Boris Johnson urged to set up net-zero initiative across government

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Boris Johnson urged to set up net-zero initiative across government
© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

Boris Johnson should set up a new cross-government initiative on reaching net-zero emissions, and subject all government policies to tests to ensure they are compatible with the climate target, businesses, unions and green campaigners have said.

Ministers should review current policies in the next few months and use the result to present a new national plan on the climate crisis before the next UN climate meeting in November 2022, the leaders urged. The UK retains the presidency of the UN climate talks until then, having hosted the Cop26 climate summit last month.

In a letter to the prime minister and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer, the chiefs of the CBI, the TUC and several of the UK’s leading environmental groups urged the government to examine how industry could be supported to reduce greenhouse gas emissions further, and to give greater powers and funding to local authorities to help them cut emissions in transport and housing.

Boris Johnson urged to set up net-zero initiative across government
© Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters At Cop26, governments came forward with national plans to reduce carbon emissions in the next decade.

Consumers must be given the right incentives, and “just transition” plans are needed to help workers in high-carbon industries retrain for low-carbon jobs, the letter said.

Tony Danker, the director general of the CBI, who signed the letter, said: “The UK presidency played a crucial role in securing progress at Cop26 through the Glasgow climate pact.

“But that was the starting pistol, not the finish line. The UK government must build on this momentum, focusing on accelerated action and implementation of our ambitious domestic climate goals.

“This will require alignment of all government departments and unprecedented collaboration with businesses, who are ready with the investment and innovation to make commitments a reality.”

At Cop26, governments around the world came forward with national plans – known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – to reduce carbon emissions in the next decade. But the NDCs submitted would result in an estimated 2.4C of heating, far more than the 1.5C temperature limit that was the aim of the summit.

For that reason, governments also agreed to return to the negotiating table next year – three years sooner than required under the 2015 Paris climate agreement – to overhaul their NDCs.

Related: Old UK oilwells could be turned into CO2 burial test sites

There are already signs that this will be difficult, however, as some countries – including the US, EU members and Australia – have already indicated they think their NDCs do not need revision.

The UK is widely acknowledged as having one of the world’s most stringent NDCs, but several analyses have shown the government has not yet backed up the targets with the policies and measures needed to achieve them.

The Guardian revealed a rift before Cop26 between the prime minister and the chancellor over reaching net zero, with the Treasury blocking many green measures that would cut emissions, and espousing policies – from new oil and gas licensing, fuel duty freezes and train fare rises to cutting overseas aid – that would keep emissions high.

The signatories of the letter, which was sent to both, hope that the government will show a united front on “building back better” from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another signatory, Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, which represents the majority of trade unions, said: “Our call for a significant increase in public investment in green tech and industry will safeguard jobs in Britain’s industrial heartlands.

“And it will help create good-quality new jobs across the UK too. It’s where the levelling-up agenda and our net-zero targets meet – an opportunity to put Britain on a path to greater regional equality and prosperity for working people.”

The UK should also ensure that poor countries are given help to reach net zero, with funding from development banks and private sector investors, according to the letter, seen by the Guardian.

Ministers should better prepare the country for the impacts of extreme weather, and the UK must be a leader itself and encourage other nations to play their part in the rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the letter said.

The letter was also signed by Colin Matthews and Peter Simpson, co-chairs of the UK Corporate Leaders Group, which is convened by the Prince of Wales; Tanya Steele, chief executive of the conservation charity WWF UK; Shaun Spiers, executive director of the Green Alliance; and Shane Tomlinson, acting head of E3G, a green thinktank. It was also sent to Alok Sharma, the cabinet minister who acted as president of Cop26.

A government spokesperson said: “The UK is a world leader on tackling climate change, having decarbonised faster than any other G7 country over the past few decades. The UK’s 2030 NDC is also one of the most ambitious in the world.

“We know we need action to match this ambition, which is why our Net Zero Strategy sets out specific, detailed measures we will take to transition to a low carbon economy, including helping businesses and consumers to move to clean and more secure, homegrown power, supporting hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs and leveraging up to £90bn of private investment by 2030.”

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