New Blog: Fight for net zero goes on, despite crisis

Writing for Utility Week CEO Lawrence Slade says even in these difficult times, utilities must continue to focus on the need to reduce emissions and the shift to a zero-carbon economy.

Our lives have changed completely in the space of just a few short weeks. Perhaps, in terms of how we work and manage our lives, things will never quite go back to normal, with more flexible working across thousands of roles and companies becoming the norm.

Uniquely, everyone in the country is affected. This will bring many challenges, not least to the National Health Service, whose staff deserve our heartfelt thanks for their amazing efforts, but also to those working to ensure the essential infrastructure that we all rely on, including electricity, gas, water, broadband and tele­coms networks, remains operational over this difficult period. The robustness of our utilities is something that, as a sector, we should be proud of.

But while it is understandably difficult to look beyond the next few weeks, we must. The underlying issues we faced before the Covid-19 crisis remain. For many reasons it is a blessing that we are emerging from winter, with the warmer weather able to bring respite on a number of fronts.

While this is welcome, many of our properties are still poorly insulated and thousands of families are living without modern levels of comfort. Furthermore, reduced incomes and sudden bill shocks as a result of economic volatility will not help, making it certain that many families will need further short-term help to manage debt in the coming months, as well as long-term solutions such as the provision of energy efficiency. Linked to this, of course, is the need to reduce our emissions and the longer-term move to a zero-carbon economy. The urgency to act is still there.

To meet the challenge of climate change, we know that many billions of pounds need to be invested in our infrastructure over the coming decades. Unfortunately, time is not on our side.

The chancellor’s moves to support the economy will provide vital respite for many businesses and families and will need to continue for some time. But, as has happened at other times of national emergency, it is important that we also look ahead to the future. We need to look at how we will get our economy moving again and how we invest in our communities to ensure value is created for all stakeholders.

Before the crisis hit, 2020 was, as the National Infrastructure Commission said, shaping up to be a year of decisive action. Reports suggested that the budget would give long-awaited clarity on infrastructure investment, building on the announcements in November that laid out how much money was to be invested in our infrastructure and how that could be split between the private and public sectors.

This was to be seen as a new start, with investment expected to be made in infrastructure projects across the UK – part of the process of “levelling up” our society away from an historical focus on investment in the South.

Moves to allow onshore wind and solar projects to bid in the contracts for difference auctions were welcome, likewise the move to speed up the roll-out of fibre-optic cabling for better broadband connectivity, but we need to keep the momentum going.

Addressing climate change, making the investment in new – and upgrading existing – infrastructure and delivering a clean, carbon-free economy is something that future generations will thank us for. When we surface from the current crisis, we have the opportunity to reset society’s relationship with the built environment and pull the country together.

Combining government funding with that available from the private sector will allow us to achieve much more, much faster. Utility projects do not happen overnight; rather they take years of planning and building before delivery. As a country, whether it is across our energy, water or telecoms networks, we need to plan and to act to ensure that the right long-term strategy is in place.

A strategic dialogue between government, devolved administrations and the private sector will ensure that private capital is deployed where it is most needed to aid economic recovery. To be absolutely clear, the government’s immediate priority must be to respond to the health crisis by ensuring our hospitals and hard-working staff are provided the necessary equipment needed to save lives.

But at the same time, working together we can begin the important job of delivering the infrastructure needed to propel the country’s economy.

Private investors stand ready with capital to deploy to support these public sector-led initiatives, as well as offering unrivalled expertise in project management and delivery.

 

Infrastructure investors and advisors gather for GIIA Annual Seminar

The 3rd GIIA Annual Seminar, sponsored by Ashurst, KPMG and Marsh, was held on Tuesday 18th February in London and focused on the emerging opportunities and risks for infrastructure investors in the UK and Europe under the theme ‘The Fog is Lifting.’

Simon Jack, the BBC News Business Editor, launched the afternoon seminar with his keynote address which touched on broad themes including Brexit, net zero carbon targets and the need for big business to improve its image. Highlighting the lingering uncertainty over Brexit, he predicted that fog would not truly lift until the end of the UK transition period at the end of 2020 – and a potential ‘Australian style’ no-deal Brexit.

