Over the last couple of years, Ofwat, Ofgem and Defra have all been thinking hard about how to make decisions now which are faithful to the various potential pathways to the long term ends of net zero, climate adaptation, and biodiversity. As we have argued elsewhere, a Beis strategic policy statement to Ofgem would be a logical companion.

One element of a Just Transition is that the approach taken should be “fair” between current and future generations. To help us think about what this means in practice, Sustainability First commissioned Frontier Economics on a pro bono basis to provide a framework for analysing the issue of intergenerational equity; an issue that our previous work had indicated further research was needed in. The report, published today, provides a comprehensive review of the issue.

White noise… (mmmmmmmm)
Is it a machine working or someone humming? I zoom out of whatever I was thinking, and I realise a long time has passed.

In March last year I started a residency with Sustainability First at UK Power Networks. By then I wouldn't guess what was about to happen to the World. I still can't. During this period I have spent most of my time in the middle of electronic waste, sculptural materials, paint, canvases, and in white noise. This noise represents energy, something that is ‘ON’ and working.

The current lobbying scandal is shining a light on the interaction between business, politicians and the civil service. When the behaviour of public office holders fails to meet the high standards required, and individual interests are put before the public good, public trust in institutions and systems suffers. All sides can be tarnished and the social contract between citizens and rule makers can be eroded. A ‘one rule for us and another for them’ approach seldom ends well and does not create a healthy environment for individuals, and good businesses, to thrive. 

There is a growing recognition that a focus on corporate purpose can align government, company, investor and other stakeholder interests around long-term goals such as net zero and help ensure that these are delivered in a fair way.  On 30th March Sustainability First hosted its ‘Fairness in utilities’ conference to explore this issue and what the purpose agenda means for both companies and government in sectors such as energy, water and communications.

Hosting COP26 is creating a strong focus on climate issues at home.  What does making the most of this opportunity look like?  Technological change is vital for UK delivery of net zero.  But if our national action on climate doesn’t also deliver a socially ‘just’ transition, its success risks being undermined at home, and abroad.  The Energy White Paper has recognised this, highlighting the importance of fairness and affordability in energy policy.  But why is this important and what can be done to turn rhetoric into reality?

The extent to which short term shareholder returns should be the main focus of corporate strategy has been questioned increasingly over the past few years. Even mainstream players such as Larry Fink – chair of Blackrock, the major investment fund – now accept that a wider focus on purpose, and specifically on Environment, Social and Governance factors, is a long-term driver of shareholder value. Nowhere is this truer than in public utilities. These sectors deliver ‘essentials of life’: water, energy and digital access. They are core to answering the long-term challenges of net zero, climate resilience and protecting nature.

2020 ended in a blizzard of policy. There’s a lot to be stimulated by and optimistic about. Amongst the detailed research on cost of capital, on routes to net zero, on infrastructure and through innovation there’s room for people too. The Energy White Paper, the Committee on Climate Change, Ofgem’s RIIO-2 settlement and the Ten Point Plan all envisage a radically different energy sector. And quickly.