Lord Deben and Chris Skidmore on what’s next for the Net-Zero Review
Climate Change Committee (CCC) chair Lord Deben has called on the UK Government to adopt Chris Skidmore’s Net-Zero Review recommendations in full, while Skidmore himself has named the recommendations he believes are key to “unlocking” the benefits of the transition.
Deben and Skidmore provided updates on green policymaking in the UK at edie’s largest face-to-face event of the year, edie 23, on Wednesday (1 March). Deben delivered a keynote speech while Skidmore took part in a panel debate, both on the Net-Zero Stage, with Laura Sandys acting as chair.
The last few weeks have undeniably been a busy time for the net-zero-related policy landscape in the UK.
In January, Skidmore published a set of more than 120 recommendations resulting from his Net-Zero Review, commissioned by Liz Truss to help map out a transition plan to the delivery of UK climate targets that is “pro-business, pro-growth” and contributes to levelling up. The overarching conclusion is that the transition is the economic opportunity of the century, but that the Government is not yet preparing to realise the opportunities to their full extent.
February saw Rishi Sunak moving, as he had pledged, to split the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). He merged business and trade into one department and created a standalone Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ).
The new Department now has a matter of weeks to respond to Skidmore’s review. It is reportedly set to do so in late March, by which point it is also legally required to fully update its Net-Zero Strategy.
Deben argued that this presents an opportunity to move from top-line pledges to action – or even an imperative to do so. He said: “The issue now is not what we have to do. We know that. It is doing it.”
“The present Government… does not do the things it knows it ought to do, and it does a lot of things that it knows it ought not to do. We’ve got to get it back on track.”
The CCC’s most recent progress report to Parliament on net-zero, published last summer, concluded that the Government only has credible plans in place to deliver around one-third of the emissions reductions by 2050 that it is legally required to deliver. The report rapped the Government for “major failures in delivery programmes” in fields including agriculture and energy-efficient buildings.
As Deben summarized at edie 23, the progress report “was very clear that the government has set the policy, but has, in large measure, not delivered the goods”.
Deben urged policymakers to adopt Chris Skidmore’s review recommendations “as a whole, only changing those bits that it could do better”. He said he believes the current Government could and would take many of the recommendations on board, not least because they have been written by a Conservative politician and align with the Prime Minister’s economic growth commitments.
Skidmore elaborated on Deben’s points around the feasibility of implementing the review recommendations, noting that it was important that the Review “setting a new narrative, because policy recommendations are only as good as the narrative that they underpin and encourage”
Now, not later
Recommendations made in the review are varied, ranging from “getting the policy fabric right to accelerate progress” (Skidmore’s words) to very sector-specific interventions.
Specific interventions recommended include setting stronger targets on solar energy deployment, of up to 70GW by 2035; implementing a net-zero mandate for energy regulator Ofgem; introducing eco-labelling on food; making a decision on low-carbon heating technologies two years earlier than planned and launching a ‘Help to Grow Green’ campaign for small businesses.
For Skidmore, the “fabric” and “narrative” are just as important – if not more so – than any of these specific interventions. He was asked which of the recommendations he wants to see implemented as a priority and said: “In the here and now, the priority for myself is the office for net-zero delivery. This is absolutely critical. Leadership does start from the top and the Government has the agency and ability to not only set the direction but to deliver, here and now.”
Skidmore clarified the difference between the new DESNZ and the office for net-zero delivery, in that the former is a Department with a Secretary while the latter would be an arms-length body responsible for holding all Departments to account and ensuring that they work in a joined-up fashion.
“The challenge for me is whether this new Department is going to be horizontal in its approach, or whether this will be just another siloed vertical approach,” Skidmore said.
“I hope the Government does not think that, in creating this new Department, it has solved the issue of the lack of a delivery agency. This agency needs to be sitting across Government.”
This built on a point made by Deben, who said: “It’s not just this Government – every Government is siloed. Anybody who has ever been in Government or worked for any political party will know that the problem relating to the difference between priorities of departments is endemic.”
Deben stated that this difference between Departments not only results in mixed messaging, but can slow progress – and has already done so.
He said: “There are far too many taskforces and analyses – a lot of working out and of bringing together and of ensuring consensus. There is far too little conclusion that ‘this is what we’re going to do’.”
Skidmore has this week launched a new ‘Mission Zero Coalition’, tasked with collecting the views of various stakeholders to develop even more specific reports than the Net-Zero Review and to oversee delivery.
The Coalition will initially establish four ‘networks’ – a local authority network, an industry network, a buildings network, and a solar network. Each network will draw up a report on specific policy recommendations relating to their sector. A further six networks will be created later in the year, reflecting each of the ten ‘missions’ noted in the initial review. These additional networks will work on topics such as onshore wind, nuclear energy, infrastructure and nature.