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Open Letter to the Committee on Climate Change

The following letter was sent to Lord Deben and Chris Stark (Chair and Chief Exec) of the Committee on Climate Change on the 10th December 2020.

Climate Change Committee
151 Buckingham Palace Road
London, SW1W 9SZ
Green House Think Tank
12A Derwent Road
​LA1 3ES

10th December 2020

Dear Lord Deben and Chris Stark,

I am writing on behalf of Green House think tank to request that the UK Committee on Climate Change audit capital expenditure decisions made by the UK government, particularly the government’s new National Infrastructure Strategy and set clear targets on the sufficiency of this infrastructure strategy to deliver against the UK government's rising climate commitments. The National Infrastructure Strategy, published on 25 November 2020, sets out the infrastructure spending associated with the government’s current spending plans which includes significant road capital investment (including expansion) alongside some decarbonisation measures. This appears to contrasts strongly with your Sixth Carbon Budget progress report. While you are calling for reduction in car use and air travel, the National Infrastructure Strategy proposes continued roads and airport expansion.

With this in mind, we formally request that you audit this National Infrastructure Strategy, and the way that continued infrastructure investment and expansion of our built environment work against speed and scale of the challenge to close of the growing 'climate gap' caused by both public and private investments that lock-in future greenhouse gas emissions. These investments sit alongside  expenditure to reduce emissions, increasing the scale of production and consumption whilst we seek to reduce energy demand and carbon emissions. The effect, as I know you appreciate, is to lessen the overall impact of planned carbon reduction measures.

We hope this would lead to the government taking a joined up approach where our National Economic Strategy and National Infrastructure Strategy align with the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations. The climate emergency means we must manage down demand for energy and materials, and install renewable energy infrastructure faster.

This case for focusing on how carbon reduction relates to infrastructure investment is briefly explored in our new report published today, "Infrastructure Requirements for Zero Carbon: Why we can’t build our way out of the climate emergency" where we explore how incompatible our society’s current and planned infrastructure is with the rapid decarbonisation of the UK economy needed to deliver on the climate emergency. We have focused on three key sectors: freight transport, aviation and steel, and considers what changes are required to bring these into line with zero carbon goals. As you know much of our existing industrial infrastructure, such as fossil fuel power stations and steel blast furnaces, is incompatible with zero carbon. And planned new transport infrastructure is still taking our economy in the wrong direction.

We also propose a decision-making ‘blockers and enablers’ toolkit which includes aligning the Green Book process of government capital decisions within the government's targets. This sits alongside our August 2020 report, Trade and Investment Requirements for Zero Carbon which focuses on the need to reduce our international trade, as well as our territorial emissions (see Trade and Investment Requirements for Zero Carbon, published in August 2020).

Many thanks for your consideration for the above, and happy to follow-up as appropriate.

Best Regards

Jonathan Essex

Researcher and Core Group Member,
Green House Think Tank

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