‘A wake-up call for Ministers’: UK’s green economy reacts to new CCC net-zero progress report

Pictured: The CCC offices, London. Image: Templo

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has today (28 June) stated that it is less confident in the UK’s ability to meet its legally binding emissions goals post-2030 than it was a year ago.

This is despite the Government’s publication of more than 3,000 pages of policy documents in March, aimed at making its strategy for reaching net-zero by 2050 lawful.

The warning came through the Committee’s latest annual progress report to Whitehall. This report criticizes the Government’s failure to join up policymaking across departments and its lack of planning to align the net-zero transition with its levelling up agenda and ambitions to grow the economy.

Also documented in the report are a string of sector-specific policy gaps. In energy, for example, the CCC is warning that climate stress tests for new oil and gas fields remain insufficient. The report also outlines gaps in plans to plant trees, deploy heat pumps and make buildings more energy efficient.

Leaders from across the UK’s green economy have been quick to react to the report, imploring Rishi Sunak’s government to respond as a matter of urgency.

Here, we round up the reaction.

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs:

“Today’s progress report is a damning assessment of the government’s new carbon reduction strategy. Its own advisors say there are now only credible plans for less than a quarter of the emissions cuts needed to meet the UK’s legally binding climate targets – an alarming backwards step from last year when just 39% of plans were deemed fit for purpose.

“The government’s advisors are also clear that the UK has lost its global standing as a leader on climate change by backing further oil and gas extraction and plans for a highly controversial new coal mine in Cumbria.

“There are myriad reasons why the Government must accelerate climate action, not least because of the very real impacts we’re already witnessing such as record-breaking wildfires in Canada and a deadly heatwave in India. We also stand to benefit in the way of jobs, economic growth and lower energy bills. Despite all this, the Prime Minister and his government are clearly lagging well behind – they must take immediate action to get back on track.”

Environmental Audit Committee chair Philip Dunne MP:

“[This report] makes for concerning reading and should serve as a wake-up call to Ministers. While the Government has indicated the ‘what’ it intends to deliver, there remain gaps in the ‘how’ to achieve through policy levers, leaving stakeholders at a loss to judge whether the UK is properly on track to meet its net zero commitments. This risks not creating sufficient confidence for investors looking to support the net zero transition in the UK: the current demand signals to investors lack clarity and consistency.

“Snappy, soundbite intent of ‘installing 600,000 heat pumps annually’, or ‘planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year’ sound impressive, but the detail on delivery and progress remains lacking. The CCC has pointed out these initiatives, which the Committee has also examined, are far from being on track to meet the net zero targets set for this decade let alone for the next decades.

“The CCC has indicated clearly what policy initiatives are required to get Ministers to where they need to be to achieve Net Zero Britain. Unless ambitious policy direction is given now, the Government risks the unravelling of the last few years of climate leadership, which was spurred on by the UK’s hosting of COP26 in Glasgow and its landmark agreements.

“Polling has consistently shown that climate change is one of the biggest concerns facing adults in Britain: the Government must listen and grasp the significant challenge ahead.”

Climate Group chief executive Helen Clarkson:

“From electric van shortages and delays to the heat pump roll-out to inaction on onshore wind and the strategic void left around plans to decarbonise the steel industry, this latest assessment shows that the UK Government has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to delivering on net-zero.

“A lack of action is holding back business investment that could reduce emissions, boost economic growth, and lower fuel bills this winter. People don’t want more warm words and empty promises, they want to see the policy and investment necessary to accelerate action.”

Corporate Leaders Group UK director Beverley Cornaby: 

“Businesses have repeatedly called on the UK government to do more, faster: asking for clearer signals to unlock private sector investment and focus on action in order to overcome barriers to delivering the low carbon energy transition. We also know polling shows climate change is high up on the list of the UK public’s concerns with more UK voters willing to go green through home energy efficiencies. Yet the CCC highlights a lack of support from the Government to encourage people to shift to lower carbon activities.

