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Government recovery package: an opportunity missed

The Government’s rescue and recovery package for the UK economy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic needs to include more investments in the climate resilience of our cities in order to ‘build back better.’

On 8 July, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced his new ‘Jobs Plan’ as part of his Summer Statement.

This included a package of ‘green’ investments, such as more than £2 billion to support homeowners and landlords in 2020-21 to make their homes more energy efficient. The Chancellor’s Plan stated: “This funding could support over 100,000 green jobs, so that local tradespeople can make homes warmer, cheaper to heat and more environmentally friendly.”

While the Government’s recognition of the need to invest in environmental initiatives is welcome, this announcement was disappointing in that it ignored the equally urgent need to ensure that the UK’s homes are fit for our future climate. Investments in retrofit present a clear opportunity to improve climate resilience alongside energy efficiency, but it will be an opportunity missed if it is not explicitly considered.

The Committee on Climate Change has pointed out that about one in five homes can overheat even in a relatively cool summer. This can be fatal for those who have underlying illnesses and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of heat.

There is some evidence that improving the insulation of buildings to keep the heat in during cold weather can also increase the risks of overheating in hot weather if ventilation is inadequate. Retrofit schemes must think beyond energy efficiency to ensure that they are not creating risks to the health and well-being of occupants.

Indeed, the Chancellor’s ‘Jobs Plan’ did not include any investments that are earmarked for climate change adaptation and resilience. This is despite the importance of this issue and the evidence that such investments can create new jobs and help build a more sustainable and resilient economy.

The Government did announce new investments in flood defences, including in some urban areas, the day after the Chancellor’s statement in July.

The Committee on Climate Change emphasised the value of improving resilience to climate change in its annual progress report to Parliament in June.

And Louise Pryor and I, writing as Chair and Deputy Chair of the London Climate Change Partnership, sent a letter to the Chancellor calling for the Government to bring forward investments in climate adaptation and resilience in London and the core cities.

We emphasised that London, in particular, needs to become more resilient to the growing threat of heatwaves, surface water flooding and drought.

If our major cities, which are centres of economic activity and employment, are exposed and vulnerable to the risks of climate change, it could undermine the future prosperity of the whole country.

However, there is a major opportunity for the Chancellor to include climate change adaptation and resilience in his spending plans for the expected autumn Budget.

It is very important that local policy-makers in London and the core cities highlight potential ‘shovel-ready’ investments in climate change adaptation and resilience to inform the Chancellor’s plans.

Bob Ward is Deputy Chair of the London Climate Change Partnership and Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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