have become more efficient, and renewable energy generated 19 per cent of the country’s electricity last year.

The Committee on Climate Change’s progress report to Parliament, which was released today, is in one sense an encouraging read. Great progress has been made over the last decade, thanks both to progressive policy and support for low carbon technologies by Government; and to the private sector innovating and seizing the opportunities presented by the low carbon transition.

The report offers us a glimpse of what a thriving low carbon economy could look like in the future, but it is also a warning that we need to travel quicker. We are only at the start of this journey, and a large gap has opened between where we need to go to meet our future targets and what the currently policy landscape will deliver.

There is undue modesty in government’s ambition for the low carbon sector that is reflected in, for example, the lack of a decarbonisation target for electricity generation. This is in sharp contrast to what we are hearing from the private sector – growing confidence and energy in the business community around decarbonisation is palpable.

This is particularly true for the UK, which is well positioned to be a global leader in some low carbon technologies.

This confidence is translating itself into real investments and economic growth, but to sustain and grow this trend, government needs to understand the economic potential of the low carbon transition and take action. The challenge for the UK Government is therefore two-fold:

  • Firstly, the nuts and bolts need to be put in place to deliver a clear, consistent and long-term policy framework to reduce emissions and support low carbon innovation, infrastructure and skills. The Committee on Climate Change have set out a clear map as to how this can be achieved, detailing the policies that need to be improved or extended and/or areas for greater funding.
  • Secondly, we need a shift in attitude towards the low carbon sector overall and its future role. In effect, government needs to wake up to what the business community have already worked out. Yes, a low carbon transition requires up-front investment, smart regulation and new policies; but the reward is not just cuts in carbon, essential though this is. We are transforming our economy and building the foundations for long-term, sustainable growth in the UK.

That’s why responding to today’s Progress Report should not solely be the job of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, but just as importantly the Treasury and the Department for Business to secure a low carbon economy, with high performance.

About the author

Harry is the former Programme Manager for The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group. Previously, Harry was head of Climate Change Policy and Campaigns at the RSPB, one of Europe’s largest nature conservation organisations, where he led the RSPB’s policy development, advocacy and campaigning on climate change adaptation and mitigation, including energy issues.

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