UK Government has ‘no plan’ for reaching net-zero, MPs warn

The reports come in the same week as the 2021 Budget

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has today (5 March) published its latest report on ‘achieving net-zero’, outlining policy changes relating to the UK’s low-carbon transition this month and summarising evidence supplied by Government bodies and representatives.

The overarching conclusion 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.

While praising departments for developing policy frameworks like the Energy White Paper and National Infrastructure Strategy, the PAC is warning that the “plethora of strategies” intended for publication this year could fail to deliver the low-carbon transition at the appropriate scale and pace. Forthcoming policy packages include the Heat and Buildings Strategy and Environment Bill – both delayed.

“Our response to climate change must be as joined up and integrated as the ecosystems we are trying to protect,” PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said.

“We must see a clear path plotted, with interim goals set and reached – it will not do to dump our emissions on poorer countries to hit UK targets. Our new international trade deals, the levelling up agenda – all must fit in the plan to reach net zero. COP26 is a few months away; the eyes of the world, its scientists and policymakers are on the UK – big promises full of fine words won’t stand up.”

The UK Government has said that it will publish a net-zero roadmap, summarising interim targets for all major sectors, ahead of COP26. The PAC is urging Ministers to ensure that the document is ready by September and that it is ambitious and wide-ranging enough.

Several other key recommendations for policymakers are made in the PAC’s report. They include the development of a “clear set of metrics that provide a system-wide view of progress towards net zero”, to be reported regularly from the end of 2021. Metrics should track progress on a sector-by-sector basis, the PAC is recommending.

There are also calls for clarification on the UK’s plans for reducing emissions generated overseas and aligning Treasury spending with net-zero. On the former, a recent Fairtrade Foundation report found that almost half of the UK’s consumption-related emissions are generated overseas and urged the UK to include these emissions – plus those from international aviation and shipping – in climate accounting. On the latter, the PAC has asked the Treasury to outline how it will ensure that its guidance including the Green Book will stress-test all major stimulus packages and infrastructure proposals against net-zero.

The PAC is additionally unsatisfied with the way in which the Government is engaging the public with the net-zero transition – a sticking-point raised repeatedly by the Climate Change Committee, which has maintained that reaching net-zero will require wide-reaching behaviour changes such as electric vehicle (EV) adoption and eating less red meat. It is urging the development of a public engagement strategy within 12 months.

COP26 clarity ‘urgently needed’

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee also has a new report out today, also containing criticism of the Government’s net-zero approach.

Published as part of the Committee’s ongoing scrutiny of preparations, the report argues that the Government’s “themes-based” approach to delivering COP26 is too broad and that, if the themes are to be retained, clear measures for success must be developed. The themes for the conference are clean energy, clean transport, nature-based climate solutions, climate finance and adaptation and resilience.

The BEIS Committee reiterates the UN’s recent warning that, despite many nations having developed long-term climate commitments consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory, few have interim agreements to back them up.

According to the report, the COP26 Unit has also been unable to provide evidence that it has set up a dedicated diplomatic team or begun engaging overseas to help ensure that summit objectives are achieved.

“COP26 this November must conclude with countries around the world setting out their road maps to delivering on the Paris Agreement targets set five years ago,” BEIS Committee chair Darren Jones said.

“The British Government must put sufficient resource behind these global negotiations to ensure that agreements are reached at COP26 which both commit and help each country to make the required changes.”

The report also summarises concerns about the accessibility of COP26 and the diversity of voices that will be at negotiating tables. On the former, it urges the Government to outline how a combination of in-person and digital access to the conference will be delivered against the backdrop of Covid-19, in a way that ensures that less-developed nations and marginalised groups can participate. On the latter, it argues that the inclusion of backbench MPs in the UK’s national delegation, when, historically, only Ministers have been given places, would broaden engagement across Government and the general public.

Commenting on both reports, ECIU senior associate Ricard Black said they “will make uncomfortable reading for a Prime Minister proclaiming climate leadership”. 

“Coming on the back of a Budget that didn’t even try to get the Conservatives on track to their net-zero target, the conclusion that they don’t have a plan for reaching it, just months before the UK hosts a major UN climate summit for the first time, should stimulate some serious thinking right across Whitehall,” Black said. 

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    The concept of net zero has an essential with science and technology. Not the strong point of Government, which is primarily administrative.
    The only zero generation open to this country is nuclear. We do not have the geography for hydro power, and renewables are neither abundant or under our control.
    So nuclear or it is or our pitifully variable wind power sector?
    I have, in the forties, experiences of living, as an evacuee, of living with the only power for lighting, a paraffin lamp. Nough said!
    I have re ad that using the appropriate reactor system, we have enough plutonium to power the country for 300 years. So certainly a century. But power generation is not under the W ing of HMG, and large investment is required. So no go.
    We soldier on.
    Richard Phillips

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