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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Cross-party commission unveils blueprint to take UK to net zero as it warns fairness is key to winning public support

  • Win-win approach would also deliver ‘people’s dividend’ of free local public transport, good new jobs and better health and wellbeing
  • ‘Fairness lock’ on transition is essential to success, commission says – otherwise the public ‘hold a veto’ over net zero process
  • As shift to low carbon UK enters new stage, report demands a ‘people-first’ approach with direct public involvement in decisions

Wide-ranging plans to decarbonise the UK economy, repair nature and build a fairer society are unveiled today in a major report that argues for a new approach to achieving net zero and protecting our natural world.

In a direct challenge to those ‘climate delayers’ who would argue that the net zero transition will harm the poorest, the commission argues that ambitious action on climate and nature can and must be delivered in a way that also improves people’s everyday lives.

After 18 months of deliberation involving hundreds of hours of discussion by citizens across areas of the UK likely to be most impacted by the transition, the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission is calling for fairness and people to be put at the heart of the drive to hit national targets for net-zero carbon emissions and the restoration of nature.

Without such a prospect, the commission warns, the public could wield an effective “veto” on delivering net zero.

Uniquely, the commission was informed and driven to its recommendations by a series of ‘citizens juries’ drawn from different walks of life, including people who had never been engaged in climate change discussions. These were held in four areas likely to be most impacted by the move to net zero - Tees Valley and County Durham, the South Wales Valleys, Thurrock (Essex) and Aberdeenshire - ensuring that people from communities with most at stake were fully heard.

The commission’s report, Fairness and Opportunity: A people-powered plan for the green transition, says that the UK is failing to ensure that the costs and benefits of the transition to net zero will be fairly shared. It also says the government has no coherent plan to make the most of the opportunities presented by this fundamental change in the country’s economic model.

Its 100-plus recommendations amount to a comprehensive blueprint of how to go about this. Policies that the commission says would ensure the move to net zero also contributes to a vital “people’s dividend” include:

  • Upgrade local public transport and make it free to all users throughout the UK by 2030, with free bus travel by 2025 as a first step.
  • Launch a £7.5 billion-a-year “GreenGO scheme”: a financial one-stop shop, akin to the government’s Help to Buy scheme, to help households switch to green alternatives on heating, home insulation and transport - enabling warmer, more affordable and greener homes and cleaner travel.
  • Sharply step up public investment in a low carbon economy, raising it by £30 billion a year throughout the UK until at least 2030 and contributing to levelling up across the economy.
  • Offer all workers in high-carbon industries the right to retrain for new low-carbon jobs, while supporting businesses everywhere to make the transition.
  • Establish a permanent, UK-wide climate and nature assembly, alongside a new law to ensure that all business and policy decisions must take account of their impact on future generations.
  • Involve communities everywhere in decisions that will affect them, so that choices reflect local priorities and needs and secure more support. This would include granting English combined and local authorities new powers over economic strategy, transport and planning and giving the public a direct say over how local budgets are spent.

The final report of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission – co-chaired by figures from the Conservative, Labour and Green parties, and joined by leading figures from business, trade unions and civil society – comes at a key moment for the UK government.

In just over 100 days it will host the crucial COP26 climate summit and aims to secure international agreement to cut carbon emissions. Yet despite the UK’s claim to climate leadership, the country is way off track to meet its legally binding net zero commitments and has a wholly inadequate plan for repairing nature.

Last month (June) the independent Climate Change Committee said that there was a “large policy gap” between the government’s ambitious promises and the more limited actions it had taken.

Hilary Benn MP, co-chair of the Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“People must be at the heart of the UK’s rapid transition to net zero, or else – to put it bluntly – it won’t succeed. Government must clearly set out the broad direction of travel and provide the resources and regulation needed to get there, but everyone affected, from workers in industries that will have to change to communities across the UK, must have greater power to take decisions that affect them. Local people know best what will work for local areas and how to go about it.”

Caroline Lucas MP, co-chair of the Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“We will all be affected by the changes we need to make to tackle the climate and nature crises, but some will be affected more than others. We can’t afford to fail in this endeavour, but we will not succeed unless the plans we make are fair to everyone and make the UK fairer for all. Only through this ‘fairness lock’ will we win the support of the people we need to make this national ambition a reality.”

Laura Sandys, co-chair of the Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“The UK’s drive to net zero is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be seized. This should be a positive moment for everybody - while making the far-reaching changes needed to combat the climate and nature crises, we can create good new jobs, build the businesses of the future and improve people’s health, their day-to-day surroundings and their wellbeing, everywhere.”

Carys Roberts, IPPR director, said:

“It is the people who will be affected by the transition to net zero and the restoration of nature who are the real experts in how we can do it fairly. This was not a typical commission: our commissioners listened to people across the UK and from all walks of life to gather their ideas. What they heard was that to tackle the climate and nature crises, we need ambitious action from government, that also improves day-to-day life for people and helps level up across the UK.”

Sarah, a juror from Tees Valley and County Durham, said:

“If it's not fair for everyone… people aren't going to change their behaviours. So it just needs to be fair in order for it to work. Otherwise, people are just going to start doing the same things and we're going to carry on destroying our planet.”

Ewen, a juror from Aberdeenshire, said:

“It's got to be fair. If it's unfair, then people won't buy into it, and you need people to buy into it… People have got to be involved in transition, because it's all about people. It's all about the future. It's all about your kids or grandkids and future generations."

Charles, a juror from Thurrock, said:

“Some of us have already lived most of our lives. But we have to be sure that we leave a good legacy for our children. And part of the legacy for the children is not necessarily about property or assets… it's about making sure that they can live healthily.”

Luke Murphy, head of the Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“We need to transform the UK into a zero-carbon economy by working together, with the same overriding urgency we shared during the pandemic. Like defeating Covid, this is a major undertaking – yet at present the government’s plans, so far as they exist, are piecemeal and wholly inadequate to the task.

“The Environmental Justice Commission’s comprehensive blueprint for change, developed with the help of people across the UK, is oven ready. It outlines how 1.7 million jobs could be created across the UK, and sets out what will be needed to support workers affected by the transition. Crucially, it shows how we can tackle the climate change and nature crises in a way that creates opportunity, improves lives for people everywhere, and builds a fairer society for us all.”

Some key findings about the transition that informed the commission’s analysis are included at the end of the Notes section below.

ENDS

The co-chairs of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission, Hilary Benn, Laura Sandys and Caroline Lucas, are available for interview.

Also available are Luke Murphy, the head of the commission; Becca Massey-Chase, its deputy head; and Carys Roberts, IPPR’s executive director.

Jurors from the citizens’ juries held in Tees Valley and County Durham, the South Wales Valleys, Thurrock and Aberdeenshire are also available for interview on request.

CONTACT

David Wastell, Head of News and Communications: 07921 403651 [email protected] 

Robin Harvey, Digital and Media Officer: 07779 204798 [email protected] 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

  1. Embargoed copies of the report, Fairness and Opportunity: A people-powered plan for the green transition, and of a shorter policymakers’ summary, are available from IPPR on request.
  2. The report will be published online at 0001 on Wednesday July 14 and will be available at: https://www.ippr.org/research/publications/fairness-and-opportunity
  3. Videos of the following citizens’ jurors are available for re-use by the media available on request.
  4. An interactive digital version of the report will be at https://www.ippr.org/fairness-and-opportunity
  5. Among the key arguments and findings of the report are:
  • Drawing from the insights of our citizens’ juries across the UK, six major shifts are needed in the UK’s approach to addressing the climate and nature crises if we are to maximise and fairly share the benefits and opportunities of the transition, minimise and share the burdens of the risks, and move at the pace that these crises demand.
  • The six shifts suggest the key principles for a new social contract for a fair transition

The six shifts and the new social contract

  • The commission calls for a ‘people’s dividend’ as a core part of the ‘new social contract’ for the transition.

  • Analysis by IPPR shows that the transition could create 1.7 million jobs by 2035 in sectors from transport to home retrofit and low carbon electricity.
  • While the UK has made progress reducing emissions, we are not on track to meet the fifth carbon budget pathway, let alone the stricter sixth carbon budget pathway. The UK’s record on nature is even poorer – the UK has been described as one of the “most nature-depleted countries in the world” and its level of consumption disproportionately impacts the global environment, including through water and nitrogen use, deforestation, and its overall ecological footprint.


  • Analysis by IPPR suggests that delivering net zero and restoring nature will require a step change in public investment.

  1. The IPPR Environmental Justice Commission was established in 2019 to develop the ideas and policies to bring about a rapid green transition that is fair and just. It put people at the centre of its work, by holding deliberative democracy events and citizens’ juries in diverse locations to draw on local knowledge, experience and wisdom.
  2. Members of the Commission are:
  • Hilary Benn (co-chair), Labour MP for Leeds Centra
  • Caroline Lucas (co-chair), Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion
  • Laura Sandys, (co-chair) former Conservative party MP and chair of the Energy Digitalisation Taskforce, and chair of the Food Foundation
  • Paul Booth CBE, chair of Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Beth Farhat, regional secretary of the Northern TUC and IPPR trustee
  • Angela Francis, chief advisor, economics and economic development at WWF-UK
  • Charlotte Hartley, member of 2050 Climate Group and of the Scottish Just Transition Commission
  • Fatima Ibrahim, campaigner and climate activist
  • Michael Jacobs, professorial fellow and head of engagement and impact at SPERI
  • Tom Kibasi, political writer and researcher, former IPPR director
  • Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at City of London Corporation
  • Paul Nowak, deputy general secretary, Trade Union Congress
  • Kate Raworth, senior visiting research associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute
  • Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero, University of Cambridge
  • David Symons, Global Future Ready programme leader at WSP, director of Aldersgate Group
  • Anna Taylor, student climate striker and activist
  • Steve Waygood, chief responsible investment officer, Aviva Investors
  • Farhana Yamin, associate fellow at Chatham House and Extinction Rebellion activist