Aldersgate Group: ‘Urgent decisions’ needed to join up UK’s net-zero policy framework

The UK Government must use its Covid-19 recovery planning to ensure that sector-specific challenges and loopholes on the road to net-zero by 2050 are addressed and must not permit any further postponements to key policy decisions, a major new Aldersgate Group report has concluded.

Aldersgate Group: ‘Urgent decisions’ needed to join up UK’s net-zero policy framework

The report is one of the latest major contributions to the UK's green recovery movement

Published today (5 October), the Group’s ‘building a net-zero emissions economy’ report warns that the UK’s current policy provisions do not put the nation on a “credible pathway to building a competitive, net-zero emissions economy”. It notes that “urgent decisions” must be made in the early 2020s if the national 2050 target is to be met, urging Ministers to embed these decisions in departmental efforts to contribute to Covid-19 recovery plans.

At a virtual Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) meeting last month, Business Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma said the Government was working to embed a “joined-up thinking” approach to creating an enabling policy landscape for net-zero. But he was unable to provide specific examples of past successes as he faced probing questions about decarbonising sectors like transport and agriculture.

The Aldersgate Group’s report sets out a string of policy recommendations for the short-term that it claims could help accelerate change. As well as reiterating its ongoing calls for mandatory reporting in line with the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures’ (TCFD) recommendations; a clearer carbon pricing trajectory and the creation of a National Investment Bank with climate as a key remit, the report makes several updated asks.

Among them is a call for the Government to bring the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales forward to 2030. Under Theresa May, the UK Government had initially introduced the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales with a 2040 deadline. Following criticism from green groups, including its own Committee on Climate Change, over the policy’s alignment with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, Boris Johnson moved in February to alter the deadline to 2035. The Prime Minister is facing mounting pressure from the private sector and environmental campaigners to move the date once again and had reportedly planned to do so in September, but decided to delay a decision as new local lockdown restrictions were introduced.

Mindful of ongoing Brexit negotiations, the report also urges the Government to create a trade policy that is “fully consistent” with national climate targets and Environment Bill targets. This would prevent the UK from “offshoring” negative environmental impacts and encourage other nations to increase their green ambitions – in line with Johnson’s vision for COP26.

Levelling up and evening out

The Conservative Party made an overarching commitment to “level up” regional economies across the UK at the 2019 General Election. Ministers have repeatedly vowed to ensure that this commitment is embedded into planning for the Covid-19 recovery, given that death and unemployment rates have been markedly higher in low-income regions.

The Aldersgate Group’s report makes a string of recommendations for coupling social and environmental sustainability in the most-affected regions, including the creation of a new national skills strategy which emphasises qualities and experience desired by businesses in the low-carbon economy and the nature sector. The report argues that more funding and training should be allocated to local authorities and local enterprise partnerships so that context-specific plans can be developed and any issues identified more rapidly.

Innovation efforts should also be “better focussed” to support large-scale trials of emerging technologies and business models classed as “essential” for hard-to-abate sectors – and such trials should take place in low-income regions where possible, the report states. It urges departments to consolidate funding packages for things like carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, energy storage and modern recycling processes so financing is easier to access; and to ensure that trials are followed through with longer-term planning to avoid job losses and stranded assets.

The report emphasises 2017 research undertaken as part of the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy planning which predicted that the UK’s low-carbon economy could grow by 11% each year through to 2030 – around four times faster than the economy as a whole. While the pandemic has put a dampener on these forecasts, the Aldersgate Group maintains that low-carbon sectors are primed to bounce back.

Negative emissions  

Continuing on CCS, the report highlights the fact that technology options like Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and Direct Air Capture and Carbon Storage (DACCS) are not yet mature. It urges BEIS to prioritise these technologies in its upcoming £100m competition for greenhouse gas removal technologies, and to begin work to identify market mechanisms to support long-term development should pilots prove successful.

Nature-based solutions for carbon removal should also receive more support, the report argues, as they are already proven and will drive progress towards Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill targets as well as long-term climate goals. Moreover, Johnson has committed to the UN’s target of protecting 30% of habitats.

A “robust carbon price” is touted as a key support for both man-made and nature-based solutions.

For nature-based solutions specifically, the Aldersgate Group posits additional funding for farmers looking to develop regenerative methods and to restore habitats in and around their land. Subsidies granted under the updated Agriculture Bill must be help farmers to deliver a net-positive impact rather than providing funding for destructive actions. In its current form, the Bill includes measures that will see farmers and land managers rewarded financially for work to improve air and water quality; boost soil health; implement flood mitigation and adaptation measures; improve access to the countryside or bolster animal welfare. 

Summarising the report, the Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho said: “The Government has stated its ambition to deliver a green recovery and has made positive stimulus announcements in recent months. But to put the UK economy on a credible pathway for net-zero and allow private investment to do most of the heavy lifting, the government must now put together a comprehensive plan to close the existing policy gap.”

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Sarah George

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