Government rubbishes CCC’s recommendations on airport expansions and fossil fuels
Energy and Net-Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho has confirmed that the Government will not adopt several of the recommendations made by its climate advisors this year, including stricter stress tests for oil and gas expansion and an outright ban on coal extraction.
The Secretary has today (26 October) published the Government’s official response to the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) most recent annual progress report to Parliament.
The response claims that the Government is “partly or fully acting” on 85% of the CCC’s priority recommendations. This is mainly though existing commitments rather than there being any major new announcements.
The CCC report, published in June, concluded that the Government only has credible plans to deliver 25% of the emissions reductions it is legally bound to through to 2050. It noted particular policy gaps relating to heavy industry, transport, buildings and agriculture.
The Committee also accused the UK of “sending confusing signals globally”, weakening its global climate leadership position from 2019 (when net-zero by 2050 was enshrined in law) and 2021 (when COP26 was hosted in Glasgow).
In her response to the Committee, Coutinho argues that the UK should not have lost its global leadership position, as its long-term domestic emissions targets, climate commitments and involvement in international initiatives remain the same.
The Committee had stated that a drop in the UK’s perceived climate leadership on the international stage was partly due to support for controversial fossil fuel projects domestically.
Coutinho justifies decisions such as the continuation of licensing rounds for oil and gas as part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plans for a “realistic” net-zero transition in a nation that has “historically benefitted from cheap, abundant fossil fuels”.
The paper also pushes back against the CCC’s recommendation for a strengthening of climate stress tests for oil and gas extraction, plus an uplift in the target for North Sea producers to halve operational emissions by 2030.
It states that the emissions tests are already “stringent” and adds that existing 2030 targets are “ambitious in the Government’s view”.
Regarding the controversial approval of the UK’s first deep coal mine in more than three decades, the CCC had recommended that the Government updated planning frameworks “to support a clear presumption against new consents for coal production” and only allow production with at least 95% rates of carbon capture.
Coutinho’s response paper states that the National Planning Policy Framework already addresses this issue and only permits coal developments that are “not environmentally acceptable” if “national, local or community benefits clearly outweigh the impacts”.
The paper reiterates the claims that most of the extracted coal from the Cumbria project will be used abroad in the steel sector and, as such, would not slow the global removal of coal from power generation. But it argues against giving the Coal Authority responsibility to monitor how coal extracted in the UK is used, stating that this would be too much of a burden, requiring “extensive changes”.
Friends of the Earth is currently pushing the Government to disclose the advice that Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove was presented with regarding the mine, which ultimately informed his decision to give the green light. Opponents of the mine believe he may have been presented with inaccurate information regarding offsetting frameworks and on the likely future demand for coal in steelmaking overseas.
Transport sticking points
Coutinho’s paper states that the current Government will not take forward CCC recommendations on policies that “force families to make costly and burdensome changes to their lifestyles”.
Sunak recently rolled back plans requiring landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes and compelling households with fossil fuel boilers to switch to heat pumps before 2035. In tandem he increased the maximum amount of grant funding each home can claim for a heat pump from £5,000 to £7,500.
The CCC has already stated that it believes these changes will have little impact of the UK’s decarbonisation in the near time but could make building decarbonisation more challenging from 2035 to 2050.
In this section about burdening the general public, Coutinho reiterates the Government’s narrative around “guilt-free flying”. Its Jet-Zero Plan, informed by industry recommendations, relies heavily on efficiency improvements and alternative fuels despite the CCC’s recommendation for stronger measures to cap passenger numbers. This could be achieved, in part, by limiting airport expansion, in the CCC’s view.
Coutinho’s paper states that the Government is “anti-aviation emissions, not [anti] flying” and argues that people should not be deprived of holidays and business trips.
The current administration has supported a third runway at Heathrow and stated in 2021 that it would “not be appropriate” to review airport planning rules over climate concerns.
Additionally, Gatwick is currently consulting on an expansion in capacity which would involve bringing its Northern Runway, currently used only in emergencies and other special cases, into full operational use.
Major publications on the horizon
It bears noting that, in some cases, the response paper does acknowledge that additional information and interventions are needed and that these workstreams are now in train.
The paper states that the Government will publish a Land Use Framework before 2023 ends, mapping out how policymakers can balance land needs for energy generation, housing development, food production, nature restoration and other uses.
Also promised is a Green Jobs Action Plan, due in Summer 2024. The Government has not provided a major update to its skills strategy since legislating for net-zero by 2050 and this Plan will seek to rectify that. It will be informed with input from key industry players including businesses in low-carbon and transitioning sectors, training providers and academia.
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