Following on, James Stewart, Global Head of Infrastructure Practice at KPMG, chaired a panel on the topic of ‘Opportunities for infrastructure investors post-Brexit.’ Joining him on the panel were Ed Clarke, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Infracapital, Steven Pugh, Principal, Hermes, and Simon Jack, Editor, BBC Business. In a wide ranging discussion, the panel considered how underlying public discontent with aspects of the infrastructure sector, the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit and more aggressive regulation in the utility sector had combined to create a less attractive investment environment in the UK in recent years. The panel agreed that whilst the threat of nationalisation had receded in the short term, there remained an important task for the sector to earn its social licence to operate.

Blair Chalmers, Director at Marsh & McLennan Advantage Insights, then took to the stage to launch a new interactive online tool for infrastructure investors, developed in association with GIIA, which outlines the complex landscape of interconnected global risks facing the infrastructure sector. He also outlined how shareholder expectations are changing in response to the climate challenge and how investors need to develop profit-sustainability synergies.

Kay Swinburne, former MEP and current Vice Chair of Financial Services at KPMG, moderated an all-female panel titled ‘Unpacking the EU Green Deal: What does it mean for infrastructure investors.’ The panel, comprised of Anna-Marie Slot, Global Sustainability Partner, Ashurst; Anna Davreux, Senior Vice President of Financial Services at FleishmanHillard, and Elena Giannakopoulou, Vice President of Strategy & Partnerships at John Laing Group, discussed the politics driving the EU Green Deal and how those policies could be influenced by investors through increased engagement and consultations.

The seminar concluded with a fireside chat between Jonathan Oxley, the CEO of UK Regulators Network, and Michael Burns, a Partner at Ashurst. In an intriguing discussion, Oxley discussed the importance of independent regulation, and the need to the rebuild trust between the regulators, investors and the customer. The discussion focussed on the need to make the UK an attractive place to invest but also the need for asset owners to meet society’s requirements on responsible stewardship.

Government engagement in UK and Brussels

With the recently re-elected Boris Johnson Government in the UK and the new Commission in Europe both looking to address the delivery of infrastructure early in their respective terms, it has been a busy start to 2020 for GIIA.

Ahead of the March Budget, GIIA has written to Chancellor Sajid Javid welcoming his promise of an ‘infrastructure revolution’ as well as the Government’s acknowledgement of the vital role private capital will play in delivering the country’s £600bn infrastructure pipeline to 2050.  We have called for enhanced dialogue with the private sector over the funding models envisaged to achieve the UK’s infrastructure aspirations, not least in relation to the Net Zero commitments which promises to have profound impacts on the wider economy.

January also saw GIIA in Brussels to meet with senior representatives from the European Commission including from President von der Leyen’s Cabinet, where coordination of the EU Green Deal will take place, and Commissioner Gentolini’s Cabinet which has responsibility for the InvestEU programme and the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan. GIIA intends to play a prominent role in facilitating discussions on the delivery mechanisms for the recently announced  EU Green Deal and in particular the opportunities available to private investors. We look forward to discussing these and other opportunities with member companies at our annual seminar in February.

As always, members who wish to share their views and participate in any of GIIA’s workstreams are encouraged to get in touch.

GIIA responds to NIC’s call for evidence

GIIA, has responded on behalf of members to the National Infrastructure Commission’s Call for Evidence for their review, called The Future of Regulation Study.

The submission was a result of extensive consultations with GIIA members who collectively own and operate more than $660bn of infrastructure assets globally, with the largest single country allocation being the UK.

Director of Policy and Research Piers Thompson said:

“Economic regulation of water, energy and telecoms in the UK has facilitated the investment that has delivered world class infrastructure with improved outcomes for consumers, at low cost.”

“These sectors can continue to attract investment and deliver positive outcomes for consumers and the environment if objectivity, transparency and predictability continue to be core to the regulatory model.”

Read GIIA’s full submission here

GIIA is grateful to Allen & Overy for their assistance with this important submission on behalf of the sector.