Growing back better: putting nature and net zero at the heart of the economic recovery Contents

1Ecological crisis and economic recovery

About this report

1.The covid-19 pandemic has had an unparalleled impact on the global economy. In the UK, successive lockdowns have imposed severe restrictions on economic activity. Significant contractions in the economy have resulted, demanding vigorous policy responses from the UK Government.

2.Our remit as a Committee is to examine, on behalf of the House of Commons, the extent to which the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development, and to audit the performance of such bodies against sustainable development and environmental protection targets.

3.We report below our initial assessment of the measures the Government and the Bank of England have taken to date stimulate an economic recovery, together with outline recommendations for ensuring that these measures are consistent with the Government’s commitments under the Paris Agreement and Convention on Biological Diversity, and to meet the statutory commitment to achieve net zero by 2050. Our approach to this inquiry is set out in Box 1.

Box 1: How we went about this inquiry

In May 2020 we held an exploratory hearing on the environmental implications of the covid-19 crisis, examining the connections between human health and natural systems and discussing the implications of the pandemic for carbon emissions, clean technology investment and international climate negotiations. We then launched an inquiry intended to examine how to ‘green’ the economic recovery.1

We received well over one hundred submissions of written evidence brimming with ideas on how the UK can grow back better after the crisis.2 We held three further days of hearings with economists, business groups, the Bank of England and a variety of green and conservation groups. We also questioned three big businesses that had received public support either from the BoE’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) or from the Government’s Project Birch.

We heard evidence from 25 witnesses in person.3 Our policy is to seek gender balance on our witness panels: over the course of this inquiry 11 women and 14 men gave evidence. During the course of the inquiry we also corresponded with the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and conducted a survey of homeowners who had tried to apply for a Green Homes Grant.4

Zoonotic diseases and their transmission

4.Most emerging infectious diseases spread from animals to humans.5 Trends over decades show that these so-called zoonotic diseases are on the increase.6 Land use change due to deforestation and agricultural expansion is the biggest driver of species decline as highlighted in the latest Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment.7 As such the increased emergence of zoonotic disease due to biodiversity decline is directly linked to human activity, population growth and consumption. All increase the risk that such zoonotic diseases will emerge by degrading biodiversity and increasing contact between people, domesticated animals and wildlife.8

5.Professor Kate Jones, Chair of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London, described to us the relationship between the pandemic and planetary health:

The definition of planetary health is the intersection of the health and well-being of humans and the state of the natural systems on which they depend. Much of public health is focused on human health rather than any of the links to the surrounding environment. [ … ] One of the widely recognised areas of common ground between public health and ecology is the emergence of these new infectious diseases. Covid-19 is one of these diseases, and there is also HIV/AIDS, Ebola, SARS and other diseases. The reason it is an ecological issue is because over two thirds of all human infectious diseases are from animals or are spread by animals, so they are zoonotic or vector-borne. It is not just a public health issue; it is also fundamentally an ecological issue. It is thought that the pathways of transmission between animals and people, and the degradation and change of the pathways between these organisms, is what causes a rise in these emerging infectious diseases.9

6.Professor Jones went on to explain how biodiversity disruption was increasing the number of pathways for such diseases to infect human populations:

Deforestation might be more problematic for diseases like HIV and Ebola, which we think were the main pathways for that. With things like Nipah it could be intensification of agricultural practices, maybe in wildlife areas that have high biodiversity and high pathogen richness. All species have their own pathogens. There is a spillover from domestic species into humans from intensification of agriculture, but it could also be that if you are in a really urban environment there might be some vectors. It could be a human-to-human disease, like malaria or dengue fever. If you are urbanising that area, the vector might like more urban areas; there may be more standing water. Urbanising areas might have a different set of diseases that you change. [ … ] We are definitely increasing the ecological hazard. We are degrading landscapes, we are changing those pathways, so the hazard is definitely becoming higher. [ … ] We are doing more risky things like going into more pristine areas. We are trading animals. We are moving animals and pathogens about, so our exposure is higher, and there is just more of us. If it was a very rare event to get one of these pathogens that goes from animals to humans and from humans to humans, now there are billions of us, so there are billions more opportunities for that to happen.10

7.Professor Jones illustrated her point about the increasing trend for infections to jump from animals to humans by pointing out that covid-19 was not the only likely zoonotic outbreak in early 2020:

January 2020 was an unprecedented time. We had three major outbreaks of these zoonotic diseases from animals. The first one was Ebola in DRC; there was the largest ever outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria; and then we had covid-19 in Wuhan in China. January 2020 was unprecedented in lots of ways, and the number of infectious diseases is increasing over time.11

Ecological crises

8.The emergence of covid-19 can be seen as a symptom of ecological disruption. It should be treated as a wake-up call. The world is facing three interconnected environmental challenges: biodiversity collapse, climate change and environmental pollution. The UK has entered into international commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals to reduce its contribution to these problems.

