There is not enough clarity over how the UK will meet its net zero target or what it hopes to achieve from the upcoming UN climate conference in Glasgow, MPs have warned.
A report from the Public Accounts Committee said that the government still has “no plan” for how it will achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, despite it being almost two years since the target was set in law.
Meanwhile, a second report from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee said that ministers also needed to be much clearer about its goals for Cop26, a crucial round of climate talks that will be held in November.
Darren Jones, a Labour politician who is chair of the BEIS committee, told The Independent: “We’re concerned that the strategy for Cop26 isn’t focused enough.
“The overriding objective needs to be getting as many countries in the world as possible committed and able to put forward [climate plans] that are sufficient to meet the scale of the target that was agreed upon in Paris five years ago.”
The call for clarity comes after a UN report released last week found that the new climate plans proposed by countries by the end of last year would cause emissions to fall by just 1 per cent by 2030, when compared with levels in 2010.
As hosts of Cop26, it is the UK’s job to ensure that all countries significantly raise their ambitions on the climate crisis at a crucial time for cutting global emissions, said Mr Jones.
“There’s some concern about the amount of resources that the government has given to the Cop26 unit,” he said, adding that the UK should have “diplomats engaging in every country in the world to make the case [for cutting emissions] in a very clear and focused way”.
He said that the findings of the Public Accounts Committee raised “very significant concerns”.
“If the prime minister is telling countries around the world that they’ve got to have net-zero plans, and we’re not really sure that we have one ourselves, it’s a little bit embarrassing,” he said.
In its new report, the Public Accounts Committee said the government “[lacked] a plan for how it will achieve net zero”.
“At present, there is no coordinated plan with clear milestones towards achieving the target, making it difficult for Parliament and the general public to understand or scrutinise how the country is doing in its efforts to achieve net zero emissions,” the report said.
The committee urged the government to set out its overarching net-zero strategy by September, including specific plans for key sectors.
In December, the UK’s independent climate advisers set out a detailed roadmap that the country could take to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The path to net zero will involve big changes to British life, from the types of cars we drive to the kinds of foods we grow and eat, according to the report.
The committee warned that the government currently was not doing enough to engage with the public about the scale of change required.
“[The] government has not yet properly engaged with the public on the substantial behaviour changes that achieving net zero will require,” the report said.
“Local authorities will also play a major role in the move to net zero, and government will need to engage more with local authorities about how they can contribute, including ensuring they will have the necessary resources.”
Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee and former shadow secretary for energy and climate change, said: “Government has set itself a huge test in committing the UK to a net-zero economy by 2050 – but there is little sign that it understands how to get there and almost two years later it still has no plan.
“Our response to climate change must be as joined up and integrated as the ecosystems we are trying to protect.
“Cop26 is a few months away; the eyes of the world ... are on the UK – big promises full of fine words won’t stand up.”
In response to the MPs’ findings, Richard Black, senior associate at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a non-profit based in London, said: “These reports will make uncomfortable reading for a prime minister proclaiming climate leadership – one saying he doesn’t have a plan at home, the other that he doesn’t have a vision internationally.
“Coming on the back of a Budget that didn’t even try to get the Conservatives on track to their net-zero target, the conclusion that they don’t have a plan for reaching it, just months before the UK hosts a major UN climate summit for the first time, should stimulate some serious thinking right across Whitehall.”
A government spokesperson described the findings of the Public Accounts Committee as “nonsense”.
“We have been leading the world in tackling climate change, cutting emissions by almost 44 per cent since 1990 and doing so faster than any other developed nation in recent years,” the spokesperson said.
“Only this week in the Budget we built on the prime minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution by encouraging private investment in green growth, and we are bringing forward bold proposals to cut emissions and create new jobs and industries across the whole country.”
Meanwhile, in response to the findings of the BEIS Committee, a Cop26 spokesperson said: “Cop26 will define the next decade of tackling climate change, with a clear but urgent call to action for all world leaders.
“They must show how they will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 with ambitious 2030 targets to get us there. This is critical if we want to keep warming within 1.5C.
“We are making good progress as we build momentum towards Cop26 and there is no time to waste. The Cop26 president, Alok Sharma, our teams, and the full weight of our diplomatic network are all working tirelessly to push for accelerated action from our partners around the world.”
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