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Government must set out how infrastructure investment can help achieve net-zero target

04 December 2020

ICE Trustee for Carbon and Climate, Professor Jim Hall, gives evidence to Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee for their inquiry into Greening the post-Covid recovery.

Government must set out how infrastructure investment can help achieve net-zero target

The Government must set out a plan for how it’s investment in infrastructure, as part of the economic recovery, will meet the 2050 net-zero target. That was the message ICE Trustee Professor Jim Hall gave to a committee in Parliament on Thursday.

The Environmental Audit Committee are holding an inquiry into the environmental and social implications of the UK Government's Covid-19 recovery package. They held an evidence session, hearing from ICE and other organisations, including RIBA, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Zero Carbon Campaign and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change.

Asked how the Government’s 10 point recovery plan and National Infrastructure Strategy, which was published last week at the spending review, aligned with tackling climate change, Jim noted that the plan does set out a welcome range of funding and policy interventions across the power, heat and transport sectors. However, he also noted that it doesn’t demonstrate how these can collectively equate to achieving the net-zero target. This is why a net-zero infrastructure plan is required and why ICE had called for this to be included in the National Infrastructure Strategy.

Professor Hall said:

“Before Covid-19 hit, the UK already faced long-term challenges of reaching the 2050 net zero carbon target and meeting society’s changing needs for infrastructure services. Now faced with massive economic challenges, the government has the opportunity to invest for the future, creating jobs in the short term and infrastructure for sustainable development in the long term.

“Sustainable Infrastructure cannot but turned on or off quickly. It requires a long-term strategy, which the government has taken a significant step towards with the publication of its National Infrastructure Strategy, which the ICE welcomes. But we want to see how this will add up to create a credible pathway towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The Committee also asked about the impact on tax returns of the Government’s plans to ban the sale of new petrol and Diesel cars by 2050. Professor Hall highlighted ICE’s work on the need to move to a road user charging model. He also explained that there were wider benefits from moving to this type of system as it enables you to shape public behaviour about how and where they use private vehicles.

Green Book reforms

The subject of the Government’s recent reforms to the Green Book was also raised. Professor Hall welcomed the changes and noted that ICE was pleased to see recognition that there has been some alignment of the Green Book within the strategic context of meeting national policy objectives. However, he also cautioned that the Green Book is only one part of the tools required to arrive at net zero and that there was a need to look at how the system adds up, rather than projects in isolation, and how carbon emissions accumulate across the economy.

“Our industry is ready to act. We are ready to innovate and deliver projects that drive down their carbon content towards zero. We need government to create the opportunities and regulations that will enable us to deliver. Our Institution is ready to work with government to deliver the skills within our industry to deliver high quality sustainable infrastructure. Sustainability is already central to the professional qualification of engineers in this country. We are creating jobs in our industry for people, women and men from all backgrounds, who are equipped to tackle future challenges.”

You can watch the session in full here and read ICE’s evidence submission to the Committee’s inquiry.

  • Vanessa Furey, head of external affairs at Institution of Civil Engineers