Biodiversity

9.The IPBES global assessment report, published in 2019, showed that the diversity of life on earth—commonly referred to as biodiversity—is being lost at an accelerating rate.12 Around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, one quarter of all species.13 Many within decades. This is a result of unsustainable levels of consumption, human population growth, habitat destruction, pollution and the wildlife trade, and it constitutes a threat to human well-being across the world.14 The international community collectively failed to achieve the Aichi targets to halt the destruction of biodiversity, agreed internationally under the Convention on Biological Diversity, by the target date of December 2020.15 IPBES say that ‘transformative change’ is needed to reverse this decline in biodiversity.16

Climate change

10.The global climate is also being destabilised. Profound impacts attributable to the 1°C rise in global temperature since the pre-industrial period are already apparent.17 The incidence of drought, floods and other extreme climate-related events has increased around the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that time is running out and only nine years remain to limit global temperature rises to below 1.5°C.18 Pre-covid-19 emissions trends put the world on course to exceed 1.5°C by 2030:19 to have at least a 50% chance of preventing this, global emissions must be cut to half their current levels by 2030.20 It is estimated that even if all existing national commitments to cut emissions were fully implemented across the world, global temperatures would rise to 3.2°C by 2100.21 Christiana Figueres, a former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told us that the climate crisis should be seen in the same category of risk as covid-19:

One lesson that we have to relearn is that high probability, high impact risks have to be acted on in a timely manner and that delay is very costly.22

In a joint submission, the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the Impact Investing Institute and the Green Finance Institute, echoed this:

Covid-19 has shown what happens when a known risk crystallises and provides a live stress-test for the devastating impacts of unrestrained climate change.23

11.To achieve net zero emissions and meet the Paris Agreement commitment to limit global warming to 1.5°C, emissions must be put on a rapid downward trajectory in this decade. In June 2019 the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050, compared with the previous target of at least 80% reduction from 1990 levels.24

Box 2: Net zero emissions

A ‘net zero’ target refers to reaching net zero carbon emissions by a selected date—in the UK’s case by 2050. These targets must primarily be achieved through a real reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions to be meaningful, but where absolute zero carbon cannot be achieved, the amount of emitted greenhouse gases can be balanced with the equivalent emissions that are either offset or sequestered: for instance, by planting forests or using carbon capture and storage. In June 2019, Parliament accepted the Government’s proposal to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 to require the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, compared with the previous target of at least an 80% reduction from 1990 levels.25

Environmental pollution

12.Pollution of air, water and land with chemicals and plastic also poses mounting problems for wildlife and human health. Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK,26 and emerging research suggests that air pollution exposure may increase the risk of dying from covid-19. Researchers from Harvard University have conducted a nationwide study in the United States to investigate whether long-term average exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is associated with an increased risk of covid-19 death in the USA. Their findings suggested that even a single-unit increase in particle pollution levels in the years before the pandemic may be associated with an 8% increase in the covid-19 death rate.27 Another study analysing European data examined the relationship between long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution and coronavirus fatality.28 The researcher mapped pollution on a regional scale and compared it with the number of people who had died from covid-19 in 66 administrative regions in Italy, Spain, France and Germany. The results showed that out of the 4443 fatality cases, 3487 (78%) were in five regions located in north Italy and central Spain which show the highest NO2 concentrations combined with downwards airflow. The paper concluded that the results suggest ‘long-term exposure to this pollutant may be one of the most important contributors to fatality caused by the covid-19 virus in these regions and maybe across the whole world.’29 Previous research found a link between higher mortality rates for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)—also a coronavirus—in different areas of China with exposure to higher levels of air pollution. It found that SARS patients from regions with high Air Pollution Index (API) levels were twice as likely to die from SARS compared to those from regions with low APIs.30

13.Professor Frank Kelly, Head of the Department of Analytical, Environmental and Forensic Sciences at King’s College London, told us that, while not enough research had been done in the UK on the link between air quality and the effects of covid-19, some recent studies of populations in London had:

… shown that if you expose lung cells to particulate pollution—tiny particles like PM2.5—it leads to an increase in expression of the ACE2 receptor [that allows the virus to infect the cell]. People who are being exposed to more pollution may, for that reason, be expressing higher levels of receptor and, therefore, the virus has a greater chance of entering their lung cells, replicating and leading to subsequent major health problems.31

