As the government gears up to release its National Infrastructure Strategy, Green Alliance warns current plans will not nearly suffice
Major gaps in the UK’s infrastructure plans compounded by a severe lack of public investment in key areas must be urgently addressed if the government is to avoid locking in environmentally damaging economic activity long into the future, Green Alliance has today warned.
The influential environmental think tank said a ‘net zero test’ should be applied to all government policy and infrastructure decisions, or else the UK risks derailing its decarbonisation ambitions by greenlighting new roads, waste incineration facilities, and inefficient buildings that will make it significantly harder to meet binding net zero emission goals.
The government is under growing pressure to unveil a host of long-awaited green policy plans and frameworks before the end of the year in order to help businesses mobilise a new wave of investment in net zero-compatible infrastructure. A new Energy White Paper and National Infrastructure Strategy have been in the pipeline for months, while wider measures designed to put the UK on track to meet its medium and long term emissions goals are also awaited.
Independent advisory body the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has repeatedly made clear that the government should place its 2050 net zero target and nature restoration ambitions at the heart of its forthcoming strategy in order to avoid locking-in high carbon infrastructure.
And now Green Alliance has ramped up the pressure further, warning that a fresh infrastructure strategy is urgently needed, as the current approach could badly undermine the net zero transition.
Specifically, it points to a £11.4bn gap in investment in net zero infrastructure during the current financial year alone across transport, buildings, the circular economy, and natural infrastructure such as trees, peatland, and habitats. The report warned that without action the investment gap is set to grow to £13.5bn a year by the end of 2022.
In contrast, taking a net zero-aligned approach to investment could create up to one million green jobs, while also offering wider economic and health benefits such as warmer homes, cheaper energy bills, longer lasting products, and healthier, greener neighbourhoods, the report argued.
Moreover, certain areas of infrastructure continue to be neglected by both the government and the NIC, the think tank argues, including circular economy systems that allow product reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling, as well as woodland and green spaces that can act as natural CO2 sinks.
Green Alliance warned these areas of infrastructure are not being tracked by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, nor is there a comprehensive assessment of existing infrastructure needs.
Caterina Brandmayr, head of climate policy at Green Alliance, said a robust, green recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic required a rapid scale-up of net zero infrastructure, and called for an urgent stocktake of potentially overlooked infrastructure in order to better understand existing capacity and future needs.
“Infrastructure is the backbone of our economy and society,” she said. “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.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to unveil his hotly anticipated 10-point green recovery plan in the next week or so, with support for offshore wind, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and hydrogen all expected to feature.
Such support is likely to link-up closely with the National Infrastructure Strategy, although it remains to be seen when the long-awaited policy document may emerge. Meanwhile, campaigners remain concerned over whether or not the government will support the new plan with ambitious spending commitments that help to accelerate the roll out of green infrastructure.
A spokesperson for the Treasury said further details on how the government plans to meet the 2050 net zero target would be set out in the Spending Review later this month, with the government’s full Net Zero Review assessing the costs of decarbonisation earmarked for Spring next year.
“We have already set out billions of pounds in green investment, including decarbonisation and greener homes, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, walking and cycling infrastructure, flood defences and backing offshore wind to power every UK home by 2030,” the spokesperson said. “And our investment in new technologies will continue creating green jobs as we build back greener from Covid.”