CCC CEO Chris Stark speaking at the BusinessGreen Leader’s Briefing on Net Zero Transport
Chief executive of Climate Change Committee Chris Stark tells business leaders to ‘take the leap’ on decarbonisation ahead of net zero report publication
Businesses should “embrace” the low-carbon transition and start investing now to prepare for the decarbonisation of the UK’s economy, the chief executive of the government’s climate watchdog said today.
Speaking at BusinessGreen’s Leader’s Briefing on Net Zero Transport, Chris Stark warned governments and businesses no longer have any choice over whether to act on climate change – the only choice on offer is when to make the investment.
“It’s a choice to act now, to invest in that new paradigm of carbon-neutral economic growth, or a choice to wait, and spend more,” he said. “Very, very much more in adapting to the higher temperatures and the associated destructive climate impacts.”
“It is an inescapable choice,” he added. “There isn’t a do nothing option.”
For business, the growing momentum behind the case for climate action, fuelled by falling green technology costs, the now-visible impacts of climate change, and rising public concern over the issue, means the time to implement ambitious sustainability strategies is now, Stark said.
“This transition is not now something that will happen in the future,” he said. “It is clearly upon us. So my strongest advice would be to embrace it, because I think you can do that fairly safely in the knowledge that this is something that will be required economy-wide.”
Stark is leading the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) review into the UK’s decarbonisation target, which currently stands at an 80 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. At the government’s request, the CCC will publish a report in May revealing its opinion on whether the UK should ramp that up to a net zero emissions target by 2050 at the latest – which Stark described as a “crunch moment” for the Committee.
His speech offered a hint that a net zero recommendation could be on the cards. “We are very unlikely to recommend a loosening of the current targets,” he said.
But he stressed a higher target would only be achievable if backed by a step-change in the government’s approach to low-carbon policymaking. Criticising the current “piecemeal” approach, which has delivered deep decarbonisation in the power sector but slower progress on other sectors of the economy such as buildings and transport, Stark warned decarbonisation would have to become a higher priority across all areas of government if the UK was to set itself on course to hit a net zero goal.
In particular, he called for a “thorough review” of how the costs of the low-carbon transition are allocated across the economy, including how the government should make use of tools such as carbon pricing, financial incentives, and taxation to drive change. “For many of the key technologies… we can increasingly consider policy’s role as enabling investment, rather than subsidising it,” he said.
And he argued that the limited time left available to deliver deep emissions cuts meant climate policies may have to move beyond providing price signals and introduce regulations and “backstops” to ensure the transition to cleaner technologies accelerates.
However, he also stressed that a transition to a net zero emission economy by mid-century is now possible, if ambitious. “It is possible,” he said. “But that does not mean of course that it is feasible. The scale of the change here really is enormous, and this transition must take place at a remarkable – although I should say, not unprecedented – speed.”
“If there was ever an idea that we could approach this transition ahead of us as a sequential one, moving from power to transport to heat to industry to agriculture, well I’m afraid that thought needs to be re-examined. Tougher targets, however much tougher they are, imply a different kind of sectoral strategy. Very bluntly, we will need to move quickly to decarbonise every sector in unison, and policy reforms really need to start sooner rather than later if that is your objective.”
He added that there was some cause for optimism in the growing level of public and corporate engagement with climate action, and government support for bolder policies, citing the Treasury’s recent decision to support the CCC’s recommendation that new build homes should not be connected to the gas grid – a move Stark said would have been unimaginable a few years ago.