Impact of lockdowns on carbon emissions and air pollution

14.Significant reductions in NO2 levels were recorded in London during the first lockdown period between late March and mid-May 2020, particularly near once-busy roads. In some central areas concentrations of particulate emissions were halved.32 The dramatic curtailment of energy use for industrial production and travel appears to have caused global carbon dioxide emissions to fall by 8.8% in the first six months of 2020, the largest ever recorded fall in emissions in an equivalent period.33 Annual average CO2 concentrations still increased over the course of 2020, albeit at a slower rate than usual: because carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere.34

Aligning the recovery with nature and net zero

15.We have heard that the way the UK and other governments respond to the present economic downturn, particularly in their direct stimulus spending, will be pivotal in determining whether the Paris Agreement and Convention on Biological Diversity goals will be met. Christiana Figueres told us that it was critical to prioritise climate action in any economic recovery effort:

It is going to be very dangerous if the only purpose of stimulus packages is to recover the economy to where we were in December [2019]. We already know that an approximately US$15 trillion fresh injection is being put into the economy, and it will likely go up to US$20 trillion. [ … ] The scale of the injection of this fresh money is going to completely overwhelm and overpower anything that is being done only from a climate perspective. [ … ] The timing is very critical. Those rescue packages, US$10 trillion to US$20 trillion, will not only be defined but very likely allotted over the next 18 months. Because of the scale, they will determine the characteristics of national economies and of the global economy for several decades. It is exactly this decade, between 2020 and 2030, where climate science has been lucidly clear that we need to halve our emissions, reduce to 50% the emissions that we have right now.35

16.Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, argued that the covid-19 crisis was in essence an ecological crisis and that if a green recovery was not pursued it would not be a recovery at all:

If it is not a green recovery, then it is not really an economic recovery at all. It is a hair of the dog; it is a short-term pick-me-up, right back on the path to causing the same sorts of problems all over again, because if there is anything that this crisis has taught us it is that ecology and economy are utterly intertwined. We are in the midst of a global economic downturn. The global economy has been brought to its knees by an ecological problem that has been caused by the way that we interact with nature.36

17.A majority of citizens who participated in the recent UK Climate Assembly—commissioned by six select committees including EAC—said that steps taken by the government to help the economy recover should be designed to help achieve net zero.37 The Zero Carbon Campaign called for all fiscal and economic stimulus packages to be aligned with the UK’s net zero target and the UN Sustainable Development Goals—including those which relate to biodiversity (goals 14 and 15) and the circular economy (goal 12).38 The conservation charity Plantlife stressed in its evidence that ‘all decisions about the post-Covid financial recovery need to place our environmental future at its core. This includes a focus on biodiversity net gain, in addition to climate commitments.’39

Our view

18.Covid-19 has affected every household in the country and every sector of the economy. Its impact on livelihoods, employment, ways of working and activities usually taken for granted has been seismic. Measures to slow or to prevent the spread of the disease have been undertaken at a colossal cost to the public purse.

19.The consequences of another widespread outbreak of a zoonotic disease of similar lethality would be catastrophic. Covid-19 must therefore be treated as a wake-up call. The factors which appear to be increasing the incidence of such diseases must be thoroughly investigated and urgent action taken to mitigate the risks.

20.The potential consequences of biodiversity loss for human populations have for too long been overlooked. It is vital that nature recovery is also prioritised in our economic recovery efforts alongside action on climate change. If measures to promote economic recovery are not treated as an opportunity to ‘grow back better’, then the global collapse in biodiversity, together with the impacts of pollution and climate change, may, if left unchecked, result in an even more catastrophic crisis.

Economic recovery

Economic impact

21.The pandemic has delivered one of the largest ever shocks to the UK economy and the public finances.40 In the first lockdown the UK recorded its sharpest monthly contraction ever recorded, and one of the largest among advanced economies. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has confirmed that GDP contracted by 9.9% over 2020 as a whole—marking the largest annual fall on record.41

22.ONS data released in January 2021 showed that the UK unemployment rate hit 5.0%, in the three months to November 2020, up 1.2% on the corresponding period last year.42 The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) anticipates a significant rise in unemployment over the course of 2021: in the central of three scenarios prepared by the OBR, the unemployment rate is projected to peak at 7.5%—equivalent to 2.6 million people unemployed—and is projected to rise as high as 11% in its downside scenario.43

23.The collapse of tax receipts as a result of each lockdown, together with the packages of economic support that the Government provided to workers, businesses and the self-employed, pushed the UK’s budget deficit to £270.8 billion by the end of December 2020.44 In November 2020, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that it expected the deficit to reach £394 billion by the end of the financial year in March 2021, the highest level since the second world war.45 The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has projected that economic recovery in the UK during 2021 will be among the slowest in the world.46

What should the policy response be to the pandemic?

