All cars must be ‘zero-emissions capable’ by 2035, government announces in long-delayed net zero strategy

Boris Johnson promises ‘guilt-free’ flying and electric cars ‘gliding silently around cities’

Adam Forrest,Ashley Cowburn
Tuesday 19 October 2021 15:17
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Climate Change: COP26 might change our world

Boris Johnson’s government has said it will require all vehicles in the UK to be “zero-emissions capable” by 2035, as ministers set out the plan for achieving their 2050 net zero target.

The long-awaited Net Zero Strategy document published on Tuesday has detailed the government’s plan for Britain to be entirely powered entirely by clean electricity by 2035.

The government also promised to make a final investment decision on the building of a new, large-scale nuclear power plant by the end of the current parliament.

But opposition parties and campaigners said the plan was a “massive letdown” which failed to meet the scale of the crisis – accusing the government of coming up with only “half-hearted” policies.

“This document is more like a pick and mix than the substantial meal we need to reach net zero,” said Greenpeace UK’s Rebecca Newsom – pointing to “the lack of concrete plans to deliver renewables at scale … or a firm commitment to end new oil and gas licences”.

The prime minister claimed his strategy for achieving net zero emissions by 2050 could be achieved without sacrifice, claiming: “We can build back greener without so much as a hair shirt in sight.”

Johnson said that by 2050 “our cars will be electric gliding silently around our cities, our planes will be zero emission allowing us to fly guilt-free, and our homes will be heated by cheap reliable power”.

The government promised a “a zero-emission vehicle mandate” and committed £620m for zero-emission vehicle grants and more infrastructure for electric vehicles in residential areas.

The strategy states: “This will deliver on our 2030 commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, and 2035 commitment that all cars must be fully zero emissions capable.”

Ministers pledged to set firm targets for a percentage of manufacturers’ new vehicles to be zero emission each year from 2024.

The government also promised to “fully decarbonise” the UK’s power system by 2035, with a pledge to finalise investment in a new nuclear plant and deliver four carbon capture usage and storage clusters by 2030.

Ministers will also launch a £120m pound “future nuclear enabling fund” aimed at boosting new technologies, including small modular reactors.

Mr Johnson’s government said its aim is to achieve 40GW of offshore wind and deliver 5GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2030, whilst halving emissions from oil and gas.

Business minister Greg Hands said the strategy showed the government’s commitment to take “decisive action” to reach the target ahead of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hands said the push towards to cleaner sources of energy will help reduce Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels and “bring down costs down the line” for consumers.

But Labour said the plan “falls short” of action need to deal with the climate crisis. Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, said: “While there is modest short-term investment, there’s nothing like the commitment we believe is required.”

Under Heat and Building Strategy plans released overnight, some people will be able to £5,000 grants to replace their boilers with green heat pumps. But just 90,000 of the UK’s 22 million gas-heated households will benefit in a plan branded “inadequate” by environmentalists.

Labour accused chancellor Rishi Sunak of thwarting the kind of government spending needed to meet the scale of the climate emergency. “The chancellor’s fingerprints are all over these documents and not in a good way,” said Mr Miliband.

Called for a “proper” plan to retrofit home, Miliband said “there is not even a replacement for the ill-fated green home grant for homeowners” in the government’s plan. The senior Labour MP asked: “Where the long-term retrofit plan is?”

The government said it is considering ways to require mortgage lenders to disclose details about the energy performance of homes – leading to fears that first-time buyers could find it harder to get on the ladder without committing to upgrades.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the net zero strategy ignored the “elephant in the room” by failing to include any measures to stop investment in fossil fuel industries through the City of London.

The TUC condemned the strategy as a “huge let down, claiming it left a “yawning gap” in the investment needed to help British industry reach net zero.

The union’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government has failed to implement many of the main recommendations of its own green jobs taskforce - just two weeks before it hosts the UN climate change conference.”

Prof Jim Watson, professor of energy policy at the UCL Institute of Sustainable Resources, said the government’s strategy document was a “step in the right direction” – but predicted more commitments would be needed.

“It isn’t enough, of course. Funding for low carbon heating is modest, and there is too little focus on how buildings will be made more efficient, for example,” he said. “So it will need to be followed up by a ratcheting up of ambitions in the coming months and years.”

The Climate Change Committee (CCC), the independent body advising the government, said the net zero strategy amounted to a “significant step forward”.

Chris Stark, the CCC’s chief executive: “We didn’t have a plan before, now we do … It provides much more clarity about what lies ahead for businesses and individuals and the key actions required in the coming decades.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Johnson announced nearly £10bn pounds of private investment commitments in green projects at a summit in London.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) claimed new regulations and investment plans committed by the private sector would support up to 440,000 new jobs by 2030.

The Treasury said new taxes will probably be needed to compensate for the loss of revenues from its shift away from fossil fuels which will hit the government’s income that is currently raised by fuel duty.

The government “may need to consider changes to existing taxes and new sources of revenue” rather than relying on increased borrowing, said the Treasury’s net zero review.

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