Six UK green policy stories you need to know about
The past few days have seen the UK Government making a flurry of announcements on green policy packages and spending pots. Here, edie rounds up the major headlines in brief.
Please note that this article concerns UK policy only, but it is worth noting that the EU has published its ‘Fit for 55’ climate package this week. The package details how the bloc intends to cut emissions by 55% by 2030 – the interim target supporting its 2050 net-zero goal.
Transport Decarbonisation Plan published
The biggest announcement in this space this week has unquestionably been the publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Originally promised by the end of 2020, the Plan, from the Department for Transport (DfT), sets out proposals for aligning all modes of domestic transport with the UK’s updated climate targets.
Headline changes include a ban sale of new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and buses by 2040, subject to consultation; a commitment to electrify the Government’s own fleet by 2027 and to accelerate spending on public transport and active travel. Also detailed are plans to bring the aviation sector’s emissions to net-zero by 2050 without capping growth, with an ambition to enshrine an earlier 2040 target in law for domestic aviation and airport buildings and operations in England.
The Plan has prompted a mixed reaction from green groups. The general consensus is that, while it is welcome that publication has come ahead of the summer recess and that there is now long-term clarity on the direction of travel, more ambitious targets could have been set on capping road building and airport expansion. Some have also called for more clarity on supporting infrastructure for electric and hydrogen road transport.
National Food Strategy released
Tabloid headlines this week have featured proposals for salt and sugar taxes totalling up to £3bn annually and for fruit and vegetables on prescriptions. These are recommendations of the National Food Strategy – an independent review commissioned by the Government last year, spearheaded by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of restaurant chain Leon and the Sustainable Restaurant Association. Dimbleby also serves as a non-executive board member at the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).
As well as outlining how the UK’s food systems are delivering sub-optimal outcomes for health and wellbeing, ultimately increasing the strain on the NHS, it also puts forward recommendations for transforming the food value chain in line with long-term climate and biodiversity goals.
Recommendations on environmental grounds include:
- Clarity on how the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme detailed in the Agriculture Bill will be rolled out.
- A guarantee of ELM funding to current levels until at least 2029.
- The creation of a map of land use across England, assessing the suitability of each piece of land for various environmental incentive schemes.
- The creation of a list of core minimum standards to be embedded in all future trade deals.
- Measures to reduce meat consumption, on a per-capita basis, by one-third this decade.
Green Jobs Taskforce publishes major report
The UK is currently not on track to deliver a commitment to host two million green-collar jobs by 2030. But the economic recovery from Covid-19 presents a window to accelerate investment and build a robust skills pipeline, according to the Green Jobs Taskforce report published this week.
The Taskforce was set up by the Government late last year, following pressure from trade bodies, businesses and NGOs. Its purpose is to develop recommendations for helping unemployed people into skilled jobs that contribute to the net-zero transition and supporting those currently working in high-carbon businesses to upskill and reskill.
Under an overarching call to ensure that the Net-Zero Strategy is published to time ahead of COP26 and includes significant commitments on jobs and skills, three themes are covered in the report: Scaling up investment in the net-zero transition, building pathways into good green careers and supporting a just transition for workers in the high-carbon economy.
Recommendations are offered under each theme and will be considered by Ministers ahead of COP26. No policy changes will be made immediately.
Delays to the Heat & Buildings Strategy reported
Aside from the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, green policy packages which the Climate Change Committee (CCC) is pushing for ahead of Parliament’s recess include the Hydrogen Strategy and the Heat & Buildings Strategy.
The latter, Sky News is reporting, was due for publication next week but has been likely pushed back until autumn. The Sky report details how there is disagreement within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Treasury about how best to incentivise low-carbon domestic heating options like heat pumps and hydrogen-ready boilers.
Low-carbon sources accounted for just 5% of the UK’s annual domestic heat demand in 2019 and the rate of Government-supported upgrades for home heating is just one-fifth of the level needed. The need for low-carbon industrial heat is also rapidly becoming apparent, with several coalitions now striving to create the UK’s first net-zero industrial cluster.
Boris Johnson opens UK Battery Industrialisation Centre
As part of the Faraday Battery Challenge at UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), the Government committed to developing the UK’s first Battery Industrialisation Centre. Coventry was subsequently chosen as the location; it is close to manufacturing hubs for several major automotive firms, including Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Aston Martin Lagonda, BMW and LEVC, the UK’s only electric taxi manufacturer.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson officially opened the Centre for business on Thursday (15 July). Its R&D and manufacturing facilities can be used by any organisation working on batteries for electric vehicles, rail, aerospace, industrial and domestic equipment and static energy storage. The facility employs more than 80 battery technicians, engineers, and support staff, with plans for that number to grow to support future project partnerships with industry and research organisations.
£130m was spent to develop the Centre. In addition to funding from the Faraday Battery Challenge from UKRI, the facility received support from the West Midlands Combined Authority.
UKRI’s challenge director for the Faraday Battery Challenge, Tom Harper, said: “This complex, state-of-the-art facility that, despite the pandemic, has been delivered at least two years ahead of its nearest international rival, will help ensure the UK fully prospers from the transition to electric vehicles. Jeff [Pratt, managing director of the Centre] and the team deserve huge credit for this phenomenal achievement.”
Green Party to begin search for new leader(s)
Last month, Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley announced his intention to step down, claiming that he wanted enough time for a successor to settle in before a potential general election before 2024. His main gripe was with the UK’s first-past-the-post election system; under a proportional representation approach, the Greens could have as many as 50 MPs rather than one.
He was this week joined by Sian Berry. The pair had co-led the party since 2018. Berry posted a statement on her Twitter to announce the decision, citing an “inconsistency” between her support of trans rights and the views of some Green Party front bench spokespeople – some of whom have been recently appointed. In her London Mayoral campaign earlier this year, Berry pledged to set up a commission dedicated to the rights of trans people living in the capital.
Berry has confirmed that she will remain in her position at the London Assembly, while Bartley has said he will not rule out running as an MP at the next general election.