‘Major failures’ in government plans to meet net zero climate goals, says advisory body

“Holes must be plugged in its strategy urgently,” Climate Change Chairman, Lord Deben said

Saphora Smith
Climate Correspondent
Wednesday 29 June 2022 15:35 BST
The Climate Change Committee published an appraisal of the country’s decarbonsation strategy.
The Climate Change Committee published an appraisal of the country’s decarbonsation strategy. (PA Archive)

“Major failures” in the government’s delivery of plans to meet UK climate goals means it will not deliver net zero targets, the Climate Change Committee has warned.

The government has “credible” plans for well under half of the emission reductions needed to meet a crucial stepping stone on the path to net zero, the independent body that advises the government on tackling climate change said.

But in its 600-page assessment published on Wednesday, it found that while 39 per cent of the required emissions cuts are covered by plans that are funded and have timelines in place, the remainder have risks associated with them or are “completely missing” or “clearly inadequate”.

“The UK is a champion in setting new climate goals, now we must be world-beaters in delivering them,” said Climate Change Chairman, Lord Deben. “Holes must be plugged in its strategy urgently.”

The government’s net zero strategy, published in October, sets out its intended pathways for decarbonisation until 2037, by which point the UK should have cut carbon emissions by 78 per cent compared to 1990 levels if it is to achieve net zero.

If delivered in full, the Climate Change Committee estimates that the strategy would outperform the 78 per cent reduction target. But the progress review found “scant evidence” of delivery against the main goals so far.

Plans that are funded and have timelines in place include those for the renewable electricity supply, where emissions have fallen by nearly 70 per cent in the past decade.

Plans that have some risks associated with them - covering around a quarter of the emissions cuts needed - include policies to decarbonise new homes and policies for industrial carbon capture and storage. Those that have “significant risks” - covering around a third of reductions required - include peatland restoration and achieving low-carbon heat in homes, the committee said.

Proposals that are either completely missing or inadequate - covering 5 per cent of the required cuts - were a problem for low-carbon farming practices and energy-efficiency in some homes, the report said. The committee described “a shocking gap” in policy for better insulated homes, pointing to the fact that the government promised significant public spending in 2019 and committed to new policies last year, but neither had yet materialised.

“The view of the committee is that the policy framework is not yet fully in place to drive the large programme of delivery required within this decade,” the committee said in the executive summary of the report. “There is time to complete this, but it is imperative that the government does so in the next year, as implied by the net zero strategy.”

UK emissions are now almost half (47 per cent) their 1990 levels. They rose 4 per cent in 2021 as the economy began to recover from Covid but were still 10 per cent below 2019 levels, according to the body.

The report makes over 300 recommendations for filling out policies over the next year. It says delivery must be actively managed, and that risks cannot be credibly tackled with an even greater reliance on greenhouse gas removal technologies.

Instead, it says the government should develop contingency plans, such as encouraging reduced demand for high-carbon activities such as curbs to growth in demand for flights. Skills gaps and planning consents for infrastructure should be anticipated and tackled early, it added.

Opposition politicians slammed the government in the wake of the report’s findings.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State of Climate Change and Net Zero, said the report was a “devastating indictment of a government that sets targets but has no plan to achieve them”.

“This is not an accident but a product of this government and its skin deep commitment to tackling the climate crisis,” he said.

Green MP Caroline Lucas said the report was “utterly damning”.

“The CCC rightly points to the yawning gap between words and delivery,” she said, referring to the Climate Change Committee.

Climate campiaigners also blasted the government.

Sam Hunter Jones, a senior lawyer at Client Earth, one of three groups to have taken the government to court over its net zero strategy this month, said the committee had “lifted the lid” on the UK government’s promises of climate action to reveal “a net zero strategy that won’t deliver”.

Meanwhille, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said it was clear the UK government is “falling woefully short” on both honouring international climate change commitments and meeting its legally binding carbon targets.

“But it’s not too late to act,” he said. “The lack of investment in home energy efficiency must be urgently addressed.”

A UK Government spokesperson said it was “leading the world on climate change”.

“The UK is forging ahead of most other countries with around 40 per cent of our power now coming from cleaner and cheaper renewables,” the spokesperson said. “The Glasgow Climate Pact has focused the eyes of the world on bolstering action, including getting 190 countries to agree to phasing out coal.”

The spokesperson added that the government had helped 90 per cent of countries set net-zero targets during its Cop-26 presidency.

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