Government shirks request to disclose carbon impact of net-zero policy rollbacks

The Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ) has shunned a request for MPs to see “detailed” calculations of how recent changes to key policies on electric transport and building energy use will impact the UK’s emissions trajectory.

Government shirks request to disclose carbon impact of net-zero policy rollbacks

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in late September shortly after he confirmed rollbacks to policies banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars; compelling landlords to improve building energy efficiency and mandating a shift from fossil fuel boilers to heat pumps in homes.

The Committee requested “clarity on how the Government intends to meet its delivery objectives for current carbon budgets, including details on the specific measures necessary to fill the emission reduction gap caused by the proposed rollback of existing policies”.

Energy and Net-Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho has today (26 October) responded to the EAC’s letter, stating that “it is not appropriate, nor is it a requirement, to update and publish a revised version of the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan every time there is a change in economic data, policy or a wider factor”.

The UK last updated its Carbon Budget figures this March.

EAC chair Philip Dunne MP called Coutinho’s response “disappointing”.

Dunne said: “A detailed response showing the impact on future emissions would have assisted our scrutiny of the revised timeframes for the phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles and of fossil fuel boilers, and the potential impact of these changes on the emissions reductions required to meet net-zero.

“We hope that further detail will be provided in the forthcoming Government response to the Climate Change Committee’s 2023 Progress Report on emissions reductions.”

This response, published today, also contains no new emissions calculations from the Government.

The EAC also, in its letter, questioned why Sunak confirmed the changes in a media conference rather than announcing them in Parliament, thus enabling questions from MPs to be taken immediately.

Coutinho has stated that the Government’s response to the Climate Change Committee (CCC) report will be laid in Parliament.

Low-carbon buildings and levelling up

The CCC has completed its own update to the UK’s likely emissions trajectory in light of changes first announced by Sunak this September. It concluded that there is only likely to be a small change in the UK’s likely emissions trajectory in the near-term and medium-term. However, it warned of risks in decarbonising buildings through energy efficiency improvements and transitioning to low-carbon heating in the long term.

The EAC notably raised concerns about whether the cancellation of a requirement for landlords to ensure their properties met Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) grade ‘C’ or higher would result in higher bills for tenants and hamper efforts to tackle fuel poverty.

At the moment, landlords only need to meet EPC grade ‘E’ before letting a room or property.

Coutinho’s letter states that the Government is currently reviewing its fuel poverty strategy. At present, the ambition in England is for “as many fuel-poor households as is reasonably practicable” to achieve EPC ‘C’ or higher by 2030.

The letter also confirms that the Government may yet expand its total funding pot for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which provides households with grants to help them buy heat pumps. The maximum amount each home can claim was recently increased from £5,000 to £7,500. The CCC has recommended that an expansion in funding available overall would increase the likely benefit of the scheme and boost the UK’s chances of meeting its 2028 heat pump installation targets of 600,000 units a year. The EAC agrees.

Dunne said: “I hope the Government’s recent increase in the level of grants being offered to replace fossil fuel boilers generate the desired take-up. I trust that the increase in the size of grants available will be reflected in an increased overall budget for the scheme, as well as accelerating take-up by households. I look forward to raising these issues with the Secretary of State in this important policy area in coming weeks and months.”

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