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UK businesses ask PM for more ‘leadership’ on climate issues

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Almost 100 UK businesses, including BT, Coca-Cola, Santander, Unilever, and Heathrow, have written a letter to Boris Johnson telling him he has “a limited window” to show “leadership” on climate issues.

The push by companies from across a broad range of sectors reflects frustration over climate policies to match the UK’s net zero emissions goals.

Companies such as National Grid, Tesco and the Co-op are demanding more comprehensive action ahead of the UN COP26 climate conference hosted by the UK government in Glasgow in November.

“The countdown to COP26 gives you a limited window to show such leadership,” says the letter, seen by the Financial Times.

The call came as the UK prime minister landed in New York where he and UN secretary-general António Guterres are gathering about 40 heads of state on Monday, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, for closed-door talks about climate goals.

The UK is due to release its Net Zero Strategy ahead of the COP26 summit but has dragged its heels on several related measures, including a long-delayed Treasury review of how to fund net zero policies.

The UK’s environment bill, which will set pollution and environmental protection rules, and its heat and buildings strategy, which will lay out how to reduce heating to net zero emissions, have both also been delayed several times.

The environment bill made its way through the House of Lords last week in a version that food groups, retailers and green groups criticised for failing to harden the terms on deforestation.

“People are slightly nervous that more guidance hasn’t come,” said Stephanie Hyde, chief executive of JLL, a real estate company, and a signatory of the letter. “The ask of the government is to give clarity, in advance of COP, on what businesses need to do.”

The delay in the heat and building strategy could have a knock-on effect on emissions, because of the long lead time associated with construction projects, she added.

The letter says the UK’s target to slash emissions to net zero by 2050 needed to be backed up by details on how to fund the transformation of the economy.

“To get results across the economy, this strategy [the Net Zero Strategy] will need strong support from HM Treasury through the Net Zero and Comprehensive Spending Reviews,” it states. “You will also need to align other government policies and action across transport, housing and the wider built environment, our natural environment and our international aid budget.”

Other signatories to the letter, which was organised by the UK Business Group Alliance for Net Zero, include ‘Big Four’ professional services firm PwC, and German asset manager and insurer Brit Insurance.

Last year Prime Minister Johnson issued a “10-Point Plan” to cut emissions, with an ambition to make the UK “the Saudi Arabia” of wind, generating enough electricity from offshore farms to power the country.

However, businesses say they have yet to see many of the policies to back up the plan.

Keith Anderson, chief executive of Scottish Power, said that while it was a “brilliant start point”, on the ground businesses were “not seeing changes come through quickly enough on a working level”.

“Getting an offshore wind farm through the planning process takes just as long today as it did five years ago,” he says.

Anderson pointed to specific policies, such as investment in the power grid and support for electric vehicle charging, as areas where the government could move faster.

“This is a big year — this is the year of COP,” said Anderson. “It would be absolutely fantastic to have all of that being announced at COP26.”

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