24.In our call for evidence we asked how the policy response to the economic crisis should differ from the response to the global financial crash in 2008.47 It was noted that the capacity of monetary policy alone to boost demand was weak, given that interest rates are at historic lows.48 There was considerable consensus that the response to the current crisis had to be investment-led and that monetary and fiscal stimulus ought to be directed to socially and environmentally beneficial ends.49

25.Martha McPherson, from the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University College London, said that ‘the stimulus of a huge cash injection into an economy is by no means neutral’: in the response to the 2008 financial crisis ‘policymakers flooded the world with liquidity without specific direction towards investment areas or towards societally beneficial outcomes’.50 This ‘led to money going more into the financial sector than into the real economy’.51 She said:

In retrospect, from a green perspective, you can see there was a huge missed opportunity to direct finance towards the needs of the climate, which we were aware of at that time. The Stern Review came out in 2006 and flagged the benefits of strong and early action on climate outweighing the costs. We knew this in 2008, and so the question of why we did not act on it should strongly reverberate through to us here today.

When stimulus packages were developed around things like renewables—and this happened in the US Recovery Act, for example—there were some interesting positive outcomes that did direct and push the market. That stimulus supported renewables assets out of risky unconventional asset classes into infrastructure asset classes, which are much more investable with better returns and better long-term stability for institutional investors, pensions and insurance companies. That is an example of how this kind of stimulus has a long-term impact on bringing down things like the prices of renewables and making that market more accessible today.52

26.This was a view echoed by the Zero Carbon Campaign, a body established by Stephen Fitzpatrick the founder of OVO Energy. It suggested that following the financial crash of 2008, ‘the opportunities posed by green stimulus policies were not effectively realised because they made up such a small share of global recovery packages.’53 The pressure group Positive Money argued that the monetary and fiscal policies in response to the global financial crisis of 2008 had increased inequality, had failed to fix the financial system and had subsidised carbon intensive activity:

Loose and unconventional monetary policy pushed up asset prices, expanding the wealth of the asset-rich, while the austerity program weakened public services and exacerbated economic insecurity for lower income households. [ … ] Monetary policy supported carbon-intensive economic activity, as the BoE’s corporate Quantitative Easing programme favoured high-carbon companies, purchasing bonds issued by Shell, BP, Total, etc.54

27.The industry body Energy UK said the Government should ‘focus its financial support where it can deliver jobs, deep decarbonisation and long-lasting economic opportunities across the country.’55 The Institution of Civil Engineers said that—in contrast to the response to the 2008 financial crisis—there ought to be well-targeted infrastructure investment aimed at achieving the net zero target:

For infrastructure investment to be an effective stimulus, it needs to be targeted at the right projects and be delivered in the timeframes required. Examples of approaches that would be effective include accelerating the roll-out of both full-fibre and 5G communications infrastructure, and greater active travel (cycling and walking) infrastructure provision.56

Growing back better

28.In our call for evidence we asked for views on how fiscal and economic stimulus packages ought to be aligned with the UK’s ambitions in respect of achieving net zero, fostering biodiversity and the circular economy and pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals: in short, how the UK could ‘grow back better’. A wide range of organisations responded to the inquiry, from business groups and professional bodies to academics, conservation charities, pressure groups. There was broad consensus that the economic stimulus necessary to revive the economy after the unprecedented downturn could and should be aligned with the UK’s commitments on climate change and biodiversity protection. There were four other common themes that were highlighted again and again. These were the need to ensure the recovery:

Health and well-being

29.WWF said that the covid-19 crisis represented an opportunity not to return to ‘business as normal’ but to rebuild the economy in a way that supports the health of the population and the natural environment.57 Professor Kate Jones told us that the lockdown had shown just how valuable access to nature was for health and well-being.58 These benefits are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3 below.

