Thank you for contacting me about a green economic recovery to the coronavirus.
These are incredibly difficult times for the country and while it is paramount to protect jobs and the economy, questions are also being asked about the way the country does business.
I do agree that as we recover from Covid-19, the Government needs to deliver an economy which is stronger, greener, more sustainable and more resilient. I was therefore pleased that, on 8 June, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a Green Recovery working group, one of five new ‘recovery roundtables’ bringing together businesses, business representative groups and leading academics, to unleash Britain’s growth potential and help the economy recover from the pandemic. This group will explore how to capture the economic growth opportunities from the shift to net zero emissions.
I was particularly pleased to see the Chancellor, in his recent announcement to help stimulate the economy as we move out of lockdown, that £3 billion of funding was established to support the Government’s climate change agenda. Foremost amongst that was the creation of a £2 billion voucher scheme, covering between 66% and 100% of the costs of retrofitting insulation, which will also help support and create green jobs. This is the latest reaffirmation of the Government’s commitment to dealing with the green recovery to Covid-19 and climate change more widely.
The UK has played a world-leading role in tackling climate change and the transition to Clean Growth, with the UK being the first major economy to legislate to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050, and the fastest in the G20 to cut emissions. Since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds, and we are a world-leader in offshore wind.
Last year over 12,000 people lobbied the Government in the Time is Now campaign to raise their concerns about climate change. I welcome the increased awareness and discussion on this issue. I was delighted to hold a virtual call with constituents on 30th June to hear their concerns and listen to what further action they would like to see.
The decision to postpone COP26 was taken with the health and safety of those involved in mind. The postponement does not withdraw focus or importance on the issue of climate change and when Glasgow hosts COP26 the UK will have the opportunity to call for secure commitments to take more ambitious and urgent action.
Solar panels are a method by which households can play their part in reducing carbon emissions. I am pleased that the Government supported over 830,000 small solar projects through the Feed-in Tariff between 2010 and 2019. This has helped the cost of household solar panels more than half in price since 2011. Now, through the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive households that use solar water heating could get money towards renewable heating costs in their home. I hope that there is further uptake of this scheme in the future.
As we recover, and more houses are built, I am pleased that the UK has committed to introduce a Future Homes Standard from 2025 which means that new homes will be fit for the future, with low carbon heating and lower energy use through high levels of energy efficiency. Furthermore, in existing homes, homeowners may be eligible for grants to make energy efficiency savings, such as installing double glazing or insulating a loft or cavity walls. Further details are available online: https://www.gov.uk/improve-energy-efficiency.
As we continue to move to a low carbon economy we need to ensure we have a balanced energy mix so we have a reliable, clean and affordable energy system. This does mean that in the medium term there will be a role for some fossil fuels.
On the recommendation of the Independent Committee on Climate Change, the Government plans to bring forward to 2035 the date at which sales of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans end, subject to consultation. I understand that the date could become even sooner if a faster transition proves feasible.
The infrastructure is being put in place to facilitate the transition to EVs – including public charge points, residential on-street charge points as well as rapid and smart charge points. The UK now has one of the largest charge point networks in Europe, and there are now more EV charging locations than petrol stations. A consultation has also been held on all new-build homes in England being fitted with charge points.
I know that in trade negotiations the Government will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.
Without exception, all animal products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements from all trading partners, including the EU and others, will have to meet our stringent food safety standards, as they do now.
In the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network and, in the long term, to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series. A new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be legislated for in the Environment Bill, to help support the Nature Recovery Network and better direct investment in the environment and green infrastructure – creating places that are richer in wildlife and provide wider benefits for local communities.
I am proud that the UK is at the forefront of the global response to Covid-19, so far committing up to £764 million of aid to combat coronavirus. I share your concerns about the debt vulnerabilities in developing countries, which has been amplified by coronavirus, and welcome that the UK has made available up to £150 million to the International Monetary Fund's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to help developing countries meet their debt repayments.
Of course, responding to this crisis requires international cooperation. The UK, alongside G20 and the Paris Club of official creditors has committed to a historic suspension of debt repayment from the world's poorest countries. This will see official creditors provide up to $12 billion of cash-flow relief, which, importantly, will enable countries to focus available resources on tackling coronavirus and ensure they can direct greater resources to vital healthcare efforts, rather than interest payments.
At the same time, the Environment Bill is being introduced to protect and improve the environment for future generations, enshrining in law environmental principles and legally-binding targets, and the first progress report of the Government’s ambitious 25 Year Environment Plan found that 90 per cent of the priority actions have been delivered or are on track for delivery.
Firms can draw upon a range of financial support during this challenging time, including billions of pounds worth of loans and guarantees. In exceptional circumstances where a viable company has exhausted all options and its failure would disproportionately harm the economy, I understand the Government could consider support as a ‘last resort’.
Reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change will continue to be priorities for me and my Ministerial colleagues.