Opinion

Committee on Climate Change – Progress Report to Parliament

Committee on Climate Change – Progress Report to Parliament

Andrew Whitehead, head of energy and utilities, takes a look at the latest report from the Committee on Climate Change and looks at the progress made to date, where there needs to be an improvement and of course, the impact of COVID-19.

In June the influential Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Lord Deben, produced its latest report to Parliament, assessing progress in the reduction of UK carbon emissions.  This could not be more timely as thoughts turn to rebuilding an economy shattered by COVID-19.   It’s essential that this is done in a way which prioritises low carbon growth and investment.   For the first time, obviously, this latest report therefore comes with some new advice to government on securing a green and resilient COVID-19 recovery.

Five clear investment opportunities

In a report that is not short on criticism of the UK government’s record in this area, the Committee sets out five clear investment priorities:

  • Low carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future
  • Tree planning, peatland restoration and green infrastructure
  • Strengthening energy networks
  • Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle and work remotely, and
  • Moving towards a circular economy.

T The first year anniversary of Net Zero – progress to date

It is 12 months since “net zero by 2050” became enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008 to become law.  Since then of course, the world has been blown off course by COVID-19, and indeed COP26 global climate talks due to take place in Glasgow have been postponed until November 2021.  Whilst we’re seeing a reduction in 2020 global emissions as a result (somewhere between 5 – 10% is expected), this is temporary and will not address the cumulative problem of rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

For the UK, there has been good progress in the years since the Climate Change Act first made the statute book. In recent times that has been driven in large part just by decarbonisation of the power sector, which that looks set to continue with the re-emergence of large-scale solar and onshore wind.  The Committee notes that the lessons there must be applied in other sectors.

Progress with policy developments is certainly underway in a number of areas, notably the advancement in phasing out of petrol and diesel cars, from 2040 to 2035 or earlier (- and the Committee would have this brought forward still further, to 2032 at the latest).  But in other areas, the Committee points to slow progress, for example in relation to decarbonisation of manufacturing where there is a distinct lack of strategic approach.

Homes and buildings is another of the key areas.  Whilst the Future Homes Standard will mean that new homes must be built to zero carbon from 2025, the Committee notes that this is long overdue, with policy continuing to lag behind what is needed, especially on energy efficiency and heating for existing homes.  It has been said that more than one house per minute will need a low carbon retrofit between now and 2050 to meet net zero, and the smart meter roll out is just an example of what a challenge that’s going to be.   But it also reveals the scale of “green jobs” on offer.

Similarly, the Committee points to a lack of coherent policy to improve the resilience of the agricultural sector, and government is urged to make substantial changes to land use, with measures such as tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure signalled as high priorities.

There are also many recommendations around climate adaptation (as opposed to mitigation), where the Committee has previously highlighted a dearth of planning in government.   Increasingly critical, this requires realistic planning for the inevitable temperature rises ahead, and confronting head on the UK’s climate risks notably flooding, over-heating and water scarcity.   On the latter, recommendations from the Committee include powers to enable compulsory metering beyond water stressed areas (and a more systematic roll-out of smart water meters), setting of targets for reducing household and business water usage, and compulsory water efficiency labelling.

The priorities for the next 12 months

The Committee has a clear vision of the broad path for policy and infrastructure decisions if we are to achieve net zero.  By 2025, a full net zero policy package must be in place and working, with delivery and transition well underway, and by 2030-35, almost all new investments (such as new cars and heating systems) must be zero-carbon.

The Committee are now urging government to put the remaining key elements of this policy package in place in the coming months, with a focus on transport, industry and buildings, energy supply and agriculture.  As the report notes, with the UK taking on presidency of the COP26 climate talks next year, coinciding with the UK holding the presidency of the G7 for 2021, the UK’s international credibility is on the line.

When it comes to decarbonising the heat and transport sectors, and scaling up new technologies such as battery storage, the upcoming and long awaited Energy White Paper is an ideal opportunity to accelerate progress.

The Committee will continue to hold the government’s feet to the fire.  At the end of the year, it will be back with its recommendation on the level of the sixth carbon budget, for the period 2033-37.  As with all previous carbon budget recommendations, the government will be required to respond to that advice in accordance with the legislative framework established by the Climate Change Act.

But the Committee itself is not immune from criticism, and some argue that the UK’s 2050 net zero target is no longer ambitious enough when measured against the landmark 2015 Paris agreement where countries agreed to hold global temperature increases to well below 2C and to strive towards 1.5C.  Indeed, the core goal of COP26 is to raise all countries’ targets, and with a leading role next year there will be massive pressure on the UK to do so.

Everyone has a part to play in managing climate change

Climate change is here to stay, and perhaps if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that previously unimaginable changes to how we go about our lives, combined with some level of international cooperation, are quite possible when needed.   That same level of magnitude of change, and imagination, is how we will address the climate change threat, and the hope is that there is now greater awareness amongst the population of external risks and how we all have a part to play.

But that must start from the top.  Now more than ever, effective and decisive domestic action is needed by government, not only to rescue an economy left reeling by the ongoing public health crisis, but also to strengthen our resilience to climate change and to display international leadership.  This must all go hand in hand.

Contact us
For further information please contact Andrew Whitehead or another member of the energy team.

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