In times of unexpected crisis, it’s difficult to see beyond next week, let alone how we will be affected over the long term. In a time when we are worried about our family, our friends, our staff and our customers, wider issues feel less important.
But we know the climate emergency doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for action some way down the line. In the short term, COVID-19 will have a serious, and immediate, impact on the levels of investment in new renewable energy projects. Investor confidence will take time to rebuild and many existing projects which need financing will be delayed. Indeed, talking to developers who have spades in the ground, they are currently mobilised but unable to construct.
The speed which the sector rebounds can be helped by government and central bank policies to prioritise lending to low-carbon power. We’ve seen in the Chancellor’s historic £350bn lifeline to businesses what can be done to support the economy at a moment’s notice.
One positive outcome from the current crisis is it will shine a light on central government’s unique role in tackling a national emergency. Once we emerge from this crisis the question will be to make sure that we don’t embed fossil fuel and carbon into the emerging economy.
The speed and effectiveness of this coordinated response can also support the reduction of air pollution in our cities; reinforce flood defences on our coastlines and lowlands and improve our infrastructure to support low carbon.
Prior to the outbreak, the UK experienced its fifth wettest winter, and the wettest February, on record. The impact of repeated storms led to major flood damage to thousands of homes and businesses; the cost in Wales alone is estimated to be up to £180 million. The argument for ramping up our climate adaptation and mitigation efforts is already clear. Leadership from government can quicken these efforts to ensure we are fully prepared when the next wave of extreme weather arrives.
One danger for the green economy is that, as we recover from the outbreak, it will be ignored, or sacrificed, to support the wider economy get back on its feet. The UK, along with other nations, could enter a recession which is sharper and harder than the 2008 financial crisis. If that’s the case, the government needs to resist the urge to encourage all and any economic activity to get the motor running again. We mean no backwards steps on climate – removing any ongoing subsidy or support for fossil fuel and redeploying this to reduce carbon, and ensuring that even if COP26 is online, there is no reduced ambition. We have worked hard to replace the UK’s dirty technologies with clean technologies. To reverse this progress will only drive us backwards.
At Good Energy, we already have an agile, flexible working environment where most of our teams can work remotely if they need to. Going 100% remote during a national crisis has been an experiment in working creatively while continuing high standards for our customers. I’m impressed by the results and certain we will come out of it as a stronger business with new skills of adaptation and new working practices.
The green sector is larger and more important than ever. Its strength has been built by years of proving the case of our technologies, our ability to work efficiently, and survive in a competitive landscape. Those challenges were overcome, and we are no longer a small, niche part of the economy. The best way to support the recovery will be to show the resilience of green businesses, and our readiness to continue the urgent work of investing in a zero-carbon future.