Highwire act

C&I Issue 7 8, 2022

Read time: 3 mins

Neil Eisberg | Editor

We are now halfway to COP27 and three years after the UK set its Net Zero target. Meanwhile the UK, along with the rest of Europe, is facing a winter of extraordinary fuel bills as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on the world energy markets. So where does the UK currently stand?

 The UK is one of the few countries with emissions targets in line with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. It recently recommitted to Net Zero, but a new progress report by the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) finds major failures in delivery of the UK’s climate goals.

CCC is a statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 to advise the UK government on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for, and adapting to, climate change. In 2021, the CCC applauded the Government for setting ambitious targets and its Net Zero Strategy. Policies are now in place for most sectors of the economy, but the CCC’s recent review finds scant evidence of delivery against these goals. There are some bright spots, but in most areas the likelihood of under-delivery is high.

The CCC describes this as a ‘highwire approach’ to Net Zero.

CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, said: ‘The UK is a champion in setting new climate goals, now we must be world-beaters in delivering them. I welcome the Government’s restated commitment to Net Zero, but holes must be plugged in its strategy urgently.’

The CCC warns the current strategy will not deliver Net Zero. It believes credible government plans exist for over a third of the UK’s required emissions reductions to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget in the mid-2030s; ‘with a fair wind the UK will manage another quarter; and over a third cannot be relied on to deliver the necessary emissions reductions’.

Delivery must be actively managed, with plans based on realistic assessment. While some policies may be more successful than expected, not all policies will deliver, says the CCC. These risks cannot be tackled without an even greater reliance on greenhouse gas removal technologies. The UK Government needs to develop contingency plans, such as encouraging reduced consumer demand for high-carbon activities, eg through healthier diets, or curbs to growth in demand for flights.

The CCC notes the Net Zero Strategy contains warm words on the enablers of the transition, but little progress. ‘There is no public engagement strategy three years after the Net Zero target was signed into law; HM Treasury has yet to set out how the full range of costs and benefits of the transition will be shared – it must urgently review its tax strategy to support the Net Zero transition; comprehensive reform of planning legislation to reflect the UK’s international and national commitments to Net Zero is required; and we still await the urgently needed Future Homes Strategy. Bottlenecks, such as skills gaps and planning consents for infrastructure, should be anticipated and tackled early.’

The UK Parliamentary Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee scrutinises the policy, spending and administration of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and its public bodies, including Ofgem, the Financial Reporting Council and the Climate Change Committee. Its Chair, Darren Jones said: ‘The CCC’s report on the Government’s progress to net zero is dire, and if not acted upon, will be catastrophic for the country and the planet. 

‘The report is scathing about the Government’s delivery of its commitments to insulate UK homes, the draughtiest in Europe. Our committee sounded the alarm on the lack of insulation in British homes, and the lack of any coherent strategy to decarbonise heat in homes at the beginning of the year.

‘A failed scheme to incentivise insulation is yet to be replaced and despite seeking an update, we have heard no assurances from the Business Secretary that any new scheme would be announced soon and properly funded. 

‘This report is a warning against complacency and a call to action, and the time to take it is running out.’

Tom Thackray, CBI Decarbonisation Director, said: ‘Delivery must now be the Government’s watchword – both in the short and long-term. Weathering the cost-of-living crisis requires urgent action on energy efficiency to help bring down household bills. Delivering an affordable, resilient and net zero energy network would also help put pounds back in people’s pockets and propel the UK’s net zero journey forward.

‘The Government has put the UK on the right path to Net Zero, but it cannot achieve it alone – business action is essential too. There are huge economic opportunities and businesses are eager to ramp up low-carbon investment.

‘To maintain companies’ confidence to invest, business models must be brought forward for critical green technologies, alongside stripping bureaucracy from the planning system and new energy market regulations brought forward urgently.’

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