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Head to Head: Porritt vs Peiser on UK Climate Policy

Building Online: Targets vs flexibility – Both sides of the eco debate agree that uncertainty is the main threat to UK plc. But their solutions are very different.

Jonathon Porritt

After Copenhagen, there will be areas the government will be able to put more emphasis on. I’d like to see it bring forward a target for zero-carbon non-domestic buildings, for example. That would send out a strong signal to the industry.

Uncertainty is never useful from a business perspective. The 2016 zero-carbon target was a great thing for volume housebuilders because it gave them a clear signal; they may not have liked it, but they knew what they had to do. We need more signals like that.

For some trades, there are legitimate concerns about whether the targets will saddle the UK’s economy with a competitive disadvantage compared with other countries. This does not apply to construction. If anything, it’s an advantage; if we move forward on this our companies will build up expertise in low-carbon design that can be exported.

We also need a clear summary of the science – there has been a lot of confusion over the past few months and the emails scandal hasn’t helped. We should say this is what we know and this is what we need to do. And we need to say it loud and clear.

Jonathon Porritt is an environmentalist and non-executive director of Willmott Dixon

Benny Peiser

Copenhagen will only produce lofty promises, which nobody can check or confirm. That will put pressure on nations like Britain to revisit their own targets – because it’s quite clear that if other countries don’t follow its lead, [the UK] economy will suffer a loss of competitiveness.

For the construction industry, the implication is a continuation of uncertainty. World leaders may hold the view they have to save the planet but they’re not ready to make any binding actions. That leads to uncertainty and I expect this to go on for many years.

The controversy around Heathrow’s third runway is a classic example of how an industry is affected by uncertainty. This will be replicated on many occasions in the years ahead; big projects will come under the spotlight as the debate about emissions and feasibility grinds on.

I would like to see industry provided with an environment in which it can invest without risk of being punished around the corner.

If you really want to safeguard jobs and revitalise the economy, you have to provide the flexibility that allows big projects to go ahead without continued barriers, obstruction and questioning.

Benny Peiser is director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank headed by Nigel Lawson