“We shouldn’t still be having to call for ambitious leadership on climate change and yet the CCC progress report indicates that is where we are. The UK government needs to indicate it understands the magnitude of the challenge and set its shoulder to the vital, complex and difficult task of guiding the UK through a just, green transition to a net-zero economy.”

Aldersgate Group’s interim executive director Ben Westerman:

“We are now entering a crucial period that will decide if the UK will meet its climate goals and secure the major economic benefits that a thriving low-carbon economy offers. Without an urgent focus on delivery, enabling policy measures and financial support to drive investment in the low-carbon industries of the future, the UK risks losing out to growing international competition from the USA and the EU. In the past year, investment in the low carbon economy has fallen and to reverse that trend, the UK must accelerate progress to demonstrate its leadership both domestically and internationally.”

“The UK Government must rapidly scale-up delivery and ambition in its climate policy programme to provide the market signals required to drive decarbonisation in crucial areas of the economy.

“Crucially, Government must also progress skills development across all economic sectors to support the net-zero transition and maximise its job creation potential, by developing a national low-carbon skills strategy and updating apprenticeship standards. A concerted focus on delivering net-zero offers a solution to many of the key challenges currently facing the country, presenting an opportunity to boost energy security, revitalise UK industry, create jobs across the country and alleviate the cost of living crisis. To ensure that the UK maximises these benefits, Government must take rapid action to scale up delivery across the economy.”

The Institution of Civil Engineers’ director of policy Chris Richards: 

“It is alarming, but sadly not surprising that the latest CCC report says there is an overall lack of urgency from the UK Government to deliver the net-zero transition.

“The Government seems to view net-zero decisions as unviable expenditure because of the cost-of-living crisis. But in the long run, putting off investment in the transition to net-zero will cost the public and businesses more, while delaying the financial benefits of a net-zero system that will be cheaper to run.

“Infrastructure professionals are keen to be part of the solution. They’re leading the way by creating new industry standards for managing carbon in the built environment, and suggesting more joined-up, strategic decision-making across the sector. But to implement ideas and make progress, the profession needs clear direction from Government. If the Government isn’t prioritising decisions with the future in mind, who does it think will?”

UK Sustainable Investment & Finance Association chief executive James Alexander: 

“We welcome this detailed report from the CCC. Work is underway to improve green finance and corporate reporting, as the CCC sets out, but much-needed private sector investment is being held back across our economy by weak policy signals, uncertainty, and barriers to investment. UKSIF calls on the government to work with the finance industry to urgently address the barriers that are preventing private finance from driving forward the UK transition to net zero, and establish the UK as the world’s leading green finance centre.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas:

“This report could hardly be more damning. Confidence is ‘markedly less’ than 12 months ago, scale-up of action is ‘worryingly slow’, and key departments ‘did not deliver’. We’re going backwards more than we are forwards. This Government’s dangerous dither and delay has driven a coach and horses through the UK’s previous reputation as a global climate leader.

“In the past year, Ministers have signed off over 100 new oil & gas licences, approved a new climate-wrecking coal mine in Cumbria, and even flirted with a return to fracking. Sending ‘confusing signals’ to the global community on climate leadership is a polite way for the CCC to describe this Government’s blatant hypocrisy on the world stage.”

Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska:

“The UK has indeed sent confusing signals on its climate priorities to the global community. We agree with the CCC’s criticism of Government in the recent months of prioritising new fossil fuel exploration, while other advanced countries are providing renewed fiscal support and legislation to advance the energy transition, such as the EU Green Deal Package and the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act.

“It is clear that government should now use the upcoming Autumn Statement to respond to this report by delivering real polices designed to deliver against the Government’s own power, heat, transport and circular economy targets. The budget must respond to significant policy gaps that remain and focus on creating an attractive market for low-carbon investment.”

Energy Networks Association chief executive Lawrence Slade:

“This is a major wake-up call from the CCC. The country is risking decision paralysis if deadlines and milestones slip.

