Boris Johnson Sees Green Recovery Essential to U.K. Economy

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(Bloomberg) --

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a “green” recovery will be vital to help the U.K. come back from a dramatic economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is indeed the vision that I have for the whole country,” Johnson said in response to a question in Parliament from a Conservative lawmaker proposing a “green enterprise zone” to promote low-carbon manufacturing in his district.

Johnson’s environmental agenda will be tied to a major speech expected in coming weeks. Amid forecasts of the worst recession in 300 years, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is drawing up options to bolster the economy as the government prepares to withdraw its vast package of financial aid.

“I want to see a lot more going into green technology, green batteries, green motor vehicles, low carbon motor vehicles of all kinds,” the premier said later a press conference on Wednesday.

The Times on Wednesday reported that Sunak is preparing to boost spending on clean energy, and may set up a fund to retrain workers so that they can get jobs in industries such as offshore wind, insulation, and carbon capture and storage.

‘Net Zero’

British industry is already clamoring for the U.K. to align its economic recovery strategy with the country’s legally-binding goal to tackle climate change by ensuring it has “net zero” emissions by 2050. More than 200 U.K. companies -- including Tesco Plc, Standard Life Aberdeen Plc and BT Group Plc -- signed a letter earlier this week calling for the policies to be joined up.

Last week, the Institute for Public Policy Research said Britain could create 850,000 new green energy jobs this decade if it uses recovery stimulus to fast-track decarbonization. An extra 30 billion pounds ($37 billion) a year is needed for decarbonization efforts to meet the 2050 goal, it said.

Sunak himself said last week that the government has “lots of exciting plans for the future” when it comes to ensuring it keeps carbon emissions down while rebuilding the economy.

He was responding to a question from a member of the public in the government’s daily coronavirus press conference, who asked whether environmental concerns would be “central” to the recovery program. “Absolutely,” was his answer.

He referred to plans he laid out in the budget in March to invest “several hundred million pounds” in coming years in developing carbon capture and storage technology to pump greenhouse gases from factory and power plants underground for permanent storage.

Budget Measures

Other measures outlined in the budget included raising taxes on gas and diesel, investing 500 million pounds to roll out rapid-charging hubs for electric vehicles and restoring forests and peatland.

The U.K. last year became the first major economy to pass a law requiring it to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions to ensure the country makes no contribution to rising temperatures.

The legislation was passed before Johnson took over as prime minister from Theresa May. The premier has frequently expressed commitment to the green agenda, and his fiancee Carrie Symonds is a conservationist.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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