This post is by Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general at CBI. It is one of six essays taken from our publication Countdown to COP26.
Public demand for action on climate change is clear. Climate strikes and protests throughout the year have made this an issue global leaders cannot ignore. But it is not a problem for governments to solve alone. The business community is acutely aware of its role in driving the switch to cleaner energy and low carbon technology. Nevertheless, the government does have an important role to play in setting targets and creating the environment for firms to invest and consumers to change behaviours and adopt new technologies.
Businesses are rising to the challenge
Take the UK’s net zero target for 2050. It demonstrates clear UK commitment to tackling climate change and I am proud that business has been in the vanguard of this ambition, rather than dragged unwillingly to the party. Firms across the country are rising to the challenge, and they recognise both the UK’s opportunity and its responsibility as an economy that built its success on the use of fossil fuels.
We’ve made some incredible progress, including cutting carbon emissions by 40 per cent since 1990 while growing the economy more than 75 per cent, a feat not matched by any other G7 country. But to tackle the climate emergency in the time left, we need to go further and faster than ever before. An important deadline lies before us: the UK is hosting the UN COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow next November. We need to use it to kickstart the UK’s net zero plans and see how much we can achieve in the next 12 months.
Building on what works
In November 2019, the CBI launched the report, The low carbon 2020s – a decade of delivery, setting out the actions our members see as essential to the UK’s low carbon success in the next ten years. We have to build on what works, such as the great success in generating offshore wind at falling prices. We now urgently need to replicate this success in onshore wind to deliver energy bill savings to homes and businesses. The lessons learned should also be applied to other technologies, including action to scale-up the deployment of emerging decarbonisation technologies, such as carbon capture, use and storage, and hydrogen-based solutions. Also, with over half of the UK’s nuclear capacity set to be retired this decade, we need to get on with a financing plan for new nuclear.
The going then gets tougher as we turn our attention to the harder areas. So a priority is for the government to turn the UK’s transport networks and heating green, sooner rather than later. The current government’s £400 million electric vehicle charging infrastructure fund was a step forward. But business now needs to see a comprehensive strategy to help it target investment where needed and deliver a national network.
It’s time for an honest conversation
Finally, as part of this year of action, let’s have an honest conversation about how we help the whole world make this transition a success. The UK has a strong story to tell on reducing the emissions we generate here at home. But we can’t solve the climate emergency simply by making it someone else’s problem.
At the CBI, we believe it’s time for the government to include both production and consumption emissions in its official greenhouse gas figures, and to publish these alongside the UK’s regular GDP and productivity statistics. This would be a radically new way to measure growth and focus minds on the net zero goal with the fullest, clearest picture of our emissions footprint possible.
This is a watershed moment and the time to step up.
At the CBI, we will continue to represent UK businesses on this crucial issue and work across sectors to ensure the right policies are put in place to reduce emissions as quickly as possible.