CCC Progress Report: UK making ‘scant progress’ towards net-zero, with home energy efficiency a major pitfall

Published today (29 June), the 600-page report is the first to be published since the UK Government published its Net-Zero Strategy last October, as part of a flurry of green policy changes rushed out the door ahead of COP26. The CCC’s previous annual report criticised the UK Government for running behind schedule in finalising these policy interventions.

This time around, the CCC has welcomed the UK’s recommitment to “ambitious” long-term net-zero targets in the face of the energy price crisis and its efforts to increase offshore wind generation. However, it warns that the policy packages designed to deliver the 2050 climate goal won’t deliver steep enough emissions reductions, due to a number of remaining policy gaps. Even in areas where there are “bright spots of progress”, the CCC is warning that interventions may yet under-deliver.

The Net-Zero Strategy has been criticised by other groups since it was first published. A key criticism is the lack of sector-specific targets to reduce emissions on the road to 2050, which could help ensure that the private sector takes the action needed to contribute to the UK’s upcoming carbon budgets. It is on this ground that ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth are mounting a legal challenge to the Strategy.

Today, the CCC is reiterating that criticism. Its new progress report states that there are only “credible” Government plans to deliver around one-third of the emissions reductions needed to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget. A further 25% of the reductions could be delivered with rapid action outside of policymaking, but the CCC warns that the further reductions “cannot be relied on”. Delaying action, it emphasises, would ultimately push up the cost of the net-zero transition. It also argues that the Government should not seek to increase its planned reliance on offsetting or greenhouse gas capture technologies to tackle remaining emissions, given that some time still remains to reduce emissions in the first instance.

Sectors in which emissions reductions will be lowest and slowest as a result of policy gaps, the CCC report states, are agriculture, buildings and heat.

Agriculture and land use was the sector found to have the weakest climate mitigation policy support by the CCC. The report calls progress in reducing farming emissions since 2019 “glacial” and warns of further slow progress without major changes to the Food Strategy and to plans to compensate farmers post-Brexit, rewarding them not only for food production but for delivering “public goods” like healthy soils, water quality improvements, carbon sequestration and restored natural habitats. At present, agriculture and land-use account for 12% of national annual emissions.

The CCC is calling for the UK to clarify its plans for farmer payments, incentivising them to improve efficiency and to diversify their products as well as restore nature. Also emphasised is the need to get the general public to reduce red meat and dairy consumption and for food waste to be tackled across the food value chain. The CCC had already recommended a 20% reduction in the average person’s meat and dairy consumption by 2030.

Regarding buildings and heat, the CCC has singled out the UK’s housing stock as a source of emissions which will derail net-zero progress without policy interventions soon. It is emphasising that decarbonising housing is particularly important in the current context of the energy price crisis, and with Ofgem planning to increase its price cap again this winter, meaning that families could pay up to £2,700 annually for dual-fuel bills.

Energy efficiency, the CCC is pointing out, could be improved in homes swiftly with the right policy interventions. There is a shocking gap in policy for better-insulated homes,” the CCC said in a statement. “The Government promised significant public spending in 2019 and committed to new policies last year, neither has yet occurred… the average annual energy bill for UK households is around £40 higher than if insulation rates from pre-2012 had continued for the last decade.”

The Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2019 general election promised £9.2bn for energy efficiency. While funding has been launched for the public sector and is set to be expanded for some homes, Whitehall’s national plan for retrofitting homes – the Green Homes Grant – closed with most of its £1bn allocations unspent. Ministers stated that there was a lack of tradespeople qualified to carry out the works permitted by the Grant. This blunder was a disappointment to many environmental and citizen groups after the scheme’s predecessor, The Green Deal, failed to deliver the environmental benefits or savings on bills it promised.

A new national home insulation scheme has not sprung from the ashes of the Green Homes Grant. The Government has also shied away from opportunities to launch one at many Treasury statements or through the Energy Security Strategy. The CCC is warning that a “major undertaking” is needed to support “millions of homes” to improve energy efficiency, with financial and practical support from the Government.

Summarising the policy gaps in this sector, the report states: “There are no policies for energy efficiency in owner-occupier households which are not fuel poor. But the UK Government has also not done enough to provide a long-term funding settlement for public buildings; nor has it taken strong enough action on boiler phase-out dates, particularly for commercial buildings.”

Cross-cutting issues

As well as forecasting the likely emissions from key sectors, the report looks at the measures Ministers are – and are not – making to ensure that policy decisions which would prevent the UK from being able to reach net-zero by 2050 are not able to be made. Additionally, it assesses how the central Government is engaging with key stakeholders like local councils and the private sector.

Concern is expressed that the Government has not created an engagement strategy around net-zero, designed to increase awareness and understanding, and to enable collaboration on solutions. The UK Government did host a net-zero November in 2019 and is planning an awareness-raising week in July, but the CCC wants to see something longer-term and more joined-up.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee in March stated that the Government is not yet doing enough to gain the support of organisations that will be key to delivering the low-carbon transition, including businesses and councils. These organisations, the PAC stated, are broadly unsure of the cost of action, the cost of inaction, and the support they can access. For councils, access to finance is also a key challenge. The CCC expresses similar concerns, asking for more clarity on how the central Government will work with devolved governments and councils to deliver net-zero. It also presses the Government to set out a full overview of the costs and benefits of the net-zero transition and how they will be shared.

Aside from communications, the CCC is calling for an “urgent” review of the tax strategy to ensure that all measures are conducive to the net-zero transition and an “urgent and comprehensive” plan to reform planning legislation.

edie will shortly be publishing an in-depth analysis of the CCC’s report. We will update this article with a link to that article once it is live on our website.

Comments (1)

  1. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    So back “Insulate Britain” and their campaign.

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