The UK Government’s new Net Zero Strategy sets out for the first time how the Government intends to halve UK emissions in little over a decade, and to eliminate them by 2050. It is an achievable, affordable plan that will bring jobs, investment and wider benefits to the UK. It is also a strong example to bring to the COP26 summit of how to follow climate change targets with action.
That’s the apparent conclusion of a new independent assessment of the Net Zero Strategy published on 26 October by the Climate Change Committee (CCC). Chairman, Lord Deben, said:
“The Net Zero Strategy is a genuine step forward. The UK was the first major industrialised nation to set Net Zero into law – now we have policy plans to get us there. As we welcome world leaders to COP26 in Glasgow, that is an important statement.
“Until now, only the Climate Change Committee had offered a path to Net Zero. Now we have the Government’s own plan for meeting the UK’s emissions targets. Ministers have made the big decisions – to decarbonise the power sector by 2035, to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles, to back heat pumps for homes. And they have proposed policies to do it. I applaud their ambition. Now they must deliver these goals and fill in the remaining gaps in funding and implementation. My Committee will hold their feet to the fire, as we are required to under the Climate Change Act. This is the UK’s climate governance working as it should.”
The plans in the Net Zero Strategy bring together announcements from various sectoral decarbonisation strategies from the last year and augment them with new commitments in a range of areas. They are broadly aligned to those set out by the Climate Change Committee in its advice to Government on the Sixth Carbon Budget in December 2020.
- Overall, the Strategy’s ambitions align to the UK’s emissions targets of Net Zero by 2050 and a 78% reduction from 1990 to 2035 (63% relative to 2019).
- At its core is an ambition for a fully decarbonised power sector by 2035, with electrification, supported by low-carbon hydrogen, leading to a phase-out of fossil fuels from surface transport, home heating and much of industry beginning without delay.
- The Government has proposed deployment levels of low-carbon options (e.g. offshore wind, low-carbon hydrogen production, carbon capture, electric cars, heat pumps, energy efficiency, tree planting) across the economy for the next 15 years that are similar to the Committee’s proposals and together would deliver the carbon budgets.
- The Government presents credible proposals for driving delivery and scaling up private investment in almost every area of the economy. These include contract auctions for renewable power, a zero-emission vehicle mandate, an obligation on boiler manufacturers to grow the heat pump market, grants and contracts for carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen use.
- There are also steps forward on the cross-cutting challenges of delivering a Net Zero nation, including strong proposals on innovation and engaging business, on governance, local delivery and on skills.
The Strategy is not the end of the road, however. There are some strategic gaps, as well as uncertainties over how the Government’s ambitions will be delivered in some sectors:
- Plans to tackle emissions from agriculture are still unclear. A credible strategy, led by Defra, and integrated with the challenges for how we use our land and our soil, is needed.
- While the CCC welcomes the Government’s clear backing for a major scale-up of the heat pump market, plans to deliver this across the UK housing stock remain early stage.
- The commitment to remove price distortions that currently favour gas over electricity is a necessary step that cannot be delayed, while quick decisions will be needed following the new consultation for a ‘market-based mechanism’. Currently vague plans must be quickly pinned down for improving home energy efficiency for the 60% of UK households that are owner-occupiers but not in fuel poverty.
- The Strategy makes positive statements that recognise the need for public engagement, but insufficient action is currently proposed. The CCC will provide further advice on this.
- There is less emphasis on reducing demand for high carbon activities than in the CCC’s scenarios. The Government does not include an explicit ambition on diet change, or reductions in the growth of aviation, and policies for managing travel demand have not been developed to match the funding that has been committed. These remain valuable options with major co-benefits and can help manage delivery risks around a techno-centric approach. They must be explored further with a view to early action.
- Strengthened focus on Net Zero across Government does not yet constitute a full ‘Net Zero test’ which the CCC proposed this summer. The risk remains of policy or planning decisions being made that are incompatible with a Net Zero UK and could blow the Net Zero Strategy off course.
- The Treasury Net Zero Review clearly endorsed the case for Net Zero and strengthened understanding of many of the major policy challenges. However, these were not followed through into decisions and it remains unclear how the Treasury will use the tax system to support the transition to Net Zero, or how it will fill the fiscal gap implied by falling fuel duties.
These gaps should now be addressed and the strong proposals in the Net Zero Strategy must move through consultation and policy development into implementation as quickly as possible. The CCC will monitor p