Getting public services across ‘net zero line’ will require £140bn by 2035 – UNISON

Getting the UK’s public services across the net zero line will require £140bn of government funding by 2035, according to new research by the UNISON union.

If the government’s 2050 target is to be met, the UK’s hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, care homes, town halls, leisure centres, police stations, courts, social housing, and water, transport and environmental services all need to be part of the plan, says the UNISON union.

The report, Getting to Net Zero in Public Services: The Road to Decarbonisation, says that without government funding, public services ‘still reeling from a decade of austerity’, will struggle to decarbonise.

In the absence of a significant capital injection of funds, says the report, public services would only be able to move slowly towards net zero, taking resources from ‘already stretched budgets, with disastrous consequences’.

Measures like making all public buildings energy efficient, installing roof top solar panels, the introduction of electric vehicle fleets and LED streetlighting could create almost a quarter of a million new jobs, according to the report. It would also mean cheaper energy bills and lower transport costs for public services, the union says.

According to the report, public services currently account for about 8% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the NHS about 4% of that. The NHS aims to reach net zero by 2040, and more than a third of councils have committed to get to that point by 2030.

The sooner a start can be made, the quicker emissions will begin to come down and public service bills reduce. But the pace of green change needs to increase and significantly too.

Of all the public services examined in the report, local government requires the most up-front investment, to the tune of some £68bn. This is because councils are responsible for making buildings energy efficient, introducing a comprehensive cycling infrastructure and greening waste collection and processing, the union says.

Launching the report in Glasgow later today, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea will say: “The cost of moving across to greener public services won’t come cheap, but there’s not a moment to lose.

“The sooner a start can be made, the quicker emissions will begin to come down and public service bills reduce. But the pace of green change needs to increase and significantly too.

“Private investment won’t provide the solution either. This would mean delay and increased taxes for those least able to pay. The government must borrow now to help public services over the green line. Otherwise, the cost of transitioning will be anything but just.”

The report identified 21 different measures that it says should be taken across buildings, transport, electricity generation, waste, procurement and land use along with costed measures for each of nine different public services.

Out of the public service sectors examined, it found local government required both the largest up-front investment (£68 billion) and the largest additional operational expenditure (£0.5 billion a year). The union says this is because of their responsibility for building retrofits, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, and the need for enhanced waste collection and processing services.

After the review of six key priority areas – public service buildings, electricity generation, transport, waste, procurement and land use – it found a ‘significant lack of funding’ and ‘operational challenges’ to implement decarbonisation transition plans.

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