Urgent revision of planned UK infrastructure projects needed now to achieve green recovery

Embargoed - Monday 29th June - 00:01 BST
Chris Venables Chris VenablesHead of Politics020 7630 4527cvenables@green-alliance.org.uk

In a new report published today, the independent environmental think-tank Green Alliance sets out a vision for the UK’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic that puts people, climate and nature at its heart.

The publication, Blueprint for a Resilient Economy’, includes new analysis of the latest government data showing that the UK’s infrastructure pipeline is incompatible with the Government’s long-term climate targets. [1]

  • That data from the National Infrastructure and Construction Procurement Pipeline for 2020/21, published in June this year, shows over £8 billion worth of planned procurements in high carbon transport. The UK government is estimated to have spent £9 billion supporting new high carbon transport infrastructure since 2017 - and it has confirmed it will spend another £27 billion over the next five years on 4,000 miles of new roads - but even with the current 2035 phase-out date for petrol and diesel cars, we can’t shift to electric vehicles fast enough to meet our carbon budgets: we can’t afford further road expansion. [2]
  • Similarly, since 2017 the government is estimated to have invested nearly £9bn to support new housing projects, with an additional £1.5 billion worth of investment to support housing projects expected this year. The scrapping of the zero-carbon homes standard in 2015 means most of these new homes are not net-zero compatible by default, locking in future costs and carbon. [3] [4]
  • We estimate there is a gap of £14.1 billion in annual public investment to 2023 in the new low carbon transport, buildings, natural capital and industry infrastructure required in the UK. The biggest investment gap, of £8.7bn per year, is in low carbon transport. If the Government were to reallocate the average annual investment committed to new road building towards low carbon transport infrastructure, it could already close 60% of that gap. [5]

An initial economic stimulus package is due to be announced imminently by the government. Green Alliance’s report highlights that all decisions made at this point must resist the short-sightedness of returning to business as usual and urgently prioritise the UK’s long term resilience to future crises. 

Recovery packages already put in place by the US, China, Russia and India have failed to do this, largely supporting their carbon-intensive industries, including coal mining, fossil fuel vehicle manufacturing and the oil and gas sector. The UK is in a position to avoid this path and put itself in a strong position to reap the benefits of the industries of the future.

Green Alliance’s report highlights that the pandemic has shifted priorities. It proposes that it would now make economic sense for the huge spending earmarked for new roads to be redirected instead to rebuilding a stronger, greener economy, for instance to a programme upgrading broadband coverage across the country. It points out that this strategy would also provide new, varied employment opportunities across the UK. 

Green Alliance policy adviser Joanna Furtado, said:
“The UK is imminently facing public spending decisions that will shape our economy and society for decades to come. It is vital that we take account of the long term risks to the UK when doing that. Our report outlines a blueprint for a more resilient, fairer and greener economy, we look forward to engaging with the UK Government on how it can achieve it.”

Anthony Browne MP (Conservative) and Chair of the All-Party Parliament Group on the Environment said:
“There is no doubt that we stand at a crossroads in the history of our nation. With the economy facing a historic challenge over the coming weeks and months, I believe that putting climate-friendly infrastructure at the heart of the recovery efforts is vital to building a more resilient and prosperous UK. Today’s report shows what would be possible with leadership from the top of Government, I hope we start to see the green shoots of a low-carbon recovery in the very near future.’

Notes to editor

1. ‘Blueprint for a Resilient Economy’ will be published on the Green Alliance website on Monday; embargoed copies are available upon request. 

2. Green Alliance analysis of: Infrastructure Projects Authority, 2020, National Infrastructure and Construction Procurement Pipeline 2020/21; Infrastructure and Project Authority, 2018, National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline

3. Green Alliance analysis of: Infrastructure and Project Authority, 2018, National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline; Infrastructure Projects Authority, 2020, National Infrastructure and Construction Procurement Pipeline 2020/21

4. The scrapping of the zero-carbon homes standard in 2015 has led to most new homes not being net-zero compatible by default. For example, between 2017-19, only 1.2% of all new homes in England achieved the highest energy efficiency performance. It costs up to five times more to achieve high-efficiency standards and install low carbon heat via retrofit than when first constructing the home. Government investment, therefore, risks locking in future costs, as well as carbon, by not ensuring new homes are fit for net-zero. Efficiency ratings and retrofit costs based on: MHCLG, April 2020, NB1 - Number of new dwelling energy performance certificates lodged on the register in England by energy efficiency rating; Committee on Climate Change, 2019, Housing fit for the future, p65

5. Green Alliance analysis of: Greenpeace et al, 2019, Government Investment For A Greener And Fairer Economy, and our own analysis of Government funding committed in 2020 for low carbon infrastructure. Note that, beyond public investment in green infrastructure, additional funding per year would be needed to address the climate and nature emergencies –  see Greenpeace et al, 2019

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