“I was pleased the Committee continues to recognise there’s no one solution to get us to the Governments’ net-zero targets, and we agree the plans for a rapid expansion of zero-carbon generation and general electrification work should be supported by a correspondingly clear vision for the development of hydrogen production and storage infrastructure.

“To translate this to delivering the required infrastructure, we need Government to provide greater certainty for investors, more transparency around how decisions will be made and more speed to the creation of schemes that everyone agrees are needed.

“In particular, there’s a clear imperative for radical reform in planning policy so the government, regulators, local authorities and the energy sector can create a more straightforward and streamlined process for delivering vital projects and upgrades, such as grid infrastructure.”

IPPR’s associate director for energy and climate Luke Murphy:

“Despite limited progress in some areas, across a whole range of sectors from transport to energy, homes to industry, and agriculture and land, there remains a lack of coherent policy and tangible delivery. The government’s plans operate on the basis of a ‘wing and a prayer’, placing faith in technological solutions that have not been delivered at scale.

“The impacts of these failures go well beyond the environmental. Our energy bills are higher, we’re less energy secure, and we’re failing to reap the economic benefits of the transition to net zero. In the global green race, the UK is still stuck in the changing room complaining to the referee about the boots the other runners are wearing.

“By failing to act now, the government is multiplying the problem future leaders will face and leaving an even more damaged environment and economy for younger and future generations.”

UK100’s interim chief executive Jason Torrance: 

“[This report] is a vital reminder of the crucial role of local authorities in reaching net-zero. Some trailblazing local authorities are achieving enormous change despite the regulatory and resource challenges the report highlights — but many are still hamstrung by ‘Kafkaesque’ rules and short-term competitive funding pots.

“The report only reinforces the urgency of our call for an end to short-term competitive local authority funding and a Net Zero Powers Bill. This will capitalise on progress made by trailblazing councils and address the critical gaps still hampering wider local net-zero delivery.

“Ministers must now take heed of both reports and prioritise local action that accelerates Britain towards Net Zero while halting investments that drive us further from our world-leading goals.”

WWF’s head of climate policy Isabella O’Dowd: 

“While the US and Europe act, the UK Government hasn’t matched its warm words with the action needed to prevent dangerous climate change. Instead of pumping more oil and gas from the North Sea, we need to build the industries that will deliver jobs, growth and prosperity across the UK.

“The CCC is right – early action is essential and we need to be insulating homes, decarbonising our food and farming sector and delivering ambitious policies to make sure that the real-world indicators of climate progress are going in the right direction.”

IEMA’s chief executive Sarah Mukherjee:

“The Committee is calling for a major acceleration of action to deliver a net-zero economy, but this is only possible with enough people with the right green skills and training. 

“IEMA is calling for a commitment to scale up green skills and jobs in the UK and for delegates at COP28 in the UAE to prioritise a commitment to green skills and training during the negotiations. We have to give the world the best chance of action at the pace and scale needed to avoid climate breakdown.”

Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s head of analysis Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin:

“The CCC seems pretty exasperated that, whilst the gas crisis should have been a wakeup call about the risk that overreliance on volatile fossil fuels pose to bills, our economy and our energy security, the Government seems to have missed the point.

“With our global competitors pulling out all the stops to attract low-carbon investment, the UK has taken its foot off the accelerator and risks being left behind on renewables, heat pumps and green industries – and instead the Government is pinning hopes on declining North Sea oil and gas.

“With the Government promising its response to the global net-zero drive this autumn, the next few months will show whether it’s listening to its advisors – and to voters, who see renewable energy and clean technology as the sector most likely to create long-term growth for the UK economy.”

A Government spokesperson said:

“We can be proud of the UK’s record as a world-leader on net zero.

“The UK is cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country and attracted billions of investment into renewables, which now account for 40% of our electricity. In the last year alone, we have confirmed the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years and invested billions to kickstart new industries like carbon capture and floating offshore wind.”

The spokesperson noted that the UK has met its first, second and third carbon budgets, and is on course to meet the fourth.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie