Business travel should be killed off, the government’s advisers on climate change said as they called for the green impact of the pandemic to last for ever.
Lockdown conditions led to an historic 13 per cent drop in the UK’s carbon emissions last year, mostly due to cuts in flying and car use, meaning by the end of 2020 the UK had cut its emissions by 50 per cent compared with 1990 levels.
But the gains were likely to be "illusory" unless positive behaviour changes were embedded, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said in its annual progress report.
It also waded into the row over the Planning Bill, saying that it should include guidance to ensure developments were compatible with green targets and resilient against overheating and other impacts of climate change.
The committee said "taxation should also be used, alongside improvements in broadband, to embed positive behaviours that have arisen during the pandemic" on business travel and encourage a shift to videoconferencing and online working.
It called for reforms to aviation tax to ensure flights are more expensive compared to rail journeys.
"It is important to sustain some of the climate-positive changes that have developed during the pandemic, and important to act decisively to mitigate the negative changes that could jeopardise efforts towards net zero," the CCC said.
The increase in walking and cycling should also be "sustained", the CCC said, and encouraged with government investment in infrastructure such as low-traffic neighbourhoods.
It also suggested that the Government should encourage home-working in the public sector to help reduce travel demand, although it cautions that the gains could be offset from increased energy use in the home.
Treasury must ‘fully’ back the net zero plans
The UK has made world-leading pledges to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and cut them by 63 per cent by 2035, compared to the peak of 1990 levels, as it prepares to host the global climate change conference in Glasgow in November.
But the CCC warned that the Government’s policy is failing to match its pledges, and said the Treasury in particular would have to "fully" back the net zero plans.
While the greatest cuts so far have come in the power sector as the country has shifted away from coal, the CCC has warned that the next stage of limiting emissions will have more direct impacts on the way people travel, eat and heat their homes.
It said the Government should engage in "low-regret" measures to encourage a 20 per cent reduction in meat consumption in the next decade, including public information campaigns about the benefits of a more plant-based diet.
A government spokesman said: "Any suggestion we have been slow to deliver climate action is widely off the mark. Over the past three decades, we have driven down emissions by 44 per cent – the fastest reduction of any G7 country – and set some of the most ambitious targets in the world for the future, whilst driving forward net zero globally through our COP26 presidency.
"In recent months, we’ve made clear, tangible progress, with record investment in wind power, a new UK Emissions Trading Scheme, £5.2 billion investment in flood and sea defences, clear plans to decarbonise heavy industry and North Sea oil, and businesses pledging to become net zero by 2050 or earlier.
"Our forthcoming strategies on heat and buildings, hydrogen, transport and comprehensive net zero strategy this year will set out more of the very policies the Climate Change Committee is calling for as we redouble our efforts to end the UK’s contribution to climate change."