The chiefs of some of Britain’s leading charities have written to the prime minister to demand a “green recovery” from the coronavirus crisis, urging him to use economic rescue packages to build low-carbon infrastructure and spur the creation of long-term green jobs.
The group of 57 charities representing 22 million members called for any bailouts to be subject to strict conditions so that companies receiving state help in the Covid-19 crisis would have to meet low-carbon targets, and for all elements of any economic recovery package to be subject to a test to ensure they were in line with the UK’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
They also want ministers to cancel, rather than suspend, the debts of developing countries struggling with the impact of Covid-19 and the climate crisis.
Charities including the Women’s Institute, the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Oxfam and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) signed the letter, which comes after weeks in which ministers have made references to the need for a sustainable recovery, but without providing policy details.
“We know a green recovery makes economic sense, and is supported here in the UK and overseas by leading businesses, academics, ministers and health representatives,” said Tanya Steele, the chief executive of WWF UK, one of the organisers of the letter. “What we urgently need to see now, and post-pandemic, is commitments from government on turning this into action.”
The campaigners said investing in a green recovery could support at least 210,000 green jobs and bring benefits of GBP90bn a year, from economic rejuvenation and better health.
The charities include poverty campaigners and faith groups, as well as green pressure groups. Melissa Green, the general secretary of the Women’s Institute (WI), said: “WI members are clear that post-Covid-19 economic packages need to incorporate robust and ambitious green policies in order to get on track for net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.”
The charities join an increasing number of economists, health professionals, leading climate experts, developing countries and the government’s own statutory advisers, who are all calling for a green recovery to lift countries out of recession and on to a low-carbon pathway.
Fossil fuel companies and high emitters such as airlines and carmakers have already benefited from billions in public finance from the recovery package, without green strings attached.
Carbon dioxide emissions, which plunged when lockdowns took effect, had since begun to rebound sharply, research found last week. Experts fear that without strong government interventions, the UK will return to business as usual with high carbon emissions, or that emissions could rise to levels above pre-lockdown levels, if people desert public transport in favour of driving their cars.
The UK is widely seen internationally as holding a particular responsibility for leading the world into a green recovery because the government will host the next vital UN climate summit. Called Cop26, and now postponed by a year to take place in Glasgow in November 2021, the conference is seen as the last chance for nations to get back on track to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.
“As host of Cop26, the UK government has an immense responsibility to lead the world to a green and just recovery,” said Clara Goldsmith, the campaigns director for the Climate Coalition. “This is the only way to build a resilient economic recovery which ensures we keep global heating to no more than 1.5C and supports the most vulnerable. We have one chance and we must not waste it.”
“The best way to show this leadership [needed at Cop26] is to put resilience at the heart of our economic recovery by accelerating the transition to net zero, restoring nature and supporting the most vulnerable at home and overseas,” wrote the charity leaders. “It is time for decisive action.”
The charities laid out a seven-point plan, similar in content to the advice given by economic experts and the Committee on Climate Change, the statutory body that advises ministers on meeting the UK’s carbon targets. Their demands include: new public investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and zero-carbon transport; setting up a climate infrastructure bank; trade deals that support British farming, to ensure greater protection for nature; ending fossil fuel finance, in the UK and overseas; helping to halt the decline of biodiversity around the world.
They also called for a new government committee, led by a minister, to work with civil society groups on delivering a green recovery.