Science, policy and a green recovery: economics and energy transitions

26 October 2020


Reported by Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Coordinator

In the third episode of our podcast series exploring science, policy, and a green recovery, CSaP Executive Director Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by Cambridge University's Professor Michael Pollitt to discuss economics and energy transitions in the context of the economic shock created by the covid-19 pandemic.

You can listen to the episode here:

Kicking off his discussion with Dr Doubleday, Professor Pollitt emphasized the differences between the immediate, short-term, sharp shock to the economy posed by covid-19 and the long-term decarbonisation policy objectives leading up to 2050. He suggests that from the point of view of the chancellor, immediate recovery from the covid-19 pandemic may focus on getting millions of people back to work quickly through policies which targeting, for example, the hospitality sector, and other sectors where it is possible to create jobs cheaply and quickly. Professor Pollitt also noted that covid-19 has created an opportunity for governments to choose which sectors of their economies to stimulate, and that sectors such as the airline sector might not be the first obvious priority for support, as the industry does not score well on jobs creation, or on climate impact.

While this period presents an opportunity to make strategic choices around the recovery of industries which could in the longer term support a transition to a sustainable economy, Professor Pollitt has noted that one of the biggest challenges is that decarbonisation investments such as offshore wind are capital intensive, but are not particularly job creating. Moreover, many of the jobs which can be created through these capital investments will benefit other countries, rather than the UK's service-economy. He suggests that it is "wishful thinking" that the UK will be able to change its international position in the higher-tech manufacturing industry during this transition. However, in the long run, a green economy's increased focus on spending in the service sector, as opposed to through the purchase of manufactured goods, may benefit the UK.

Throughout the discussion, Professor Pollitt also addressed arguments for renationalising the electricity grid, strategic choices facing the government, fuel duties for the airline industry, the decarbonisation of transport, and the role of fuels such as hydrogen in the future of duty transport. He closed by suggesting that the number one thing policymakers can do to support the transition to a green economy is to price carbon across the whole economy, putting in place an emissions trading scheme which locks the economy into a net zero target, noting "if you put a carbon market into place, everything else should fall in behind it."

CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on Science, Policy and a Green Recovery is available across all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, and Castbox.