UK Government failing on green spending requirements to reach net-zero, WWF warns

The UK Government is not allocating the required spending to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, with new analysis warning that an existing policy gap could add billions of pounds to the total cost of decarbonisation.

UK Government failing on green spending requirements to reach net-zero, WWF warns

Just 0.01 of annual GDP is being spent on climate-related initiatives 

New analysis from WWF has warned that committed spending from the Government is well below the required rates in order to meet its legally binding net-zero emissions target set for 2050.

WWF warns that policy introductions made as part of the March 2021 Budget won’t enable the nation to meet existing climate commitments, including the new Sixth Carbon Budget to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035.

The analysis claims that climate-related policies set out in the most recent Budget equate to £145m. However, a failure to change some existing legislative frameworks, like the fuel duty freeze, are equal to £40bn. WWF argues that these policies will drive up emissions in the long run, adding further costs to the required total to reach net-zero.

The new analysis is part of a “Budget tagging tool” that outlines how Government spending is matching up to the requirements to reach net-zero, as outlined by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

The CCC estimates that approximately 1% of GDP annually is required to help deliver the net-zero transition. However, WWF’s new tool warns that so far, policies add up to just 0.01% of GDP.

It is the first component of a new net-zero “test” from WWF which will assess further Budgets and Spending Reviews to see if they truly align with net-zero. WWF warns that delaying investments by 10 years would double the amount of money needed to reach net-zero, but that adopting the net-zero test would unlock £90bn in annual benefits from the green economy.

WWF’s head of climate change Isabella O’Dowd said: “With nature in freefall and the climate in crisis, the clock is ticking for the planet, as the latest IPCC reports make clear. It’s not yet too late to prevent global warming from rising above 1.5°C – it is in our hands. But to do that, the UK government must play its part by keeping every climate promise it has made.

“The latest Budget simply doesn’t add up to the cleaner, greener future we all want to see. To turn things around, ministers must close the gap between their climate commitments and their spending plans, by adopting a Net Zero Test for all government spending ahead of the UK-hosted COP26 climate summit in November. We won’t forget the government’s climate promises and, together with our supporters, we will hold the government to account for delivering on them.”

No credible plan

Separate research from the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group also suggests that the Government is failing to adequately support the net-zero target. Research from the Group found that just 61 of the 125 recommended policies from the CCC have been met or introduced.

Elsewhere, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released a report in March accusing the Government of having “no credible plan” to deliver its long-term climate target.

The overarching conclusion from the PAC report is damning – that the UK could fail to miss its long-term climate target due to the absence of a joined-up policy approach. The fact that there is no coordinated planning between departments has left many high-emitting sectors without clarity on how to transition, or support to do so, the document states.

Electricity provider E.ON has also released a report showing how current policy frameworks leave the UK off-track to deliver its net-zero target by 2050.

E.ON’s report looks at the current levels of emissions from homes, business buildings and cities – and how these are likely to change by 2030 and then 2050.

Across all areas analysed, the UK is off-track to deliver net-zero in the scenario in which no policies change. The report urges the Government to ensure that its roadmap for delivering net-zero, with sector-specific targets and policies, is published ahead of COP26 as planned, as this will give actors across the value chain the confidence needed to invest accordingly.

Specific issues currently suffering from policy gaps include scaling up low-carbon heating solutions and delivering a green skills pipeline. On the former, the report outlines how annual heat pump sales will need to reach 600,000 by 2028 and one million from 2030, up from 30,000 at present.

Matt Mace

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