Lack of government policies hindering progress to net-zero

Earlier this year, the UK became the first country in the G7 to commit to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, a new report from the Science and Technology Committee suggests that the government is not on track to meet this target, and needs to take urgent action to achieve any progress.

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Image: David Holt

The Committee's recommendations include plans to reduce vehicle emissions through investment in public transport 

Imogen Benson

In June, the UK Government announced its commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, following a UN warning that global temperature rises must be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels to prevent the devastating impacts of climate change. 

This net-zero target is an update of the government’s previous goal, set out in the Climate Change Act of 2008, of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels. 

The Science and Technology Committee, a cross-party select committee set up to scrutinise government decision-making, has heavily criticised the government’s approach to achieving its carbon emissions target, publishing a report today (22 August) that highlights the lack of policies in place to deliver the net-zero goal. 

The report, titled ‘Clean growth: Technologies for meeting the UK’s emissions reduction targets’, raises concerns about shortfalls in the UK’s progress, with the committee identifying 10 key areas in which government policy to achieve net-zero emissions has been delayed, cut back or undermined. These areas of shortfall include the closure of Feed-in Tariffs – a type of financial incentive – for low-carbon power generation and the exclusion of onshore wind and large-scale solar power from the financial support mechanism available to other renewable power technologies.

Furthermore, the committee states, following the cancellation of the zero-carbon homes policy in 2015, the government pledged in 2018 to consult on changes to building regulations, but has still not launched a consultation. 

"The government is continuing to put the profits of housebuilders above the needs of households for warm, affordable-to-heat homes"

The report also highlights that the government’s new White Paper on ‘The future of the energy market’ was due in ‘early’ 2019, but has not yet been published.

With the Committee on Climate Change warning that the UK is not even on track to meet its carbon targets for 2023 to 2032, the Science and Technology Committee’s report makes a series of recommendations for achieving net-zero emissions. For example, the report proposes that the government should urgently develop a clearer strategy for decarbonising heat, and should implement an incentive scheme for energy efficiency home improvements. The report’s recommendations also include a plan for reducing vehicle emissions by promoting public transport, support for onshore wind and solar power and support for local authorities in contributing to carbon reduction.

Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “Throughout our inquiry, it was worrying to hear that although the government may be ambitious when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, it is not putting the policies in place which are needed to achieve those targets.

“If governments across the world fail to act, it will have dire consequences for the environment and generations to come.”

Do recommendations go far enough?

Commenting on the report, Caroline Russell, the Green Party’s transport spokesperson, said: “This report is right in saying that the government is utterly failing to take action to match the carbon reduction targets it has set, not just on transport, but also on home energy efficiency and support for renewables.

“The government is continuing to put the profits of housebuilders above the needs of households for warm, affordable-to-heat homes and the income of its fossil fuel corporate friends above the opportunities for decentralised community-owned energy.”

However, Caroline questioned whether the Committee’s proposals are sufficient, adding: “The committee is right to point out the need to develop a strategy to stimulate a low-emissions transport system, investing in public transport and safe conditions for walking and cycling, but it has failed to reflect the evidence that it heard to plug the gap in reduced vehicle excise duty receipts as people use lower emission vehicles. 

“The need for smart, fair road user charging, based on vehicle emissions, time of day and distance travelled was supported by the National Infrastructure Commission and should have been recommended.

“And it doesn’t even mention workplace parking levies, the policy that has been so effective in Nottingham in reducing car use and raising funds to invest in public transport, and that many other councils are interested in.

“As a London Assembly member, I work with Lib Dem and Labour members who support these measures, and it is disappointing that these steps are not being reflected in those parties’ work nationally.”

The full report from The Science and Technology Committee into ‘Technologies for meeting the UK’s emissions reduction targets’ can be read on the Parliament website.

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