Failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero to curb climate change will be far more damaging than the coronavirus pandemic, a Catholic peer has warned.
Lord Deben, the chairman of the Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change likened global warming to a “pandemic which is significantly more long-lasting and damaging than Covid-19”.
He issued the stark warning as he spoke to MPs on the Parliamentary Business Committee.
The Catholic Universe reported last week that the peer’s committee has set out opportunities to build a green recovery, boosting the economy and driving down emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050 – a legally binding target for the UK.
But Lord Deben has now gone further, warning MPs that missing the opportunity “leads to disaster”.
He said: “If we miss this opportunity we have no chance of meeting our net-zero target. If we don’t do that, the world will be afflicted by a pandemic significantly more long-lasting and damaging than Covid-19.”
The Climate Change Committee’s report on the pandemic recovery called for simple things, such as insulating homes “so they can be warm without huge emissions and vast energy costs”, adding that these are things which can be done immediately.
Reports suggest that Downing Street chief adviser Dominic Cummings is holding up insulation programmes and wants the lion’s share of a promised £9.2 billion fund for energy efficiency to go towards building new homes.
Lord Deben said the money is necessary for retrofitting homes to make them more energy-efficient.
“It’s the very best way of stimulating the economy, it’s British jobs in Britain, working all over the country, and meets the Prime Minister’s concerns about levelling up and helps the poorest,” he said.
The money should not be used to subsidise new housing, but ministers should introduce and enforce high energy efficiency and carbon-cutting standards for new homes now.
Since the Committee on Climate Change first asked the Government to improve regulations and standards, a million homes have been built which would need expensive retrofitting to bring them up to scratch.
Building bad homes shifts costs on to people who buy the properties, and have to pay more to heat them, he said.
Enforcing rules to make them more energy-efficient would not push up house prices, Lord Deben argued, because any slight increase in costs would see builders paying slightly less for the land.
The Committee on Climate Change’s deputy chairwoman, Baroness Brown, also issued a stark warning over how unprepared the UK is for rising temperatures, pointing out that the world is already set for 1.5C to 2C of warming under the best scenarios.
Houses need to be built to prevent overheating, and more action is needed to tackle future water shortages, floods, and to secure urban green spaces which are being lost, she said.
“It is both essential and hugely beneficial that we have a recovery that is green and resilient, one that covers both reducing our emissions, but also preparing the country for changes in climate we have ahead.”
Picture: A projection onto the Houses of Parliament for School Strike for Climate Change. (Kirsty O’Connor/PA).