Low carbon lead Amy House takes stock of 2020’s impact on the green economy by highlighting some of the expert insights shared over the course of the year by our Green Tech and Services advisors.
2020 hasn’t been the best of years, has it. But every cloud has a silver lining, and this year we’ve at least seen some promising signs of a turning point in the transition to a greener, cleaner future.
Back in the spring, I wrote a blog about how the disruption of COVID-19 had given us an opportunity to rethink how we do business. Large parts of the economy were forced to shift to digital working, resulting in cleaner air and lower carbon emissions, and lockdown restrictions gave us all a fuller appreciation of the true value of the world around us.
Building back greener
Since then, research has shown that most people are willing to continue with the lower carbon lifestyles they adopted. The majority of Britons think climate change is as serious a crisis as COVID-19, and this is being reflected in the board room. The majority of large businesses worldwide believe environmental management will become an even bigger priority because of the pandemic, with nearly two-thirds saying their sustainability budgets will get bigger as a result. A survey in July found that nearly three-quarters of UK businesses were reconsidering their environmental commitments in the wake of the virus.
In the short term, perhaps the biggest change we’ll see is the way supply chains are managed. The devastating impact of COVID-19 on the movement of goods around the globe has put resilience at the top of the corporate agenda. As our team explained in this blog in June, environmental and social responsibility is crucial to resilience, so we can expect it to play a greater role in buyers’ decision-making going forward.
A big part of this shift will be the increasing importance of social value in procurement. From 2021, new guidelines in the UK mean public procurement will begin taking a greater account of a bidder’s social value score in tender assessments, incorporating aspects such as carbon footprint and waste reduction. Tolu Omideyi explains more in her blog from July.
Climate summit: Delayed but not forgotten
2020 was supposed to be the year that the UK hosted the most important UN summit on climate change for half a decade. The COP26 summit in Glasgow would have marked the coming into force of the Paris Agreement, an historic pact brokered between nearly 200 countries in 2015. It will now take place next November, but the delay hasn’t held things back as much as we initially feared.
Even though we’ll have to wait another precious year before the summit takes place, it hasn’t strayed far from the attention of world leaders. In December, a virtual Climate Ambition Summit took place where several major countries announced new, stronger climate commitments. By early next year, around 70 per cent of the world’s economy will now be committed to reaching net-zero emissions.
In the US, the election of Joe Biden is another important victory for the climate agenda. He has already committed to bringing the world’s largest economy back in line with the rest of the global community, by reversing Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement.
Here in the UK, the Prime Minister has unveiled a new interim target to cut emissions by “at least” 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. This makes the UK, at least for now, the most ambitious major economy in the world. The pace of emissions cuts will now have to increase by around 50 per cent over the next ten years compared to the rate previously planned for, and it will not be possible without significant policy intervention.
The policy isn’t yet there at the scale needed, but we do know the direction of travel and the government’s key priorities thanks to the recently-announced Ten Point Plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. Katherine Burden breaks down the plan point-by-point in her December blog.
One of the biggest UK policy announcements of the year is the £2 billion Green Homes Grant, a voucher scheme to incentivise homeowners to install energy efficiency measures. Changing the way we heat our homes is one of the toughest challenges we face, with millions of homes across the country needing retrofit.
The good news is that energy efficiency has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of green jobs and play a key role in economic recovery. Katherine Burden explored the future of green homes in another of her blogs earlier this year.
Another tough challenge ahead is shifting to greener transport. At the start of the year, Jack Smith explored some of the huge changes we can expect in mobility over the coming years. At the time, research suggested that UK businesses were planning to invest £12 billion in electric vehicles over the next two years.
Several months later, it wouldn’t be surprising if that figure has grown. Sales of electric vehicles have continued to rise despite the economic downturn, and in November the government announced that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned from 2030 – ten years sooner than originally planned.
If we zoom in to Greater Manchester, it’s clear that environmental ambitions remained as strong as ever through 2020. At the beginning of the year, Katherine Burden teamed up with Kevin Lambert to explain how Greater Manchester’s mission to reach carbon neutrality by 2038 will affect businesses.
The city region’s progress was underlined in September at a four-day Green Summit. Each day focused on a different theme: natural environment, green transport and energy, waste and resources, and building back better. The event saw the launch of several exciting local initiatives that we will learn more about over the course of 2021.
One of the areas that has seen significant progress in Greater Manchester is the business case for ‘nature-based solutions’ such as living walls and urban greenery. Vicky Wilding explains more about nature-based solutions her blog from February.
There’s also the Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan, which finished public consultation at the start of December. The plan’s flagship proposal is the introduction of a city region-wide Clean Air Zone that will penalise some of the older, more polluting commercial vehicles on the road. The CAZ, which will come into force from 2022, should accelerate the shift to cleaner vehicles and it will be backed by a multi-million-pound investment in electric charging infrastructure.
Looking forward to 2021
Hopefully what I’ve shown above is that there was a brighter side to 2020 that we can cling to in these dark times. However, we still face a lot of uncertainty as we head into 2021.
Many businesses have decided to temporarily hold back investments in greener technologies and services until they have recovered more fully from the effects of COVID-19. Several of the policy measures we need to drive the zero carbon transition are yet to come to fruition. And there’s also the end of the EU Transition Period to contend with. At the time of writing, it’s still not clear what exact agreement the UK and the EU will have on environmental standards come 31 December. The government’s landmark Environment Bill, which will fill gaps in environmental law post-EU, is currently making its way through Parliament, with lots of important decisions still on the table.
Nevertheless, with adversity comes opportunity. In July, Vicky Wilding explained how companies in the green tech and services sector can bounce back from 2020 stronger than ever.
As we enter 2021, our Green Technologies and Services team will be on hand to share more expert insights and help companies make the most of the exciting opportunities ahead. For one-to-one support, get in touch with one of our advisors today.
Amy House, Low Carbon Lead
Amy has worked in the green technologies and services sector for over 10 years, both as a business adviser and a commercial manager in the recycling and waste industry. Bringing her extensive network of contacts and broad sector knowledge to the team, Amy specialises in helping green tech and services companies to identify new sales opportunities, raise their profile, and expand their network of contacts. Amy holds an MSc in Environmental Monitoring, Modelling and Reconstruction.