CCC: UK ‘has no coherent plan to reduce emissions this decade’, despite net-zero pledge

With current policies

In its latest progress report to Parliament on reducing emissions, published today (24 June), the Committee states that the UK Government is failing to support “important statements of ambition” on decarbonisation with “firm policies”. In other words, despite the introduction of a legally binding net-zero target in 2019 and subsequent short-term funding pots like the £12bn provided in the Ten Point Plan, most high-emitting sectors are still unprepared to decarbonise at the scale and pace needed.

2020 is, overall, dubbed a year of “climate contradictions” between talk and action. The CCC has also pointed to “high-carbon blunders” in policymaking such as failure to block a new coal mine in Cumbria, voicing support for lowering green taxes on flights and closing the Green Homes Grant with less than 10% of the £2bn originally promised issued. The recent cut to overseas aid spending is additionally said to be “undermining” domestic green finance commitments.

The CCC acknowledges that Covid-19 has delayed progress on a host of new green policy packages but states that these must now all be published before COP26 this November. It warns that uncertainty over policy supports in the long-term, and even this decade, is leaving businesses, investors, local authorities and others from delivering their own climate commitments.

Under current policies, only 20% of the reduction in emissions that the UK has committed to by 2035 will be delivered, the CCC states, and emissions will rebound to pre-pandemic levels rapidly.

The Heat and Buildings Strategy is flagged as a priority for delivery. It had first been promised in autumn 2020 but publication was delayed to combine two strategies into one, with publication now expected before Parliament breaks for the summer next month.

Other packages which must be released before COP26, according to the CCC, include the Hydrogen Strategy, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the Nature Strategy, the Biomass Strategy, the National Food Strategy, the Net Zero Aviation Strategy and the final conclusion of the Treasury’s Net-Zero Review. Without these, the overarching Net-Zero Strategy (also known as the net-zero roadmap) will not do what it is supposed to do.

There is still a window, the CCC concludes, to implement these policy changes and its broader host of more than 200 recommendations – but this window is rapidly closing. This is not only to do with the need to deliver decarbonisation in the coming years but with the UK’s credibility as COP26 host.

Moreover, the CCC warns, individual policy packages will not be enough – especially given the UK’s poor track record on delivering joined-up climate policy. The CCC is proposing a net-zero stress test for all policy and planning decisions, in the hopes that all decisions incompatible with net-zero by 2050 are not permitted.

Notably, just 11 of the 92 recommendations made to the Government in the 2020 iteration of the progress report have been enacted in full.

“We are in the decisive decade for tackling climate change; the Government must get real on delivery,” CCC chair Lord Deben said.

“Global Britain has to prove that it can lead a global change in how we treat out planet. Get it right and UK action will echo widely. Continue to be slow and timid and the opportunity will slip from out hands. Between now and COP26, the world will look for delivery, not promises.”

The new report comes just days after the CCC presented Ministers with its third assessment of climate risk in the UK. That major report warned that the UK is woefully underprepared for the climate change impacts that are already ‘baked in’ regardless of cuts to emissions in the coming decades, with billions of pounds at risk from risks like flooding and coastal erosion.

Green economy reaction

Reacting to the new progress report, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said: “The Committee’s criticisms are spot on. Without a detailed strategy for combatting the climate crisis, Government promises to decarbonise the economy are simply more hot air. 

“The Prime Minister must urgently set out his Government’s blueprint for slashing emissions in key areas such as homes and transport. With no climate action plan and his Government’s support for more roads, runways and an overseas gas mega project, Boris Johnson risks being a laughing stock at the UN climate summit in Glasgow later this year. 

“The Chancellor’s role in delivering net-zero is crucial – unfortunately this year’s Budget did little to demonstrate the Treasury’s enthusiasm for building back greener.”

Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit (ECIU) analyst Jess Ralston said: “There is no hiding that the Government is talking the talk but not walking the walk on climate action. Top-level strategies are essential, but without plans and policies, emissions will simply not fall. Luckily though, the ball is still in our court.

“There are now significant opportunities for the PM and Treasury to serve an ace, and to do so before COP26 in November. Of the utmost importance are Rishi Sunak, delivering a Treasury-wide plan on how reaching net-zero can transform run-down local economies and build UK-based green industries with huge export potential as well as jobs; actions to cut emissions from our homes that include bringing the cost of a heat pump down to that of a gas boiler; and frameworks to mobilise billions of private investment in our power system to provide unrivalled amounts of clean energy.

“Time is running out to make this future a reality. Other nations are steaming ahead on clean transport, industry, hydrogen and homes. More dither and delay risks global Britain, a trailblazer on setting targets, becoming a laggard on locking in industries of the future.”

Sarah George

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