Six green policy updates you need to know about this week

Several big stories about the UK's climate, energy and environmental policies have been in the headlines this week. Here, edie rounds up the flurry of announcements.

Six green policy updates you need to know about this week

Five weeks out from COP26 and with the Conservative Party Conference taking place next week

Labour Party clarifies updated climate pledges

This week, the Labour Party Conference has been taking place in Brighton, with leader Kier Starmer facing pressure to clarify the direction in which he intends to take the party.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves used her keynote speech at the event on Monday (27 September) to outline the Party’s plans for £28bn of annual funding to tackle the climate crisis if elected.

Reeves stated that the £28bn is around four times the amount that the Government is currently allocating to tackle the climate crisis annually. According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK Government spent £14.5bn on environmental protection during 2018 – the last full year for which data is available. However, this figure takes in activities such as waste management and noise and vibration management.

While Labour has not yet provided full details of how the £28bn would be split, Starmer followed up on Reeves’ speech with a commitment for a ten-year retrofitting scheme to boost the energy efficiency of buildings, stating that Labour would put aside £6bn per year. In comparison, the Conservative Party pledged, in its manifesto for the 2019 general election, to spend £9.2bn in this area during this Parliament.

The Government is facing pressure to publish its Heat and Buildings Strategy, which will provide detail on how this funding will be allocated. Of particular interest to many is the replacement for the Green Homes Grant, which closed after reaching 47,500 homes, compared with a target of 600,000.

Reports of planned changes to energy surcharges

The UK’s Climate Change Levy framework has long been criticised across the green economy, with the fact that electricity currently faces higher rates than electricity often cited as a barrier to electrifying hard-to-abate processes like industrial heating.

The Financial Times has reported that the framework could soon change, stating that the Government is planning to launch a consultation in the coming months. This may well come at the Conservative Party next week or at COP26. Changes would then be brought in gradually over the course of a decade, according to FT.

“We want to encourage people to take up technologies such as heat pumps and electric vehicles,” the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said in a statement. “Affordability for consumers and taxpayers will be at the heart of our approach, as will ensuring protections remain in place for the most vulnerable.”

Responding to this proposal, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) released the following statement: In response to Government’s proposals, a spokesperson from Energy Networks Association which represents the UK and Ireland’s energy networks businesses said: “Ensuring a fair and equitable transition for all customers will be key to the successful decarbonisation of home heating. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work across our diverse geographies and customer base, so they will need choice and access to a range of net-zero-compatible technologies including hydrogen boilers, district heating, hybrid heating systems, and heat pumps.

“This will require support from the private sector, taxpayers and billpayers and how that’s split is a decision for government but it’s essential that all net-zero heating technologies are treated fairly. It is vital to ensure that customers are protected, so that no one ends up paying more and being inconvenienced by a product that may not work best for them”.

OVO’s chief executive Adam Letts said: “Removing levies from low-carbon electricity is necessary to help households make the switch from gas boilers to climate-friendly electric heat pumps. We need to make clean heat the cheaper choice and show consumers that a zero-carbon home is ultimately a more valuable home. The focus now must be on ensuring we effect this transition while protecting vulnerable consumers”

Welsh Government publishes new flood resilience measures

Governments have faced pressure to bolster their climate adaptation plans in the lead-up to COP26- particularly in light of the recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which outlined how even in a scenario in which rapid global decarbonisation takes place, it would take some two or three decades for global temperatures to stabilise.

Wales has, therefore, published a new flood map for planners and issued a Technical Advice Note (TAN), intended to help developers minimise risk associated with flooding and coastal erosion.

The advisory paper states that no “highly vulnerable” land uses such as housing, schools, hospitals and emergency service facilieies should be developed in areas of high flood risk without strong defences. If a local authority fails to follow this advice, Ministers will have the opportunity to block the planning process.

Even for low-flood-risk areas and areas with strong flood defences, gaining planning permission will soon be dependent on passing new acceptability tests.

In Wales, at least 245,000 homes are in high-flood-risk areas, which cover 11.3% of the country, up from 9.86% at the Government’s previous estimates.

Green Party elects new co-leaders

The Green Party announced the results of its leadership election on Friday (1 October), confirming that Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay will succeed Sian Berry.

Berry and her co-lead Jonathan Bartley both announced their intention to step down this summer after three years in their respective positions.

Denyer is s the Green Party’s MP candidate for Bristol West and is currently a councillor for the Bristol ward of Clifton Down. She has played an instrumental role in pushing the council to make a climate emergency declaration – believed to be the first in Europe – and to commit to carbon neutrality by 2030.

Ramsay, meanwhile, is the Party’s former deputy leader, having served in that post from 2008 to 2012. He has also held a councillor post at Norwich City Council and is the former chief executive for the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Department for Transport launches a slew of consultations on low-carbon technologies

Back in May, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report urging MPs to deliver a more joined-up approach to the transition to electric vehicles (EVs), ahead of the UK’s ban on new petrol and diesel car sales in 2030. Key hurdles detailed by the Committee included upfront vehicle costs and charging infrastructure access.

Since then, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan has been published and businesses have continued to confirm charger installation schemes across their estates.

Building on these steps, the Department for Transport (DfT) has opened consultations on:

  • Whether it should have new powers to mandate operators of non-residential chargers to install charging points
  • Whether councils should be required to produce EV infrastructure strategies
  • The format of a new £950m fund to help service operators on busy roads install chargers
  • Measures to ensure that charging point providers make accessible technologies

You can read more in edie’s full coverage of this story here.

Multi-million-pound funding boost for English forests announced

Monday saw the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) launching a new “Woodlands for Water” project, whereby 7,780 acres of woodland planted along rivers and other watercourses in six water catchment areas by March 2025.

Farmers and landowners will be able to apply for Government grant funding to cover 100% of the costs of establishing new woodlands, through the England Woodland Creation Offer scheme. They can also apply for annual maintenance payments for up to 10 years. Defra has not publicly disclosed its planned spend on the scheme at this stage. 

Announcements were also made about the first projects to receive a share of the £640 Nature for Climate Fund announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak at the 2020 Budget, including the “Northern Forest” – a collaborative effort to plant up to 50 million trees between Liverpool and Hull over a 25-year period.

Action on trees is one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s focus points for COP26, along with coal, cars and cash. The UK is not on track to deliver its flagship commitment to leave nature in a better state for the next generation and is facing calls to clarify how it plans to meet updated tree-planting targets.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie