UK general election brings fresh hope for a ‘mission-based approach’ to net-zero policy

Published today (27 June), the Mission Zero Coalition’s new report marks five years since the UK became the first national government to enshrine a binding net-zero target in law.

“While in the past five years since the UK became a climate leader in being the first major economy to sign net-zero into law, there have been a number of promising developments and commitments, these have not readily translated into clear climate delivery,” the report foreword co-authored by Skidmore and RenewableUK’s chief executive Dan McGrail states.

It argues that the delivery of that target is “at a crossroads” with the general election on the horizon. Labour’s Kier Starmer is widely expected to win, taking the Prime Ministerial post from Rishi Sunak, who has rolled back on policies intended to decarbonise road transport and home heating under the rhetoric of “pragmatism”.

Sunak has also supported a bullish approach to oil and gas expansion against the advice of the Climate Change Committee (CCC). His Party has also disagreed with CCC recommendations on issues such as decarbonising aviation and transitioning food production and diets. It has ultimately overseen the delivery of two overarching net-zero delivery strategies that have been ruled unlawful by the High Court.

Labour, for its part, has promised to deliver a more rapid clean energy transition, double energy efficiency spending and develop a new green industrial strategy. But it has significantly cut back on a commitment to £28bn each year of green economy investment, and its manifesto makes no explicit mention of making the net-zero strategy lawful. The Party is also, arguably, no more ambitious than the Tories on decarbonising heat at this point.

The Mission Zero Coalition report states that, whichever party forms the next UK Government, it urgently needs to provide “long-term certainty and a clear roadmap for net-zero” to make the transition economically successful and, therefore, supported across the political spectrum.

This clarity could help to unlock inward investment worth up to £1trn this decade, which, if sent overseas, will only fuel perceptions in the general public and the private sector that the transition is about loss, risk and inequality rather than opportunity and levelling up.

“The reality is that, each day that passes, board investment decisions are being made that risk leaving the UK behind,” the report states, citing a previous UKSIF calculation that multinational energy investors could divert up to £115bn to nations with more supportive policy landscapes.

Such markets include the US, where the Inflation Reduction Act provides a multi-billion-dollar package of subsidies to renewable energy, electric transport and cleantech sectors. The EU has mirrored this approach on a smaller scale with the Green Deal Industrial Strategy.

The UK Government has been hesitant to rival these interventions with a like-for-like approach. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt initially stated he would explore this approach, then subsequently argued that it would “massively distort” market signals and fail to deliver long-term change.

The Mission Zero Coalition report additionally notes that investors are increasingly tempted to back emerging economies like China and India due to unprecedented expansion in renewable energy manufacturing and installation rates in recent years.

EY ranks the UK as a less attractive clean energy investment destination than the US, China, Germany, France and Australia.

Strong governance, long-term stability

The Mission Zero Coalition is urging whichever party forms the next UK Government to take a “mission-based approach” to the energy transition and supporting private sector decarbonisation.

Such an approach would be underpinned by long-term targets, plus delivery plans which do not change as frequently as has been the case over the past five years. Such plans should have sector-specific decarbonisation roadmaps, outlining not only targets but possible technology pathways. These details were missing from both ‘unlawful’ net-zero strategies.

Skidmore’s initial Net-Zero Review recommended that the Government create a new entity to better join up work in different departments, including the Treasury and the departments responsible for energy, the environment, education and levelling up.

The incumbent Government did not create such an entity, described as an ‘office for net-zero delivery’.  It has instead cherry-picked some of the more policy-specific recommendations like setting a 2035 target for solar generation capacity. However, it has been indicated that this step will be taken as a priority by a Labour government.

With this culture of strong net-zero governance and cross-departmental work in place, the Mission Zero Coalition believe, the next Government should be able to make sector-specific policy interventions more smoothly.

The report states that policymakers of all parties now have access to “conclusive evidence of what needs to happen, when it needs to happen and how it needs to happen” – partly from the CCC’s annual progress reports and other briefings, and also from other Government-backed reviews including the Wisner Review of electricity grids and Tim Pick’s review of offshore wind.

Related feature: How can the next UK Government unlock a wave of finance for the net-zero transition?


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The UK Is going to the polls on 4 July 2024.  To help readers understand what this general election will mean for environmental policy, edie has launched a new, free-to-download table outlining all the key green commitments – and some notable omissions – made by in the manifestoes of the Conservatives, Labour Party, Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK.

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Comments (2)

  1. Mike Mann says:

    100% agree. The policy fixation with heat pumps and exclusion of green gas and liquid fuels also requires adjustment to allow a sustainable solution. Building owners are seeing ratings drop from B to C or D on recent buildings only 10 years old (new EPC requirement is starting to impact) and these ‘new’ buildings are starting to look problematic. HPs are not an easy solution but a hybrid could be very good if the EPC and real-world processes/software allow a common-sense approach. The industry is ready – government need to move at the pace of modern technology, not in 10 year cycles of tweaks.

  2. Rob Heap says:

    The government had choices to make and did not get it right.

    The UK voting population have a choice to make at the polling booths on July 4th and we must make the right one.

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