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Johnson's plan to ‘build back greener’ meets criticism for lack of focus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out his “new deal” for COVID-19 recovery.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out his “new deal” for COVID-19 recovery.

In a speech today in the Midlands, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out his “new deal”, however it has faced criticism for being conspicuously lacking in green investment.

Johnson said: “We will build build build. Build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to do that at the pace that this moment requires.”

The speech will likely include a promise to spend £5 billion on accelerating infrastructure in an effort to boast economic growth and create jobs.

“It sounds positively Rooseveltian. It sounds like a New Deal,” the PM continued. “All I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be, because that is what the times demand. A government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people at a time of crisis….

“…this is a government that is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades.”

However, despite the mention of building back greener and the great potential investing in green infrastructure holds, little is said by way of pledges in the energy and heat sectors.

This is particularly notable, as the speech followed The Time Is Now virtual lobby, with 12,000 people from around the country expected to have joined in the call for greater action on climate change.

Ed Matthew, political director of the Climate Coalition said: “Thousands of people are participating in the first ever virtual lobby of Parliament today calling for a green recovery. They will not be impressed. The only thing Rooseveltian about this plan is that it belongs in the fossil fuel age. There is very little announced today which will do anything to accelerate the transition to a zero carbon economy.

“The Prime Minister has to back up his rhetoric on a green recovery with action to prioritise green investment. Future generations will not forgive a Government that fails to use this opportunity to build a safer climate for us all.”

The call for a green recovery has been echoed throughout the country for weeks now, as the UK turned its focus to coming out of lockdown and rebuilding amidst the economic struggles created by COVID-19.

A recent report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit for example, highlighted that the rollout of energy efficiency and low carbon heating technologies could help create tens of thousands of jobs for, in particular in areas that have been hit hard by pandemic.

This point was raised again in response to Johnson’s speech by the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE), which pointed to the need for a national buildings renovation programme including retrofitting heating systems. This could create jobs for approximately 150,000 people to 2030, and 40,000 jobs in the next two years.

Caroline Bragg, head of policy at the ADE said: "'Build , build, build' just isn't enough- we need 'retrofit, refurb and renovate' to get into the green recovery now. Backing our buildings cannot just mean building new ones: in 2050, a whopping 80% of UK families will still be living in homes that have already been built today.

"We hope that today's announcement comes before a stimulus announcement that delivers on the £9.2bn committed to back our buildings in the Conservative manifesto. As the PM said today- COVID has taught us the cost of delay.

"An announcement on backing our buildings in the autumn will be too late; the installers who would deliver this infrastructure revolution will have been moved from furlough to redundancy. Without this investment in energy efficiency coming forward promptly in a wider stimulus package, today's announcement is more boondoggle than 'build back better'."

Many in the energy sector will be disappointed by Johnson’s speech, which comes just one day after the Green Alliance stated a further £14 billion is needed for the UK to meet its decarbonisation targets.

Juliet Davenport, Good Energy’s CEO and founder, said: “Build, build, building will be disastrous if homes are not warmer, greener and cleaner. It’s not enough to say you agree with building back greener, you actually have to spend the money where it matters most.

“This might be boring to Dominic Cummings, but it was pledged in the Conservative’s general election manifesto, and required under this government on the pathway to net zero by 2050. Now when it is needed more than ever, rather than building better, the government seems to be bowing to the same old lobbies, and going back to its dirty old ways.”

In its 2020 Progress Report last week, the Committee on Climate Change called this recovery period a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to tackle both the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change. In particular, it criticised the lagging heat policy and the need to accelerate the push for electric vehicles, both of which require significant infrastructure investment.

Ahead of the Prime Minister’s speech, David Smith, chief executive of the Energy Networks Association said: “Jobs, skills and infrastructure are core to the UK’s green recovery. The networks are ready to support this growth with shovel-ready projects across the length and breadth of the country, projects which will themselves provide the backbone to our country’s net zero future.

“Building ahead of need so that electric vehicles can be rolled out at pace, gas can be greened and industry can be decarbonised, creating the green collar jobs that will keep the UK at the front of the fight against climate change.”

Further details of how exactly the UK can ‘build, build, build’ are expected in the National Infrastructure Strategy, which has been delayed till the autumn.

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