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Better transparency is no substitute for real delivery

Following last year’s High Court ruling, the UK Government has published the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP), providing much greater transparency on its Net Zero plans. However, despite over 3,000 pages of new detail, the Climate Change Committee’s confidence in the UK meeting its goals from 2030 onwards is now markedly less than it was in our previous assessment a year ago. A key opportunity to push a faster pace of progress has been missed.

UK greenhouse gas emissions have so far fallen 46% from 1990 levels. At COP26, a stretching 2030 commitment was made to reduce them by 68%. In only seven years, the recent rate of annual emissions reduction outside the electricity supply sector must therefore quadruple.

Time is now very short to achieve this change of pace. Glimmers of the Net Zero transition can be seen in growing sales of new electric cars and the continued deployment of renewable capacity, but the scale up of action overall is worryingly slow. The Government continues to place their reliance on technological solutions that have not been deployed at scale, in preference to more straightforward encouragement of people to reduce high-carbon activities. The Committee has again flagged the risks of a policy programme that amongst other things is too slow to plant trees and roll-out heat pumps.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Climate Change Committee, said:

“The lesson of my ten years at the Climate Change Committee is that early action benefits the people of this country and helps us to meet the challenges of the coming decades more cheaply and more easily. Yet, even in these times of extraordinary fossil fuel prices, Government has been too slow to embrace cleaner, cheaper alternatives and too keen to support new production of coal, oil and gas. There is a worrying hesitancy by Ministers to lead the country to the next stage of Net Zero commitments.

“I urge the Government to regroup on Net Zero and commit to bolder delivery. This is a period when pace must be prioritised over perfection.”

Net Zero must return to top billing

In a crucial period for delivering progress, key departments did not deliver on recommendations made by the Committee last year. The remit of the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has brought welcome focus to the programme, but progress has not been made on seven of the priority recommendations to BEIS in last year’s progress report (see notes to editors). Defra and DLUHC failed to achieve any of the priority recommendations made by the Committee in 2022.

  • The UK has sent confusing signals on its climate priorities to the global community. Support for new oil and gas, beyond the immediate increase in gas production demanded by the Ukraine invasion, and the decision to consent a new coal mine in Cumbria have raised global attention and undermined the careful language negotiated by the UK COP26 Presidency in the Glasgow Climate Pact.
  • Support is lacking for decarbonised industry in a new era of global competition. Government has high ambitions for decarbonised steel production but has no clear policy to deliver it. Wider incentives are still needed for electrification of industry. The recent announcement of up to £20 billion funding for carbon capture and storage is welcome, but detail and implementation of these spending plans is still to come.
  • Rapid reform to planning is necessary. In a range of areas, the deployment of essential upgrades to the electricity grid and other Net Zero infrastructure is being stymied by restrictive planning rules. The planning system should have an overarching requirement to ensure planning decisions give full regard to Net Zero.
  • Changing use of land takes time. Essential reforms have progressed, through the new Environmental Land Management policy, but Defra must step up rates of tree planting and peatland restoration and introduce a new framework for land use change.
  • The Government does not expect to make a strategic decision on the role of hydrogen in heating until 2026. It must overcome this uncertainty by accelerating deployment of electric heating and pressing ahead with low-regret energy infrastructure decisions.
  • The list of UK airports proposing to expand capacity continues to grow, counter to the Committee’s advice that there should be no net airport expansion across the UK. A UK-wide capacity management framework is needed to manage these decisions. No airport expansions should proceed until this is in place.
Real word indicators of progress

Last year the Committee introduced a new indicator framework, focused on real-world changes. It shows that progress is off-track in a number of areas:

  • Surface transport. Sales of new electric cars continue to grow ahead of our pathway, but electric van sales are still lagging and remain significantly off track.
  • Electricity supply. Renewable electricity capacity increased in 2022, but not at the rate required to meet the Government’s stretching targets, particularly for solar. An opportunity was missed for even more rapid deployment of onshore wind and solar, which could have grown the UK’s clean energy supply and helped to further reduce the UK’s dependence on imported fossil gas.
  • Buildings. The Government proposes to scale-up the market for heat pump installations to 600,000 by 2028, but current rates are around one-ninth of this. Installation rates of energy efficiency measures fell further in 2022.
  • Rebalancing electricity prices vs gas. As part of a major package of consumer energy support, the Treasury has removed policy costs from electricity bills, moving electricity prices closer to gas prices. This will aid the consumer incentives to adopt electrified technologies and should be made permanent.
  • Land use. Rates of tree-planting must double by 2025 to reach the Government’s target of 30,000 hectares per year of woodland creation. Peatland restoration rates increased slightly in 2022 but remain a factor of five lower than the Committee’s recommended rates.
  • Agriculture. Ruminant livestock numbers, a key determinant of agriculture emissions, have declined slowly in number. Reported meat consumption has also fallen, but data on meat availability shows a less clear picture; further policy intervention to shift towards healthier low-carbon diets is likely to be required.
  • Industry. Industrial emissions are the third highest among the sectors. Measuring progress suffers from enduring poor availability of data, but it is off track for most available indicators. There is still no clear plan to support industrial electrification and little evidence that industry is preparing to electrify at scale.
Notes to editors
  1. The seven priority recommendations made to BEIS last year, on which no progress has been made.
    • Develop and publish new policies (with a clear implementation timeline) to ensure that owner-occupied homes reach a minimum energy performance of EPC C by 2035.
    • Develop and begin to implement contingency plans to address the range of risks to meeting carbon budgets. These should broaden the set of emissions reductions pursued, in particular by including demand-side policies, and avoid increasing reliance on engineered removals.
    • Publish a comprehensive long-term strategy for electricity decarbonisation, including the roles for low-carbon flexibility options.
    • Develop minimum emissions-intensity standards for domestic oil and gas production by the next licensing round.
    • Consult on a funding mechanism(s) to support the additional operational and capital costs of electrification in manufacturing, enabling electrification to compete on a level playing field with other means of decarbonisation.
    • Review, invest in, and initiate reform of industrial decarbonisation data collection and annual reporting to enable effective monitoring and evaluation, and policy implementation.
    • In line with the Glasgow Climate Pact commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, undertake a review of the role of tax policy in delivering Net Zero.