30.Fran Boait from Positive Money outlined to us a vision where health and well-being were prioritised ahead of GDP growth. Positive Money said that the current crisis had ‘exposed our problematic relationship with GDP growth’ and that:

The reality is that GDP growth frequently fails to increase life satisfaction, alleviate poverty, or protect the environment. In many cases, the pursuit of growth at all costs is in fact counterproductive to achieving such goals. For example, in the UK and many other high-income countries, a 1% increase in GDP generates an equivalent increase in material footprint, exerting a range of negative environmental pressures including biodiversity loss, soil depletion, and pollution of air, water and land.59

31.In his recent review of the economics of biodiversity, undertaken for the Treasury, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta has also highlighted the drawbacks of using GDP as the primary measure of economic success. He concludes that because GDP does not account for the depreciation of natural assets it encourages the pursuit of ‘unsustainable economic growth and development’.60 His review outlines an alternative conception of ‘inclusive wealth’, which he has told us would require economists ‘to measure not only human capital and produced capital but natural capital as well.’61 We are examining the findings of the Dasgupta Review, and their implications for Government policy on biodiversity, more fully as part of our inquiry into biodiversity and ecosystems.62

Creating green jobs

32.We examined the potential for stimulus spending to be targeted in a way that generates both economic and environmental benefits by creating green jobs. The transition from the current, carbon-intensive economy to a low-carbon, sustainable economy presents opportunities for increasing employment with submissions suggesting that hundreds of thousands of green jobs could be created by 2030 in sectors including energy efficiency, low-carbon energy, electric vehicles and the circular economy.63 Professor Cameron Hepburn, Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, argued that policymakers should be looking for ‘interventions or policy spending that will deliver maximum short-run economic multipliers.’64 He said many of the actions that needed to be taken to build greener, healthier, more energy-efficient infrastructure were ‘win-wins’ because ‘in the short run, you get the maximum economic multiplier from creating jobs.’65

To give [ … ] a classic example, renewable energy investment requires more people upfront to build the kit, per gigawatt of electricity delivered, than fossil. In economic terms that is normally not a good thing, because it means you have additional cost, but when you are in the middle of a recession it is exactly what you want, lots of jobs. The beauty of renewable energy is that, once you have built it, the operational and maintenance costs are so low—the fuel costs are obviously zero—that you have a stronger, larger economic stimulus from that sort of investment.66

33.The economist Dimitri Zenghelis also highlighted the benefits that green investment could deliver. He told us:

A lot of the sustainable, resilient investments have very appealing features in the short and the long run. In the short run, things like insulation retrofits, building wind turbines, broadband networks, planting trees, restoring wetland—you name it: a whole gamut of environmental policies and low-carbon policies are actually very labour-intensive. They are not susceptible to imports or offshoring and they have what are called high short-run multipliers. That is, they generate significant growth for each pound of investment.67

34.Professor Hepburn and Dimitri Zenghelis were contributors to a paper which compared green stimulus projects with traditional stimulus measures, such as those taken after the 2008 global financial crisis. It found that green projects:

35.Green Alliance has pointed out research undertaken in 2015 which suggested that a move towards a closed loop or circular economy for materials could help create 517,000 jobs in the UK by 2030 in regions and at pay grades where there was persistent unemployment, thereby making a net contribution to UK employment.69 Green Alliance suggested that the case for such measures was only likely to become more pressing as unemployment increases. It said that the increase in spare economic capacity meant that jobs created in the circular economy sector would be less likely to reduce employment in other areas.70

36.Richard Benwell, of Wildlife and Countryside Link, thought that the environmental sector could absorb another 10,000 or 20,000 jobs at a cost of between £400 million and £800 million pounds a year, while employing ‘a more diverse range of people.’71 His organisation has proposed a ‘National Nature Service’ (NSS) employment and training scheme in which tens of thousands of jobseekers ‘could help turn around nature’s decline’.72 The service could broaden out career opportunities to communities who may not have previously considered careers in conservation, as charities had hitherto depended on people being able to afford to volunteer their services. Wildlife and Countryside Link wanted to ‘open up access to nature and to being involved in the nature sector in a way that is much fairer and more equitable.’73

Achieving a balanced and fair transition

37.Many contributions also stressed the importance of using the recovery efforts to rebalance the UK and create a fairer society. In a joint submission, the Grantham Institute, the Green Finance Institute and the Impact Investing Institute said that the pandemic had exposed and exacerbated ‘a range of inequalities in society in terms of income, gender, race, age and location’, emphasising that the move to a green economy would also need to be socially inclusive to deliver a just transition.74 The founder of OVO Energy, Stephen Fitzpatrick, warned of a potential backlash against green policies unless they were fair to the economically disadvantaged:

Everybody is very focused on the green recovery right now but, as the economic pain bites in years to come and as stimulus wears off, my fear is that we will see a resistance or a division in society between those who can and those who cannot afford to think about decarbonisation. [ … I]f we do not figure out a way to make sure that those who can best afford to pay are going to be paying the price for decarbonisation, we are going to leave a lot of economically challenged citizens behind. They are going to resent the increases in costs that are put on their cost of living as a result of green policies and we are going to see [ … ] the subject of climate change become a very politically divisive issue.75

38.The Institution of Environmental Sciences suggested that by explicitly seeking to tackle inequalities as part of a ‘just transition’, the Government could win ‘buy-in from communities at the heart of the transition, whilst simultaneously achieving economic and environmental goals.’76 Green Alliance argued that a successful future economy must be more balanced, with high quality employment and prosperity assured for all communities across the country.77 Its Head of Climate Policy, Caterina Brandmayr, argued that, as well as generating jobs and economic activity, supporting solutions for climate and nature in the economic recovery could deliver:

a wealth of benefits that comes from these solutions, including cleaner air, greater access to nature, more liveable communities and warm, comfortable homes. It is true that, at the moment, access to those benefits is not equally distributed across the country, so making sure that access is instead more evenly distributed will be fundamental as part of the transition.78

39.Some submissions identified specific opportunities where green measures could help to rebalance the UK; both between north and south and between urban and rural communities. The Northern Housing Consortium said that a programme of improving existing homes in the North to increase their energy efficiency ‘would not only reduce carbon emissions and improve living standards, but also create new skills and employment opportunities in the region.’79 It pointed out that the North’s existing homes ‘are older and colder than the English average’ with 833,000 households across the North living in fuel poverty. It said that the ‘labour-intensive nature of improving the energy performance’ of housing stock could be used to contribute to the economic recovery of the North. The RSPB highlighted how investing in nature recovery projects can provide employment and skills development opportunities at all levels, often in rural areas ‘where employment and training opportunities are limited.’80 The Wildlife and Countryside Link said that investment in nature recovery projects as part of the recovery could be used to extend conservation work opportunities to communities that have previously not accessed them.81

40.The Trades Union Congress (TUC) emphasised the importance of achieving a ‘just transition’ to net zero. Sue Ferns, a member of the TUC Council, pointed to the German Government’s 40 billion euro investment in the phasing out of coal by 2038 as an example of the scale of contribution necessary to achieve a ‘just transition’: the package included funding for restructuring regional economies, reskilling workers and expanding local infrastructure.82

41.The TUC set out four principles that it saw as essential to achieving a just transition:

Improving the UK’s resilience

42.A number of contributors argued that the shock of the pandemic highlighted the importance of fostering resilience, both in economic systems and in the environment. Claire Haigh from the organisation Greener Journeys argued that the policy response to Covid-19 needs a focus on risk and resilience. She stated:

The pandemic has demonstrated the unpreparedness of the global economy to systemic risks, despite early warnings from scientists. We must put an end to economic short-termism and the maximisation of economic efficiency over the resilience of communities. We need to move beyond narrow frameworks of cost-benefit analysis. Greater emphasis should be given to co-benefits such as improving health and well-being, enhancing bio-diversity, creating jobs, reducing poverty, stabilising the economy, and increasing resilience and the ability to adapt to climate change.84

43.Wildlife and Countryside Link, RSPB and CPRE all highlighted how investing in nature-based solutions could enhance the UK’s future resilience to changes in the climate. They identified a range of projects from natural flood management to restoration of natural carbon sinks and landscape enhancement as ways that investment could boost the recovery and increase resilience. We will discuss these ideas in more depth in Chapter 3.

44.Several contributors suggested that creating a more circular economy could increase productivity and make the UK more resilient to future crises that had the potential to disrupt supply chains. The Microbiology Society said that the pandemic had revealed issues with supply chains in certain sectors and revived interest in localised production and more sustainable supply chains.85

45.We heard in our E-waste and the circular economy inquiry, which ran concurrently through much of 2020, that developing a more circular economy can increase the resilience of the UK economy, especially to critical raw materials.86 These are often only sourced from a few countries around the world, and whose supply is limited. Examples are lithium and cobalt in electrical car batteries. Most of world’s production of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and lithium mostly comes from Chile. The Royal Society of Chemistry highlighted a number of materials, including indium used in touch screens and tantalum used in wind turbines, that could run out completely by the end of the century but which are vital to technologies of the future, in particular to low-carbon technology.87 Our recent report on electronic waste highlights how there are increasing geopolitical struggles over these valuable materials, yet much of the waste which includes such materials is currently landfilled, exported or incinerated, so wasting them.88

46.As we outlined in our report on E-waste and the circular economy, published in November 2020, there is significant potential for job creation and value retention from approaches that minimise waste and provide incentives to reduce, repair, re-use and recycle.89 Green Alliance stressed the potential benefits of circular economy approaches:

In addition to generating considerable resource savings, such measures have the potential to create new jobs, to boost the economy through innovative circular business models and to build resilience by lowering demand for scarce resources while securing supplies of secondary material.90

Our view

47.Policymakers owe it to everyone who has suffered during the pandemic to ‘grow back better’ from the crisis by creating a greener, healthier and more resilient UK. Fairness and the levelling up agenda must be central in efforts to secure the recovery while also pursuing the transition to net zero.

