The Prime Minister’s £12bn plan is valuable in setting the tone, but even greater ambition and detail is needed ahead of COP26, argues the REA’s Dr Nina Skorupska
Last month the starting gun was fired on what will be an intense 12 months of domestic policy and international negotiations leading up to the UNFCC COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow.
The government’s Ten Point Plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ was the first of many significant policy announcements for the weeks and months ahead. As a sign of the direction of travel, the Plan has much to commend it – but the detail will be paramount. Whilst it is understandable that the plan does not contain all of this, the REA will be holding the government to account on behalf of the renewables and clean technology industry to ensure that it can meet its own ambitions.
First of all, we have campaigned for the phase out of petrol and diesel cars by an ambitious date, and to have that milestone confirmed is hugely positive. However, realising this will require addressing a number of clear policy gaps, not least how the £1.4bn funding for electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure will be deployed.
Furthermore, electric vehicles on their own will not decarbonise transport sufficiently to reach net zero. We all know the combustion engine will continue to live on beyond 2030 (albeit in decline). Less than eight per cent of new cars bought today are EVs, and the other 92 per cent are likely to continue clocking up miles on UK roads for years to come. Moreover, in heavy transportation battery use is not currently practical. As such, the government must take clear steps to ensure the fuel in combustion engines is cleaner, which is why policies like quickly rolling out E10 (a 10 per cent blend of renewable bioethanol in petrol) and looking at even higher bioethanol blends moving forward can make a significant dent in emissions.
Indeed, a combination of biofuels and hydrogen will be important in the decarbonisation of maritime and aviation, another welcome point in the plan, and something I also see a focus for in my role as a member of the Jet Zero Council.
This hydrogen is best produced via electrolysis using renewable electricity, including from, oft-cited, offshore wind farms. The government’s offshore wind ambitions are laudable – but it is essential that other forms of renewable generation are not left behind. We need a fully flexible, decentralised grid network in order to most efficiently reach net zero and ensure a system which can react nimbly to changing patterns of weather and demand.
This resilient, decentralised system can include solar and storage at a domestic level, and in that respect the extension of the Green Homes Grant (GHG), also announced in the plan, is a missed opportunity. The REA is asking for energy storage to be included as eligible in the GHG and will continue to campaign for this given the enormous potential benefits for householders, businesses and the wider energy system, as well as the clear synergy with other steps in the plan such as the rollout of EVs.
Furthermore, whilst the Green Homes Grant is important in decarbonising heat, the government should also be exploring a more effective taxation system that incentivises the use of renewable heating systems and fuels, while penalising the dirtiest fuels by gradual increases in duties. We also need to see a further extension to the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, so that home-grown technologies like deep geothermal, not oft referred to, have the opportunity to reach their potential as scalable clean heating solutions.
The Ten Point Plan has shown us that the government has a vision for a greener future. However, there remains a lot to be done to deliver this, as well as plenty of glaring gaps – and the £12bn funding should be considered just a down payment to meet the scale of the challenge.
This announcement, though, is just the start. Last week saw the Chancellor’s Spending Review and National Infrastructure Strategy published, with the Heat in Buildings Strategy and Energy White Paper expected shortly. Next week will also see the publication by the Climate Change Committee of the UK’s sixth carbon budget, and the UK will host a crucial climate ambition summit ahead of COP26.
This is a critical year for our planet, and for the UK companies seeking to deliver a sustainable future. The Ten Point Plan is valuable in setting the tone, but even greater ambition and detail will be needed over the weeks and months to come.
Dr Nina Skorupska is chief executive of the REA
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