Government accused of delivering underpowered green recovery plan that only delivers half of CO2 cuts required over coming decade
The government has been accused of coming up short with its much-vaunted green recovery plan, as further details on its £12bn low carbon investment package were released yesterday that suggested the new measures would only deliver around half of the CO2 cuts required to hit UK climate targets over the coming decade.
The 10-Point Plan unveiled by the Prime Minister late on Tuesday provided funding announcements and policy signals across a range of areas, including hydrogen, CCS, nuclear, offshore wind, and electric vehicles. The plans were broadly welcomed by green business groups and campaigners who hailed it as a positive step forward for the UK’s net zero transition that would mobilise billions of pounds of investment and create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the coming decade.
However, concerns remain that the policies and funding announced by the government this week remain underpowered when set against the rate of decarbonisation required over the coming decade to put the UK on a pathway that is compliant with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C goal and the UK’s target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Political opponents were swift to condemn the plan as inadequate, comparing the government’s £12bn funding package, only around £4bn of which is new, with the €40bn green recovery package announced by the German government this summer.
Concerns about the scale of the emissions savings the government expects to deliver over the next decade were stoked further yesterday afternoon when the government published more details on how the 10 Point Plan will be enacted, which suggested the cumulative effect of the plan would be to reduce UK emissions by 180 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent between 2023 and 2032.
The projected savings are roughly equivalent to taking all cars off the roads for around two years, according to the government. But an early analysis of the government’s figures suggest the measures and funding set out in the 10-Point Plan would only deliver just over half of the emissions cuts required to meet statutory the fourth and fifth carbon budgets that run from the mid-2020s to the mid-2030s.
Ahead of the release of the 10 Point Plan official analysis showed that the UK was badly off track to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which cover the 2023 to 2032 period. These targets do not take into account the UK’s 2050 net zero goal agreed in 2019 and as such they are widely expected to be strengthened in the future to bring the medium term goals into line with a trajectory that delivers net zero emissions by mid-century.
The government has repeatedly stressed that new policies and investment would help to close the looming emissions gap, but an analysis by Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans based on the government’s own figures suggests the 10 Point Plan will only fill around 55 per cent of gap. That would still leave around 150Mt of annual CO2 savings that would have to be realised to stay within the current carbon budgets.
NEWUK govt has published 38pp doc on its 10-point climate plan, with numbers.Adding them up, it looks like the new measures would only close 55% of the gap to meeting UK’s 4th/5th carbon budgets…even before thinking about net zero ambition.https://t.co/JttEVpVA7L pic.twitter.com/zLGt39B3lw
— Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans) November 18, 2020
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was considering a request for comment on the emissions calculations at the time of going to press, but the government insists it plans to deliver more green policy and funding over the coming year in the run up to COP26, the crucial UN climate summit it is set to host in Glasgow in November 2021.
Writing in the foreword to yesterday’s report Business Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma stressed that the 10 Point Plan was “only the start” as “over the next year we will work with industry to devise further sectoral plans and meet our carbon budgets and target of net zero by 2050”.
“To drive our progress towards this national priority, the Prime Minister will establish a new Task Force Net Zero, putting a systems approach at the heart of our thinking,” Sharma added.
Indeed, next week the Treasury is also expected to publish its hotly-anticipated Spending Review, which could deliver further positive news for the green economy, while crucial policy documents such as the Energy White Paper and National Infrastructure Strategy are expected to emerge before Christmas, potentially providing another key signal to leverage private investment in decarbonisation efforts.
Meanwhile, further details of the government’s green policy proposals have emerged since the 10 Point Plan was first announced on Tuesday, sparking confusion over its policies for decarbonising UK homes and buildings.
Documents released yesterday by the government initially said the Future Homes Standard – which requires new homes to be built with low carbon heating systems from 2025 – was to be brought forward by two years to cover all new homes built from 2023 onwards.
However, that 2023 date was quickly removed from the documents yesterday in favour of “in the shortest possible timeline”, with the government citing a “technical error” for its inclusion, according to The Times, which reported that the new 2023 target date would nevertheless still stand.
But when queried by BusinessGreen, the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLD) would not confirm whether or not the Future Homes Standard was being brought forward from 2025 to 2023, simply saying it would “set out a roadmap” for its implementation.
“We committed in Planning for the Future to review the roadmap to the Future Homes Standard to ensure that implementation takes place to the shortest possible timeline,” an MHCLG said in a statement. “We will be publishing the government response to the Future Homes Standard interim uplift consultation as soon as possible. This will set out a roadmap to the Future Homes Standard.”
Decarbonising home heating is seen as one of the UK’s biggest challenges as it attempts to deliver on its net zero target. Around 23 million homes fitted with fossil fuel gas boilers, but Ministers fear their removal and replacement – with heat pumps, hydrogen boilers, or district heating – could prove costly and disruptive. As such, campaigners have repeatedly called on the government to strengthen building standards for new homes to ensure gas boilers will not have to be replaced at a later date.
Commenting on the government’s 10-Point Plan this week, Juliet Phillips and Heather McKay, policy advisors at climate think tank E3G,wrote in a joint blog post that bringing forward the Future Homes Standard to 2023 would “ensure homes are fit for the future, saving homeowners from costly refits to get their homes on track for zero emissions”.
Tuesday’s 10 Point Plan also indicated that the government is working on plans to accelerate the roll out of green heating technologies in existing homes, setting a target for 600,000 heat pumps installations every year in the UK by 2028, alongside a plan to deliver the UK’s first “hydrogen town” by 2030 where buildings and homes would be heated using the low carbon gas.
And yesterday the government hinted it would soon be setting out a “clear path” for transitioning away from fossil fuel gas boilers in all homes – new and existing – by 2035.
“We will go with the grain of behaviour, and set a clear path that sees the gradual move away from fossil fuel boilers over the next fifteen years as individuals replace their appliances and are offered a lower carbon, more efficient alternative,” the government document stated.
More details of the government’s plan for decarbonising heating is expected to be included in a forthcoming Heat and Building Strategy, which is likely to emerge in 2021, alongside a promised Hydrogen Strategy.
Read more: businessgreen.com