Government infrastructure policy unfit for net zero, says report

Significant shortfalls in the government’s approach to infrastructure policy and investment risk holding back efforts to shift the UK to a net zero carbon economy, says a new report by think tank Green Alliance.

A new net zero aligned approach would support economic recovery from Covid-19 and create jobs and avoid saddling taxpayers and communities with unsuitable infrastructure that worsens climate change, says the report, Getting the building blocks right: infrastructure priorities for a green recovery. People will also benefit from warmer homes, cheaper energy bills, longer lasting products, and healthier and greener neighbourhoods. 

To cut carbon and restore nature at the rate necessary, some sectors and activities will have to be expanded and recognised as important national infrastructure, the study says. These include circular economy systems that allow product reuse, remanufacturing and high quality recycling, to reduce the climate and resource impact of products, and natural infrastructure, like woodland and green spaces, needed to store much more carbon from the atmosphere. So far, these sectors have not been effectively addressed by the National Infrastructure Commission, which advises government. They are not tracked by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, nor is there a comprehensive assessment of existing infrastructure and future needs.

Infrastructure challenges are also exacerbated by major gaps in public investment. Green Alliance estimates that there is a £11.4bn gap in investment for net zero in the current financial year across transport, buildings, circular economy and natural infrastructure. And this gap is projected to grow in 2021-22 and subsequent years to reach £13.5bn per year. 

Meanwhile, without a ‘net zero test’ applied to all government decisions, policy and investment will continue to promote high carbon, environmentally damaging economic activity long into the future, like with support for new roads, waste incineration facilities and housing built to poor energy efficiency standards.

For a robust long-term economic recovery, net zero compatible infrastructure should be scaled up quickly. This, the report says, could help create over a million much needed jobs across the country over the next decade. 

The report sets out the ground rules for a new net zero aligned approach to infrastructure addressing the challenges identified. Alongside a ‘net zero test’ for all infrastructure decisions and new public investment for key sectors in the forthcoming spending review, the report calls for the government to carry out an urgent stocktake of the infrastructure that has been overlooked, so that existing capacity and future needs for net zero are fully understood. 

Caterina Brandmayr, head of climate policy at Green Alliance, said: “Infrastructure is the backbone of our economy and society. Decisions taken now will govern all of our choices for decades to come and determine how green our society can be. This isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it will generate much needed new jobs in the short term and prove to be essential in building a more prosperous UK economy which is resilient to future crises over the long term.” 

Click here to download the report, Getting the building blocks right: infrastructure priorities for a green recovery

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