Ministers have made very little progress on implementing the UK’s net zero strategy, with “scant evidence” of delivery against high-level targets, the government’s independent climate advisers warned on Wednesday.
In a wide-ranging report, the Climate Change Committee said major policy gaps existed in a range of key areas, including energy efficiency, and that tangible progress on emissions reductions in many sectors were lagging behind the government’s ambitions.
“A thorough review of progress finds scant evidence of delivery against [the] headline goals . . . in most areas the likelihood of under-delivery is high,” the group said.
The yearly stocktake of the UK’s progress on cutting emissions, which was similarly critical in 2021, comes months ahead of November’s COP27 climate summit and at a time of high energy bills, which the CCC said progress on energy efficiency would help ease. The UK hosted the last UN climate summit and holds the COP presidency until November, under cabinet minister Alok Sharma, with a pivotal role in leading global climate discussions.
The report “carries the congratulations for our aims . . . and it also carries a real warning about the risks of delivering those aims”, said CCC chair John Gummer, also known as Lord Deben. “We will only be believed internationally if we show we have a proper programme and we stick by our word.”
UK emissions have almost halved since 1990 but rose 4 per cent in 2021 as the economy rebounded from the coronavirus pandemic.
In its annual stocktake, which was delivered to parliament, the CCC said it had found “major failures in delivery programmes” for achieving net zero by 2050. Although “credible plans” existed for 39 per cent of required emissions reductions, the group said plans relating to a third of the necessary cuts were either “under development without a clear timeline” or needed “further work”. Plans were “completely missing” or “clearly inadequate” for 5 per cent of the necessary reductions, it added.
Plugging some policy gaps — such as reducing energy demand by better insulating buildings — would not only boost progress on decarbonisation but help tackle the spiralling cost of living, the group said.
CCC chief executive Chris Stark branded progress on decarbonising heating and buildings a “stunning fail” and urged quicker action on energy efficiency to push down demand. “We simply haven’t got a government that’s got a handle on the risk of failure yet,” he said.
Because not all net zero policies would deliver as planned, the CCC recommended ministers develop contingency plans. The idea that nascent carbon capture technologies could cover any shortfall was a “particularly risky” strategy because the government’s net zero plan already relies heavily on such technologies, it said.
The government should look to demand-side measures, such as incentivising people to eat less meat, use less energy and fly less frequently, the CCC said, adding that one “low cost, low regret” option would be to encourage a 20 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030.
Ministers have consistently shied away from talking about such measures. But Lord Deben said consumers would feel more comfortable being told they should make a “limited amount of change” than being told nothing and worrying that “in the background some draconian step might be taken”.
Removing green levies from electricity bills and moving the cost of the subsidies on to general public spending could improve energy affordability and incentivise the switch away from fossil fuels, the CCC suggested.
In response, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The UK is forging ahead of most other countries with around 40 per cent of our power now coming from cleaner and cheaper renewables. This is backed up by £6bn of funding to make our homes and buildings more energy efficient.”
“We are leading the world on climate change, helping over 90 per cent of countries set net zero targets during our COP26 presidency — up from 30 per cent two years ago,” it added.
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