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opinion

The Autumn Statement misses the mark. We need to invest in a post-carbon economy

Just six days after the UK government ratified the Paris climate agreement, this year’s economic Autumn Statement has failed to address the UK’s biggest future challenge: climate change. Bevis Watts, Managing Director at Triodos Bank UK, suggests that we just missed a huge opportunity to shift our economy onto the right path for the future.

This year’s Autumn Statement marks a significant shift in policy. Rather than continuing to pursue a strict fiscal austerity program, it has been decided to increase government spending to boost economic output. And yet the infrastructure spending plans are a missed opportunity to pivot our economy towards more sustainable alternatives. Rather than boosting old, carbon-based sectors and systems, what we really need is a strategy that looks to the future and significantly invests in green infrastructure such as sustainable transport, renewable energy and sustainable food production.

It is unfortunate that this Autumn Statement continues to prop up a carbon-based economy. Of the £23 billion announced for the National Productivity Investment Fund, none of it was earmarked specifically for green energy, significant public transportation development or supporting the burgeoning green tech sector. Opportunities are readily available to dramatically improve our rail system to efficiently and quickly transport people and goods around the country. Councils need a new deal to make our cities more walkable, breathable and liveable. Our energy system needs a complete overhaul towards clean, local and renewable energy sources. And local food networks need to be revitalised if we are going to reduce our dependence on carbon-heavy distribution systems.

“We’re calling on the government to redefine housing spending to include boosting the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock”

Bevis Watts, Managing Director of Triodos Bank UK

Additionally, while the announced investment into housing is much needed, funnelling money into cheap housing construction loans is not enough—we need a proactive strategy that addresses the high cost of purchasing, renting and heating homes in the UK. Given the failure of the Green Deal, we’re calling on the government to redefine housing spending to include boosting the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock.

Yes, simplifying energy tariffs may make switching easier but it does nothing to deal with rampant fuel-poverty due to inefficient homes: the Association for the Conservation of Energy has shown that our windows are the leakiest of 11 northern European countries. Not only does this make monthly bills too expensive for the most vulnerable, buildings in the UK contribute to 17% of our carbon emissions due to fossil fuel use in heating. Our Warmer Homes Greener Communities loan is allowing housing associations to borrow money for specifically the purpose of increasing energy efficiency and thereby reducing energy costs. We need government support for a wide-ranging investment in heating efficiency.

Autumn Statement

Bevis Watts, Managing Director of Triodos Bank UK

As Europe’s leading sustainable bank, Triodos Bank has seen the growing public support, investment and confidence in the multi-billion pound green economy and believes that despite its resilience, Government backing is essential to fully realise a sustainable future.  With €12 billion in assets and 49% of loans and investments in environmental projects, Triodos has over 20 years’ experience of helping to transform Europe’s energy system to one that safeguards our environment and is fairer to the people that depend on it. This expertise means that as bank that cares and serves the needs of society we see that now, more than ever, is the right time to make significant investments into a future carbon-neutral economy.

Investing in these ways could provide the economic boost that the UK needs while also having the added bonus of contributing to creating a viable low-carbon UK economy for the long-term.

If we are going to ‘future-proof’ our economy and meet our obligations to the Paris Agreement, we need to start investing in the sustainable technologies and the systems of the future.

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Brett Sadler 3 years ago

Good points, although I’m dubious about investing in rail – it’s old technology. Who will want to travel to a station and stand on a draughty platform and wait for a train (that may not come) then still have to travel onwards to their final destination, when they can use an app on their phone to order a driverless vehicle to take them straight there in comfort? There will come a time when the best thing to do with rail is to rip it up and lay concrete to provide express superhighways into city centres. Better to invest in clean tech that will enable ego-friendly driverless vehicles.