MPs ‘deeply worried’ about gaps between UK climate targets and policy delivery

The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has expressed its concern over the gaps between the UK's decarbonisation ambition and current policymaking, on the same day that the Treasury faced criticism from MPs for failing to improve its approach to environmental sustainability.

In a review of the Government’s forthcoming Industrial Strategy, the BEIS Committee warns that progress against the Fifth Carbon Budget, which requires UK emissions to be 57% lower between the period of 2028 and 2032, compared with 1990 levels, should not become secondary to affordability.

The Committee welcomes the “explicit commitment” to meet future carbon budgets set out in the Industrial Strategy green paper, but notes that “we are deeply worried that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has identified significant gaps between our ambition and our current policy delivery”.

The Industrial Strategy must include “meaningful” policies to support the decarbonisation of industries and buildings, the report says, to reduce the reliance on the power sector to drive emissions reductions. The Committee wants to see “clear signs” as to how Government will embed clean growth, driven by battery technology and energy storage, in the country’s economic future.

Commenting on the report, Aldersgate Group chief executive Nick Molho said: “Supporting the continued growth of the UK’s low carbon economy provides the horizontal cut-through that the BEIS Committee demands. The Government’s Industrial Strategy must complement its Emissions Reduction Plan to maximise growth in UK low carbon supply chains and provide the policy consistency that business needs.”

Treasury performance

Meanwhile, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has asked the Treasury to respond again to its recommendations in a recent report which castigated the department for failing to adequately factor in long-term sustainability risks into its decisions.

The House of Commons watchdog has expressed its “deep disappointment” with the Treasury’s apparent inaction to address the issues, and has called upon Chancellor Philip Hammond to “try harder” in next week’s Spring Budget to promote sustainable growth.

EAC Chair Mary Creagh MP said: “The Treasury is one of the most powerful departments in Government and its approach to sustainability can have a huge impact. Our report found that the Treasury’s current approach required improvement and made recommendations about how this could be done.”

“In the Treasury’s response, it is not clear whether it has considered our recommendations or whether it will do anything different as a result. This is deeply disappointing given that our report found the Treasury’s performance is far from outstanding.”

“The Chancellor must try harder in next week’s Budget to show he is taking action to secure sustainable economic growth which stimulates new, innovative environmental industries and jobs.” 

The initial EAC report found the Treasury guilty of changing or cancelling several long-established projects at short notice, with little or no consultation with relevant businesses and industries. This followed an EAC hearing where departmental ministers were forced to defend the Government’s decision to scrap energy initiatives such as the zero-carbon homes initiative and the CCS competition.

Accusations against the Treasury extended to the courtroom in November when the High Court heard that the Treasury had deliberately blocked plans to bring UK air pollution within legal limits as part of an “entire approach driven by cost”.

Long-term framework

The EAC’s conclusions arrive as the CBI releases a new report, which outlines how a change in Government mind-set can help the UK to reduce emissions by 57% by 2032.

Ahead of the Government’s much-anticipated Emissions Reduction Plan detailing how Britain will achieve its low-carbon ambition, the CBI paper concludes that all Government departments, along with business, will need to work together to maximise the opportunity of long-term decarbonisation.

“Business will be at the heart of delivering this change, and is up to the challenge; whether it’s developing the steel to go in our wind turbines or creating the smart appliances for our connected homes,” CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie said.

“But to do this, the right plan must be in place which recognises the interconnectivity and complexity of the world we live in. With this in mind, business will be looking to the forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan to provide a clear and long-term framework so they can invest and innovate for the future.”

Specifically, the report calls for Government to develop a refreshed strategy for household energy efficiency, and to provide clarity on the long-term ambition for low-emission vehicles. Regulation must allow a range of low-carbon technologies such as storage and demand response to thrive in a flexible energy system, the report contends.

These schemes should be owned by all Government departments and local authorities, says the CBI, which also highlights the importance of a “meaningful” and long-lasting partnership between Ministers and the private sector to deliver the plan, potentially in the form of a Steering Board.

George Ogleby

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