From rewilding to renewable energy: Seven UK green policy stories to follow in 2022

Last March, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that the UK’s 2050 net-zero target was little more than a vision, with no coordinated planning between departments for concrete delivery.

In the months that followed, several major green policy packages were published and important regulatory changes announced. These included the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the Sixth Carbon Budget, the Hydrogen Strategy and the overarching Net-Zero Roadmap.

Indeed, six of the seven green policy gaps flagged by edie in the 2021 edition of this article were addressed (despite not all being fully closed).

Nonetheless, numerous hurdles still remain in addressing hard-to-abate sectors; ensuring a socially just transition and developing a joined-up green recovery approach – especially with new challenges including the gas price crisis.

Here, edie provides an update on the big green policy announcements we’re expecting in the UK in 2022.

1) Resources and Waste Strategy

The Resources and Waste Strategy was introduced in December 2018 and is the first major policy shake-up in this space in more than a decade. It outlines a national deposit return scheme, changes to extended producer responsibility requirements and measures to increase food waste collections.

Consultations on several key measures began in 2021. The consultation process was originally set to begin in early 2020 but was delayed by the best part of a year amid Covid-19. As such, the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that a UK deposit return scheme will be implemented in 2024 at the earliest, while a UK-wide weekly food waste collection service will only be launched in 2023.

We can expect further consultations and decisions in 2022. Defra’s second progress report on the Strategy, published in November 2021, provides full information on what’s to come.

2) Environment Bill

This time last year, the Environment Bill’s return to Parliament was delayed as the Government delivered new lockdown restrictions. The purpose of the Bill is to support the delivery of the UK’s 25-Year Plan for the environment and to clarify how environmental protection frameworks will operate post-Brexit.

The Bill received Royal Assent in November 2021 after a process lasting more than two years. Many had hoped for stronger provisions but its passing was, nonetheless, broadly welcomed.

This year, we will see the UK’s post-Brexit environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), transitioning to become an independent entity. The OEP was officially formed in November 2021, despite Defra originally wanting it to be fully operational by summer 2021.

We will also – if things progress to planned timescales – get Defra’s proposals for new legally-binding numerical targets on waste, water, air quality and biodiversity.

3) Skills Strategy

Shortly after the publication of the Net-Zero Strategy, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) warned that it only detailed the creation of a further 440,000 green jobs by 2030, while the Government’s target is two million. The EAC also argued that, without an official definition of what makes a role “green”, Ministers cannot credibly claim to be developing robust job creation plans.

That warning was one in a string of many. Indeed, the Skills for Jobs White Paper, published in January 2021, was criticised for lacking detail across the green economy and beyond.

In 2022, many will be hoping for a properly updated Careers Strategy and/or Skills Strategy which takes into account the need for changing skills as the UK delivers on its climate and nature goals, and as the digital transition continues.

4) Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy for Education

Staying on the topic of skills for this fourth point; the UK’s Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared at COP26 to deliver a draft Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy for schools. That document outlined proposals for greening both the curriculum and school estates themselves.

For the curriculum, there is an ambition to alter the primary and secondary science curriculum will be changed by 2023, to include more information on nature and biodiversity and the impact which human activity is having on the climate and nature. The Government should, this year, provide more details of proposed changes, and also kick-start new training programmes to help teachers improve their literacy in environmental science.

For more sustainable school estates, the Government should this year draft more detailed plans for decarbonising schools using energy efficiency, renewables and low-carbon heating, as well as improving biodiversity across England’s educational estate.

5) National Food Strategy

Taking note of the food system’s current negative impacts on the environment and public health, Ministers commissioned Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of restaurant chain Leon and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, to conduct an independent review. The resulting National Food Strategy was published in July 2021.

Environmental recommendations included measures to help deliver a 33% reduction in red meat and dairy consumption, on a per-capita basis, this decade, and robust plans for incentivising farmers to conserve and restore nature through the Agriculture Bill.

The Government is yet to issue a full response to the Strategy and several influential business groups are growing impatient. The first phase of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) payments scheme for farmers, published in December 2021, received a lukewarm reception.

6) Plans for meeting new energy targets

October saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirming plans to end unabated fossil-fuelled electricity generation by 2035. There was already a 2024 deadline for ending all coal-fired electricity generation in the UK, so the new vision is primarily targeted at gas, which accounts for around 40% of the UK’s electricity generation mix at present.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) acknowledged in confirming the target that it will need to accelerate plans for supporting  “home-grown” nuclear, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as well as wind and solar. Expect interesting announcements in these spaces in 2022.

Specific policy gaps include the fact that no renewable energy sector other than Offshore Wind has a Sector Deal at present; the impending nuclear gap; ongoing reforms to the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme and the Government’s approach to community renewable energy. To this latter point, a second reading of the Local Electricity Bill is scheduled for 25 February.

7) CEE Bill

The Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill has received growing support in recent months, with the public backing of more than 110 local authorities and some 118 MPs.

If passed, the Bill will change the UK’s approach to emissions accounting. It would see the UK accounting for its entire carbon footprint – domestically and overseas – in calculations for net-zero. This would include international aviation and shipping, as well as the goods and services we import. According to WWF, some 45% of the UK’s overall emissions footprint occurs beyond its borders.

The CEE Bill had a second reading in September 2021 and campaign Zero Hour will continue to push for more signatories in 2022.

Sarah George

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