48.The speed at which we have developed the vaccine under pressure shows how rapidly scientific progress can be made when efforts are concentrated and urgent. We now need to apply that same level of urgency to developing and deploying the solutions to the climate and extinction crisis. The UK’s post-crisis economic recovery stimulus must be treated as an opportunity to accelerate investment on nature recovery, climate adaptation and cutting emissions to net zero. Many of the solutions necessary to slow the pace of climate change and biodiversity loss will also spur innovation, create jobs and make the economy and society more resilient to any future crisis.

49.Levels of unemployment not seen in decades are now in prospect, on a scale which inevitably demands Government intervention. In its approach to the recovery, the Government should, as far as possible, front-load its investment in areas such energy efficiency, the circular economy, climate adaptation and nature recovery, so as to provide a green jobs boost to counter unemployment. This investment will provide economic multipliers in terms of jobs and improved productivity and will offer wider benefits such as cleaner air and warmer homes. Consideration should also be given to how investment in energy efficiency and nature recovery can be used to rebalance the UK by supporting communities most in need. Do this and we can also ensure that the UK is more resilient to future shocks.

50.We further recommend that the Government establish clear and ambitious statutory targets for the state of nature, waste minimisation, water quality and air quality under the Environment Bill once enacted.

1 The terms of reference and call for evidence for this inquiry are available at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/306/greening-the-postcovid-recovery

2 A list of the published written evidence is printed on pages 82 to 85

3 The oral evidence taken is listed on page 81.

4 All published written evidence, transcripts of oral evidence and relevant correspondence can be found on the inquiry website: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/306/greening-the-postcovid-recovery

5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, One Health: Zoonotic Diseases [accessed 10 February 2020].

6 Jones et al. 2008, Global trends in emerging infectious diseases, Nature 451:990–993

7 Q2 (Professor Kate Jones, 21 May 2020)

8 Hassell et al. 2017, “Urbanization and Disease Emergence: Dynamics at the Wildlife–Livestock–Human Interface”, Trends in Ecology and Evolution 32(1): 55–67; WHO and Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Connecting Global Priorities: Biodiversity and Human Health: A State of Knowledge Review, 2015.

9 Q2 (Professor Kate Jones, 21 May 2020)

10 Q5 (Professor Kate Jones, 21 May 2020)

11 Q2 (Professor Kate Jones, 21 May 2020)

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 – Summary for Policy Makers, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2020)

16 IPBES (May 2019), loc.cit.

19 Ibid.

20 The Future We Choose: A Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett Carnac, 2020

21 Emissions Gap Report 2019 Executive Summary, UN Environment Programme (26 November 2019)

22 Q36 (Christiana Figueres, 21 May 2020)

23 Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, Impact Investing Institute and the Green Finance Institute (COV0111)

25 via the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 (S.I. 2019/1056)

26 Public Health England publishes air pollution evidence review, Public Health England (11 March 2019)

27 Wu, X., Nethery, R. C., Sabath, M. B., Braun, D. and Dominici, F., 2020. “Air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: Strengths and limitations of an ecological regression analysis” Science advances, 6(45) (April 2020)

28 Yaron Ogen, Assessing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as a contributing factor to coronavirus (COVID 19–19) fatality”, Science of The Total Environment, volume 726 (2020)

29 Ibid.

30 Cui, Y., Zhang, Z., Froines, J. et al, Air pollution and case fatality of SARS in the People’s Republic of China: an ecologic study, Environmental Health volume 2, Article number: 15, 2003 Cui, Y., Zhang, Z., Froines, J. et al, “Air pollution and case fatality of SARS in the People’s Republic of China: an ecologic study”, Environmental Health volume 2 (2003)

31 Q11 (Professor Frank Kelly, 21 May 2020)

34 Analysis: What impact will the coronavirus pandemic have on atmospheric CO2?, Carbon Brief (7 May 2020). Carbon Brief explains the impact thus: ‘An analogy is filling a bath from a tap. If the tap represents CO2 emissions, and the water level in the bath is CO2 concentrations, while we have slightly turned the tap down temporarily, water is still flowing into the bath and so the level is still rising. To slow climate change, the tap needs to be turned right down—and permanently.’

