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Today, Bright Blue launched our latest publication, Delivering net zero: Building Britain’s resilient recovery, in conjunction with our partners at WSP. This essay collection brings together nearly 40 leading chief executives, politicians, academics and thought leaders from across the private, public and third sectors to highlight policies and projects across different economic sectors that are supporting and could support the journey to net zero in a post-COVID era.

Back in our 2018 report, Hotting up, Bright Blue advocated for a legal net zero emissions target. We argued that there was a sound scientific, technological and political case for transitioning to a zero carbon economy by the middle of this century. Not only is deep decarbonisation an environmental necessity, we argued, but an economic opportunity.

Since then, the UK has committed itself to a target of net zero emissions by 2050, becoming the first major economy in the world to commit to such an ambitious target. 

We’ve come a long way; the UK has reduced its emissions by just over 40% since 1990, whilst our economy grew by 75% over this same time period, showing that the goals of environmental action and economic growth need not be in conflict. But we cannot afford to be complacent as we seek to substantially reduce our emissions over the course of the next 30 years. 

The Government has made a good start, phasing out the remaining coal-fired power stations, recently removing restrictions on new onshore wind energy development, ending gas heating in new homes, and driving the roll-out of more efficient boilers. 

However, much more needs to be done. In particular, this decade is crucial: the state and market both need to provide significantly more investment and incentives to facilitate deep decarbonisation. So far, the Government has met its first and second carbon budgets – which ensure it remains on track to achieving net zero 2050 – and is on track to outperform the third. But beyond this, the Government is – by its own measures – going to fall short of meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets on the basis of its policies and plans to date.

Currently, politicians and policymakers are rightly focussed on the immediate and tragic COVID-19 crisis. But discussions are beginning now about how we will emerge from this crisis; how we will build back better. In many ways, COVID-19 has been a crisis of resilience, and so too will it be with the impending climate crisis. Governments, businesses and communities need and will be expected to do more to mitigate and build resilience to disruptive crises, especially those that have been predicated for a long time. 

Whether it’s the roll out of a privately-backed Green Investment Bank, a new scorecard for HM Treasury setting out how each new policy aligns with net carbon emissions, a reformation of air passenger duty to incentivise the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, or the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers in low carbon sectors as part of Britain’s post-Brexit trading future, the ideas laid out in our essay collection are plentiful and unique. 

By breaking down this essay collection into different sections by sector, we present fresh thinking and new ideas from industry leaders, politicians and academics in transport; land; utilities; buildings; industry; waste; finance; government; and, innovation.

It is our hope that this essay collection will provide inspiration to politicians, policymakers and practitioners – especially in advance of COP26 – to implement innovative programmes and policies to ensure our market-based economy can meet our net zero commitments.  

Indeed, the transition towards net zero is often seen as a leftist policy, requiring vast amounts of government-led investment and intervention. Yet, this neglects the progress that has been made on decarbonisation to date and could further be made in the future through well-regulated markets with sensible incentives from Government. We believe this current Conservative Government urgently needs to encourage and promote market-based reforms to yield substantial economic and environmental benefits in the journey to net zero.  

Delivering net zero is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity. Creating a low carbon economy, and its associated jobs, means that just as the UK once was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, so too can it foster a new era of green growth. Once the immediate health crisis from COVID-19 reduces, there will be a need to lead Britain to a stronger and more resilient economy. Undoubtedly, green industries should play a leading role in this.  

The Government has signalled its determination to move towards a net zero economy, with the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson, using his inaugural speech to mention that the UK will “no longer make any contribution whatsoever to the destruction of our precious planet brought about by carbon emissions”. Time to deliver on that promise. And quickly.

Patrick is a researcher at Bright Blue and is co-editor of Delivering Net Zero: Building Britain’s resilient recovery.