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

Nearly 100 UK companies including BT, Coca-Cola, Santander, Unilever and Heathrow wrote a letter to Boris Johnson telling him he had “a limited window” to show “leadership” on climate issues.

The push by companies across a wide range of sectors reflects frustration with climate policies to meet the UK’s net zero emissions targets.

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

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

The call came as the British Prime Minister landed in New York where he and UN Secretary-General António Guterres gathered around 40 heads of state on Monday, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. , for closed-door discussions on climate goals.

The UK is due to publish 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 rules on pollution and environmental protection, and its Heat and Buildings Strategy, which will outline how to reduce heating to net zero emissions, have also been repeatedly delayed.

The Environment Bill made its way through the House of Lords last week in a version that food groups, retailers and green groups have criticized for failing to toughen conditions on deforestation.

“People are a little nervous that more advice hasn’t come,” said Stephanie Hyde, managing director of JLL UK, a property company and signatory of the letter. “The government’s request is to clarify, before the COP, what companies must do.”

The delay in the heating and construction strategy could have a ripple effect on emissions, due to the long delays associated with construction projects, she added.

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

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

Other signatories to the letter, which was organized 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 released a ’10-point plan’ to cut emissions, with the ambition of making the UK the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of wind power, generating enough electricity to from offshore farms to supply the country.

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However, the companies say they have yet to see many policies to support the plan.

Keith Anderson, chief executive of Scottish Power, said that while this was a “brilliant starting point”, on the ground the companies were “not seeing the changes materialize quickly enough at an operational level”.

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

Anderson pointed to specific policies, such as investing in the electricity grid and supporting electric vehicle charging, as areas where the government could act more quickly.

“It’s a big year – it’s the year of the COP,” Anderson said. “It would be absolutely fantastic to have all of this announced at COP26.”

Teresa H. Sadler