35 Q27 (Christiana Figueres, 21 May 2020)

36 Q5 (Richard Benwell, Wildlife and Countryside Link, 23 July 2020)

37 Climate Assembly UK, Covid-19, recovery and the path to net zero, 23 June 2020

38 Zero Carbon Campaign (COV0032)

39 Plantlife (COV0034)

40 Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2020, Office of Budget Responsibility (25 November 2020)

41 Office for National Statistics, GDP first quarterly estimate, UK: October to December 2020, 12 February 2021

42 Labour market overview, UK: January 2021, Office for National Statistics (21 January 2020)

43 Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2020, Office for Budget Responsibility (25 November 2020)

44 Public sector finances, UK: December 2020, Office for National Statistics (22 January 2021),

45 Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2020, Office for Budget Responsibility (25 November 2020)

48 Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University College London (COV0048)

49 Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University College London (COV0048), Zero Carbon Campaign (COV0032); ClientEarth (COV0041); Positive Money (COV0051); Allan, J., Donovan, C., Ekins, P., Gambhir, A., Hepburn, C., Robins, N., Reay, D., Shuckburgh E., and Zenghelis, D., A net-zero emissions economic recovery from COVID-19, Smith School Working Paper 20–01 (2020)

50 Q180 (Martha McPherson, 3 December 2020)

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 Zero Carbon Campaign (COV0032)

54 Positive Money (COV0051)

55 Energy UK (COV0043)

56 Institution of Civil Engineers (COV0046)

57 In WWF’s submission to our call for suggestions for possible future inquiries in this Parliament (PFI0104)

58 Q16 (Professor Kate Jones, 21 May 2020)

59 Positive Money (COV0051)

61 Professor Dasgupta gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry into Biodiversity and Ecosystems on 9 December 2020 (HC 636, Q5)

63 Institute for Public Policy Research, in its submission to our Green Jobs inquiry (GRJ0059); Green Alliance (COV0013); Veolia UK (COV0018); RWE (COV0021); Local Government Association (COV0022); Climate Venture Collective (COV0024); Wildlife and Countryside Link (COV0035); Church of England Mission and Public Affairs Council and Environment Working Group (COV0050).

64 Q26 (Professor Cameron Hepburn, 21 May 2020)

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid.

67 Q3 (Dimitri Zenghelis, 23 July 2020)

68 Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz and Dimitri Zenghelis, “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change”,; Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 36, Issue Supplement_1, 2020, pp S359–S381 36(S1); 4 May 2020

69 Julian Morgan and Peter Mitchell, Employment and the circular economy: job creation in a more resource efficient Britain, WRAP and Green Alliance (2015), p 3

70 In written evidence to the Committee’s inquiry into Green Jobs (GRJ0064)

71 Q8 (Richard Benwell, Wildlife and Countryside Link, 23 July 2020)

72 Call for a National Nature Service, Wildlife and Countryside Link, July 2020

73 Q9 (Richard Benwell, Wildlife and Countryside Link, 23 July 2020)

74 Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, Impact Investing Institute and the Green Finance Institute (COV0111)

75 Q187 (Stephen Fitzpatrick, OVO Energy, 3 December 2020)

76 Institution of Environmental Sciences (COV0014)

77 Blueprint for a resilient economy, Green Alliance, June 2020

78 Q10 (Caterina Brandmayr, Green Alliance, 23 July 2020)

79 Northern Housing Consortium (COV0025)

80 RSPB (COV0105)

81 Wildlife and Countryside Link (COV0035)

82 Q34 (Sue Ferns, 23 July 2020)

83 Ibid.

84 Greener Journeys (COV0087)

85 Microbiology Society (COV0055)

86 Environmental Audit Committee, Electronic waste and the Circular Economy, 26 November 2020, First Report of Session 2019–21, HC 220

87 Evidence from the Royal Society of Chemistry to the Committee’s inquiry on Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy in the 2017 Parliament (ELE0047)

88 Environmental Audit Committee, Electronic waste and the Circular Economy, 26 November 2020, paras 118–128

89 Environmental Audit Committee, Electronic waste and the Circular Economy, First Report of Session 2019–21, HC 220

90 Evidence from Green Alliance to the Committee’s revived inquiry on Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy in the 2019 Parliament (EWa0006)




Published: 17 February 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement