— Environmental Audit Committee publishes its report on how to ‘grow back better’ after Covid-19.
— ICE welcomes the report, which features ICE evidence throughout.
— Report echoes ICE's ideas to invest in net-zero infrastructure.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK government’s policies have rightly concentrated on supporting the health system and the millions of workers and business owners who have been affected.
Looking ahead, though, the economic response to Covid-19 offers a tremendous opportunity to build the foundations for a more resilient and sustainable future that meets long-term ambitions.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) recognises this in its 'Growing back better’ report, putting forward a number of recommendations to guarantee that nature and net zero are at the heart of the economic recovery.
ICE’s evidence is cited throughout the report, including the opportunity to use the post-pandemic recovery to invest in net-zero infrastructure, improving provision for active travel, and accelerating rollout of both full-fibre and 5G communications infrastructure.
Short-term stimulus, long-term impacts
Infrastructure is one the most important enablers that government can use to achieve a range of economic, social and environmental goals. On top of this, infrastructure investment itself acts as a stimulus for economic recovery, while also helping governments achieve their longer-term objectives.
ICE’s previous work on Covid-19 and the new normal for infrastructure systems looked at government reactions to the 2008 global financial crisis. This showed that investment in green infrastructure had numerous advantages over more traditional investments.
Renewable energy projects, for example, generated more employment in the short term due to a higher job multiplier effect throughout the supply chain, while requiring less labour for operation and maintenance in the long term.
This long-term approach is vital. Infrastructure being planned and built now will be in use for decades to come, so must be compatible with policy aims like meeting the net-zero emissions target.
The recent reforms to the Green Book should have a major impact here, which is something both ICE and the EAC have recognised – it’s more important than ever that investments align with net zero, or very clearly explain why not.
The EAC are also calling for a revamped tax system to incentivise low-carbon changes across the economy. ICE has been arguing in favour of road user charging for a number of years in order to incentivise much more efficient use of the road network.
With a 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans looming ever closer, government has some serious decisions to make on how it goes about adapting the tax regime to a net-zero future.
Solid foundations – but they need to be built on
Since ICE submitted its written evidence to the EAC in October 2020, we have seen the publication of the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for climate change, the National Infrastructure Strategy, and the changes to the Green Book – all significant steps forward.
But while the UK has these strong foundations, it does not yet have a comprehensive plan for transitioning infrastructure to net zero.
With COP26 on the horizon, which provides a huge opportunity for the UK to demonstrate global leadership, it’s more important than ever to set out clear plans on how to decarbonise energy, transport and heat, plus the options for reducing emissions from harder-to-abate sectors.
It is positive to see the Committee echo ICE’s call for these detailed strategies to be in place to give the private sector the certainty to invest, as well as to deliver on other aims such as better air quality and greater biodiversity.
The impact of these policy interventions can only be greater if we improve the delivery of infrastructure.
This includes not only what we build, but how we build it and the materials that we use. Indeed, the Committee is planning to explore this issue further in a forthcoming inquiry into the sustainability of the built environment – something ICE would be keen to provide input on.
The publication of the EAC’s report is welcome, and it’s hugely encouraging to see that ICE’s work has been considered throughout it.
While the Budget, just two weeks away, is likely to focus on maintaining support for the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, it also needs to continue the momentum from last year’s Spending Review and place net-zero infrastructure at the heart of economic recovery.
Out of a time of crisis, we have been presented with a unique opportunity to recalibrate our approach to infrastructure and rebuild the economy around the achievement of the 2050 net-zero target.