With investment we can get the UK’s low carbon economy back on track

The run-up to the 2016 autumn statement has seen lots of predictions about what the new government will pick out as priorities for its first big economic intervention post-EU referendum.

Autumn statements in the past have been a time for big infrastructure announcements and tomorrow we will see where Philip Hammond’s new infrastructure priorities will lie.

But a report Green Alliance launched last week, with a group of development and environmental organisations including Christian Aid and RSPB, showed exactly where some of the chancellor’s attention should be directed.

The UK has earned a solid reputation as a world leader in tackling climate change and investing in low carbon infrastructure. However, our report shows that areas where the UK has the expertise and capacity to lead global markets, such as low carbon energy, heat and transport, are floundering thanks to a mix of policy uncertainty and a lack of public and private investment.

It highlights the investment and trade opportunities we’re at risk of losing, as well as extra benefits such as local health improvements, cheaper heating bills, extra jobs and skills investment.

The UK renewables sector has the potential to attract £47bn in new investment from 2021-26 but, without a clear future for the industry, new renewables are likely to see a 96% drop in investment by 2021

Low carbon heat and housing energy efficiency are particularly suffering from a lack of clear policy and need a complete rethink. Investment in domestic energy efficiency fell from £1.5bn in 2012 to £0.7bn in 2015. Over the same period, the number of energy efficiency measures installed in homes declined by 80%.

But research shows that retrofitting most of the UK housing stock could release £73bn in investment and support 86,000 jobs a year. Unlike other infrastructure projects, these jobs would be spread across all regions of the UK. And they are good jobs, where skills development and training would be offered at a local level.

These developments would have a positive impact on health as well. Ensuring warm homes are more affordable reduces winter deaths due to cold and would cut the £1.3bn in related costs to the NHS every year.

Other areas simply need more ambition. The UK renewables sector has the potential to attract £47bn in new investment from 2021-26 but, without a clear future for the industry, new renewables are likely to see a 96% drop in investment by 2021.

Likewise, growth in the electric and autonomous vehicles market could support 320,000 new industrial jobs by 2030, as well as giving us cleaner air in our towns and cities, but it is currently lacking the infrastructure and skills base it needs to reach its full potential.

The chancellor has a perfect opportunity to start to address these issues. The UK’s leading environment and development groups have joined together to voice our concerns as we want to see the UK get back on track as a low carbon leader.

We are asking him, specifically, to provide more funding for low carbon heat technologies and pilots in different locations around the UK, to promise £2bn in low carbon power investment post-2020, and to ensure grants for low emission vehicles past 2018. All of these measures will attract investment and provide local jobs, skills and better health for those families across the country who the autumn statement aims to help.

The government has shown great ambition in setting low carbon targets but must now start explaining how it will meet them explicitly, by bringing forward the policy and low carbon investment needed.

Photo by Department for Communities and Local Government

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Paul McNamee

Paul McNamee

Head of politics, Green Alliance

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