Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Carbon taxes and more working from home, to disincentivize travel.
Reducing UK emissions Progress Report to Parliament
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives. Its effects are far-reaching – its implications profound. Our 2019 report to Parliament urged Government to act on climate. “Now, do it” was our call. Twelve months on that remains our emphatic message, but with a new determination: we must seize the opportunity to make the COVID-19 recovery a defining moment in tackling the climate crisis. We say to the Government: “act courageously – it’s there for the taking”.
This report provides important new advice to Government on framing a recovery from Covid-19 that both accelerates the transition to Net Zero and strengthens our resilience to the impacts of climate change, whilst driving new economic activity. It builds on the six key principles for a resilient recovery which we outlined in our letter to the Prime Minister in May. We are pleased to see these principles guiding the growing momentum for a green recovery.
The review, and the response to the pandemic provide an opportunity to strengthen incentives to reduce emissions when considering fiscal changes. Many sectors do not currently bear the full costs of emitting greenhouse gases. Carbon pricing can be used, alongside other policies, to incentivise emissions reductions across the economy. Similarly, changes in tax policy can aid the transition to net-zero emissions. Revenue could be raised by setting or raising carbon prices (or other taxes, such as VAT) for these sectors. Low global oil prices and improved energy efficiency provide an opportunity to offset changes in relative prices without raising consumer bills.
b) Decarbonising transport: getting there sooner and other transport priorities – recommendations for DfT, supported by HMT and BEIS
The COVID-19 pandemic is already changing how people travel, and provides an opportunity to encourage sustainable behaviours such as working-from-home and active travel (e.g. walking and cycling). Some cities are already redesigning streets to encourage walking and cycling instead of car use. Without Government support in these areas there is a risk of lower use of public transport and increased use of cars, in the short-term.
The Government is currently consulting on bringing forward its ‘Road to Zero’ ambition to phase-out the sale of petrol and diesel cars. Our assessment is that the date should be brought forward to 2032 at the latest, as currently planned in Scotland. In the near-term, purchase subsidies should be maintained and planning for a transition to fiscally neutral incentives should begin now, for example through Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) that is more highly differentiated by CO2. Electric vehicle charging infrastructure will also require targeted support to continue.
Separately, a comprehensive framework for decarbonising HGVs, covering financial incentives, regulation and infrastructure is needed for the 2020s and should be planned for now.
I suspect if the UK government seriously attempts to impose these policies they will end up with yellow vest riots.
There are vast areas outside London where internet performance makes working from home a struggle. In my opinion the UK government has been breaking promises to upgrade internet performance for decades, so I don’t see why the cash strapped, resource constrained future will be any different.
As for cycling and walking, this might be fine if you live in central London, where there are plenty of late night cafes to break the journey, but outside the Westminster bubble things are very different.
There are a lot of lonely long poor quality roads on the outskirts of cities and in the countryside, which in winter become dangerous slush and ice covered death traps, risky even for automobile drivers, let alone pedestrians or cyclists.
The thought of cycling or walking for miles in such conditions on a regular basis is absurd.