Climate Action

Sir John Armitt CBE on what industries offer the best opportunities for a green recovery

Ahead of the Climate Innovation Virtual Forum 2020 on Wednesday 1 July, we caught up with Sir John Armitt CBE, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission to discuss what industries offer the best opportunities for a green recovery.

  • 25 June 2020
  • Rachel Cooper

Ahead of the Climate Innovation Virtual Forum 2020 on Wednesday 1 July, we caught up with Sir John Armitt CBE, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, to discuss what industries offer the best opportunities for a green recovery.

Q. Why do you think the Green Recovery is essential as we look to BuildBackBetter? 

A. Achieving the UK’s net zero ambitions by 2050 means taking tough decisions now about decarbonising how we power and heat homes and businesses in the UK and the country’s transport network.

Short term green policy measures taken as part of any economic recovery – such as energy efficiency retrofitting measures, or boosting the numbers of rapid charging points to encourage drivers to make the switch from petrol and diesel to electric power –will help stimulate the economy and boost the momentum towards a low-carbon economy.

But these must be matched by decisions on longer term challenges.

For example, encouraging investment in low carbon energy through an expanded Contracts for Difference pipeline, or accelerating trails of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage technology to decarbonise heating networks, or building up the UK’s resilience to the impacts of flooding as a result of climate change.

A well planned strategy for short and long term infrastructure delivery and investment would also reinforce broader steps to level up the economy.

Q. What industries/technologies/projects offer the best opportunities to create clean jobs whilst keeping us on a pathway to net-zero? 

A. We know 22 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the supply of heating and hot water to homes and businesses.

But as well as decarbonising heat it is vital that we also take concurrent steps to improvethe energy efficiency of the building stock. This offers real potential for new jobs in the construction sector and opportunities to retrain workers in these, in relatively short order.

We also need to ensure the UK is in a position to make informed decisions about the future of the heat network – what replaces natural gas? Government should be ready to trial hydrogen-powered heating at community scale within the next two years to help build our evidence base for both hydrogen and heat pumps as options, if we are realistically going to hit net zero by 2050 or sooner.

Hydrogen also has potential as a fuel for electricity generation; it’s storable and flexible so it could complement low cost renewables, providing low carbon power when it’s not windy or sunny. But you need CCS to make low carbon hydrogen in the first place. In both cases, clear and decisive action should encourage investment in all manner of jobs and boost the UK’s status as a leading provider of green power technologies.

Q. Where should public and private sector investment shift towards to ensure we grow low-carbon industries and avoid future lock-ins?  

A. In my letter to the Chancellor in May about routes back to recovery, I emphasised that in addition to short-term measures, government must not to lose sight of the long term.

Government has a critical role to play in instilling confidence among investors, businesses and consumers which is necessary for any recovery.

Confidence can be won, and crucially private investment can be unlocked, by government setting out a long-term infrastructure strategy and continuing with front-end planning for longer-term schemes – even if any construction work may be some years away.

While significant public investment will be necessary, private capital is critical to infrastructure in many sectors. Clear guidance on the direction of policy and regulation, supported appropriately with public money for R&D and pilot projects, will stimulate private infrastructure investment.

For instance, building a strong pipeline of Contract for Difference auctions – to bring forward offshore, onshore and solar power generating capacity – is one example of this. A domestic replacement for the European Investment Bank, with an explicit focus on infrastructure, could also play a major financing role and crowd-in private capital.


Sir John Armitt CBE will be speaking at the Climate Innovation Virtual Forum 2020 on Wednesday 1 July to discuss how the UK can use the net-zero emission target as a pathway for economic recovery post pandemic. Hear from him and other industry leading experts by registering for free today.