UK Climate Change Committee calls for progress over perfection in journey to net-zero emissions

The Climate Change Committee’s annual progress report published today outlines how the UK is currently not on track to meet its goals from 2030 onwards. This year, EcoAct contributed to the Committee’s analysis through our 2023 report on Modelling Corporate Climate Targets in UK Industry. EcoAct’s Isabel Fernández de la Fuente lays out the key ...

Isabel Fernandez de la Fuente

28 Jun 2023 7 mins read time

The Climate Change Committee’s annual progress report published today outlines how the UK is currently not on track to meet its goals from 2030 onwards. This year, EcoAct contributed to the Committee’s analysis through our 2023 report on Modelling Corporate Climate Targets in UK Industry. EcoAct’s Isabel Fernández de la Fuente lays out the key points of the Committee’s 2023 Progress Report to Parliament.

In July 2022, the UK Government learned first-hand that relying on targets alone is insufficient to drive the necessary climate action at the pace demanded by climate science. This realisation came after the UK’s High Court of Justice ordered the Government to outline exactly how current policies will achieve the country’s net-zero emissions target by 2050, following a lawsuit filed by environmental groups demanding real-world policies to meet the legally binding carbon-reduction targets set by the country’s Climate Change Act 2008.

In response to accusations of a lack of transparency in its net-zero plan delivery, a year later the UK Government published its Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP ) – a package of quantified and unquantified proposals and policies across all sectors of the economy, as well as associated timescales and delivery risks, which would put the Government on track to meet its Carbon Budgets 4-6.

Today, after analysing the government’s net-zero package set out over 3,000 pages, the Progress in reducing emissions, 2023 Report to Parliament, published by the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), states that greater transparency is no substitute for delivering real results and expresses concerns about the country’s ability to meet its climate goals from 2030 onwards.

This report series annually assesses the latest progress made by the UK in reducing emissions and features a wide range of expert analysis and studies. This year, EcoAct had the opportunity to contribute to the analysis of the alignment of corporate targets with the Committee’s defined industry decarbonisation pathway through our Modelling Corporate Climate Targets in UK Industry 2023 Report.

Missed opportunity

The report by the UK’s independent adviser on tackling climate change highlights the Government’s overreliance on unproven technological solutions instead of encouraging organisations and society to reduce high-carbon activities directly. Furthermore, the UK has sent mixed signals to the global community by supporting new oil and gas ventures and consenting to a new coal mine in Cumbria. Such actions undermine the carefully negotiated language of the UK COP26 Presidency in the Glasgow Climate Pact and raise doubts about the country’s climate priorities.

The time has come to seize urgency and prioritise pace over perfection

According to the findings, the UK has achieved a significant reduction of 46% in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 1990. However, to meet the ambitious 2030 commitment of a 68% reduction, annual emissions reduction outside the electricity sector must now quadruple. While there are positive signs, such as the growing sales of electric cars and the continued deployment of renewable energy, the overall scale-up of action is worryingly slow.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Climate Change Committee, emphasises the importance of early action and urges the government to deploy cleaner and more cost-effective alternatives without further delays. By embracing bolder delivery and accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy, the UK can demonstrate leadership in the global fight against climate change. The time for pace is now, as early action not only benefits the environment but also ensures a more cost-effective and manageable transition.

Areas requiring progress:

In 2022, the Committee implemented a new Monitoring Framework aimed at tracking real-world indicators of progress. However, the latest findings from this framework reveal that progress has veered off course in several key areas. Here are some notable examples:

  • Decarbonising industry: The industrial sector continues to be one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK. In its CBDP, the Government has set ambitious goals to reduce industrial emissions by 69% by 2035, relative to 2022 levels. While the Government has high ambitions for decarbonising steel production, there is a lack of clear policies to achieve this goal. Wider incentives are also needed for the electrification of industry, and more information needs to be provided on how the £20 billion funding for carbon capture and storage will be rolled out. The report also highlights the lack of access to data when assessing progress in the industry sector, and recommends a review, more investment, and a reform of industrial decarbonisation data collection and reporting.
  • Competitiveness: As the UK industry embarks on its decarbonisation journey, it faces two significant risks concerning international competition. The first risk involves carbon leakage, which refers to the potential relocation of production to countries with less stringent emissions regulations. To mitigate this risk, the Government is currently seeking input through consultations on various policies, including the implementation of a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), mandatory product standards, and emissions reporting requirements.The second risk pertains to companies that invest in industrial decarbonisation favouring countries that offer more substantial policy support, potentially overlooking the UK. This risk is amplified by initiatives such as the United States Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s proposed Green Deal Industrial Plan, which provide attractive incentives elsewhere. To address this challenge, the UK must carefully design its industrial policy to minimise carbon leakage while creating incentives that encourage investment in the country.
  • Electricity supply: Renewable electricity capacity witnessed growth in 2022, although not at the pace necessary to meet the ambitious targets set by the Government, specifically regarding solar deployment. With limited lead times, expedited implementation of onshore wind and solar power could have alleviated reliance on imported gas amid the fossil fuel crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Electricity pricing: By removing policy costs from electricity prices as a measure of financial support on energy bills, the Government has successfully reduced the ratio of electricity prices to gas prices. Ensuring the permanence of this measure is crucial, as the Government has pledged to implement a rebalancing of electricity and gas prices by March 2024.
  • Buildings: The Government aims to significantly expand the adoption of heat pump installations to reach 600,000 units by 2028, yet the current progress is only around one-ninth of this target and is not accelerating adequately. The installation rates of energy efficiency measures remain insufficient and experienced a further decline in 2022.
  • Land-use: Reforms are necessary to accelerate rates of tree planting and peatland restoration, as well as to introduce a new framework for land-use change. Doubling the rate of tree planting by 2025 is crucial to achieving the Government’s target.
  • Planning reform: Restrictive planning rules hinder the deployment of essential upgrades to the electricity grid and other net-zero infrastructure. To address this, the planning system should soon count on an overarching requirement to consider net-zero in all decisions.
  • Heating transition: The government’s strategic decision on the role of hydrogen in heating is not expected until 2026. Accelerating the deployment of electric heating and making low-regret energy infrastructure decisions can overcome this uncertainty.
  • Aviation expansion: Despite the Committee’s advice against net airport expansion, the number of UK airports proposing capacity expansions continues to grow. A UK-wide capacity management framework is required before any airport expansions proceed.

To demonstrate global leadership in the fight against climate change, the UK must prioritise pace and take bold steps towards achieving its net-zero target. By addressing the areas requiring progress and implementing effective, real-word policies, the UK can make substantial contributions to the global climate agenda. Urgency and action are crucial to ensuring a sustainable and cost-effective transition to a low-carbon future.

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