28 SEP 2020


The UK’s economic recovery must be tied to decarbonisation and inclusive growth and avoid the temptation to focus only on short-term economic recovery and jobs, says Donald Morrison of Jacobs.

Action on climate is a race against time and the consequences are critical if we want to avoid another crisis. One that will be far worse and irreversible. The COP26 Race to Zero campaign launched recently is designed to mobilise renewed levels of leadership from businesses, cities, regions and nations to spur a zero-carbon recovery that commits more national governments to set net zero targets. This is the greatest business opportunity since the industrial revolution and it is now time to turn the vision into real action for all businesses and stakeholders.

We are at a pivotal stage in the UK’s journey to a greener economy where a real scale of change is required. The climate challenge will touch every area of the economy and society in the years ahead. We know we need to be transformational to accelerate emissions cuts in line with the required 1.5-degree limit of climate change. Green transformation goes hand in hand with job creation, a growing economy and better quality of life. 

We have the innovation and the supporting technology. Business is on board. Jacobs like many responsible businesses is leading by example, setting ambitious climate action commitments (committing to 100% renewable energy and net zero carbon in 2020 and a long-term goal to be carbon negative by 2030). 

Recovery finance should be directed to decarbonisation, while also ensuring broader societal needs and environmental enhancements are met. It can’t just be about chasing net zero carbon or decreasing unemployment in isolation and at all costs. Investment and policy decisions and solutions need to address and seek to balance across all our societal, economic and environmental needs. And one of the tools we can all use to help achieve that balance are the UN Sustainable Development Goals – to ensure decisions we are making now contribute positively towards a sustainable future.

In June, the UK government’s climate advisory group, the Committee on Climate Change, released their latest annual progress report to parliament, which was also a timely reminder that a Covid-19 recovery plan fully aligned with the UK’s 2050 net zero climate target is vital and achievable with strong coordination and taking the right action now. Decisive, transformational change requires new and thoughtful public spending, the incentivisation of private investment and new policy levers and fiscal stimulus measures. This will enable the UK to build back greener, fairer and more resilient.

Advancing low carbon projects – like renewable energy and storage, nuclear energy, building retrofits, education and training in low carbon industries for the unemployment and nature regeneration – make financial sense for the government. They can generate higher rates of return and create more ‘green’ jobs. 

As we look ahead, attaching more outcome-focused goals on all infrastructure funding can change the way projects are procured, planned, designed and delivered – maximising societal, environmental and economic benefits in the long-term. 

Measuring and incorporating social value into the lifecycle of infrastructure projects is becoming increasingly important to informing sound and sustainable decision-making now. Our Simetrica-Jacobs partnership is helping our clients understand how they can transform local, city and regional decision-making. Tools like TotalValueXTM are used to evaluate, measure and quantify social value of transport and other infrastructure projects. Simetrica wrote the technical guidelines on social value measurement in the UK for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and many other governments across the world. And, through these guidelines, social value has become mandatory in policy evaluation in the UK  and increasingly so in other countries. 

The time for action is now. Aligning government policy and business commitment to deliver ambitious environmental solutions, resiliency and inclusive growth. With the support of some of the largest businesses in the UK, the government has the power to effect real change and to create a springboard for success. This is our collective opportunity to work together to deliver a ‘decade of difference’ for climate change, sustainability and a fairer, more equitable society. Let’s use it!

Donald Morrison is senior vice president at Jacobs People and Places Solutions UK/Europe.


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