In a scathing report, the government’s ambitious plans to achieve net zero emissions have come under severe criticism from its own advisers. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) released their annual report titled “Progress in Reducing UK Emissions: 2023 Report to Parliament,” highlighting that targets are being missed on almost every front.
One of the major concerns raised by the CCC is the declining rate of home insulation. Despite the pressing issues of soaring energy bills and a cost of living crisis, fewer homes were insulated under the government-backed scheme last year compared to the previous year. This shortfall has significant implications for energy efficiency and emissions reduction.
Moreover, the progress on tackling transport emissions remains sluggish. The government has yet to present a coherent program for encouraging behaviour change, and there has been no concrete decision on using hydrogen for home heating. The installation of new wind and solar farms and upgrades to the electricity grid are not happening fast enough to meet net zero targets, demonstrating a lack of urgency and political leadership that has stalled progress.
Lord Deben, the outgoing chair of the CCC, expressed his dismay at the UK’s loss of climate action leadership since the 2021 Cop26 summit. He cited the government’s approval of a new coal mine and expansion of oil and gas fields in the North Sea as “utterly unacceptable” actions.
The CCC’s confidence in the government’s ability to achieve shorter-term carbon-cutting goals by 2030 has diminished compared to previous years, despite the publication of a new green strategy by ministers.“We’ve slipped behind, and other people have moved ahead,” he said. “This is not a report that suggests satisfactory progress.”
While greenhouse gas emissions have been declining by just under 3% annually, the CCC warns that this rate must double over the next eight years to stay on track. The report urges a halt on airport expansions without compensatory closures or capacity reductions elsewhere, a measure yet to be acknowledged by the government.
Transport emissions continue to be a concern, with the report suggesting that the government’s approach to allowing an increase in road traffic rather than promoting public transport is a political choice. Additionally, there is no comprehensive program to encourage individuals to adopt low-carbon lifestyles, further hindering progress.
The report also identifies various shortcomings in the government’s approach to energy efficiency. The number of homes receiving energy efficiency improvements through the Energy Company Obligation scheme has significantly decreased, falling from 383,700 in 2021 to 159,600 in 2022. The report highlights that at least 1 million to 2 million homes must be upgraded annually to align with net-zero goals.
Furthermore, homes are still being constructed without low-carbon heating and efficiency measures, as the promised future homes standard has not been implemented. The delay in deciding whether to adopt hydrogen for home heating leaves households and boiler companies uncertain about the best path forward.
Decarbonising heavy industries, including steel production, also lacks a clear policy, posing additional challenges in achieving net zero emissions.
Chris Stark, the chief executive of the CCC, said: “What’s missing is the kind of political leadership. You’ve got a series of strings being pushed across government and no one at the top pulling it up to raise it to the political priority that is required. Until that happens, this programme [of reaching net zero] is going to run into the sand.”
Rebecca Newsom, the head of politics for Greenpeace UK, said: “There’s almost no progress in this progress report, just a pitiful catalogue of Rishi Sunak’s climate failures.”
The CCC’s 438-page annual progress report marks the 15th since the 2008 Climate Change Act and concludes Lord Deben’s 10-year term as chair. Professor Piers Forster of Leeds will serve as the interim chair until a replacement is found.
Deben said ministers could still step up: “What I’m looking for is the leadership which is essential when we are at a moment not just of national emergency, but of global emergency.”
Alok Sharma, the Tory MP who acted as the president of Cop26, calls on the government to lift the ban on onshore wind, catch up with other countries on green job creation, and demonstrate international leadership ahead of Cop28, the next UN climate summit scheduled for November. His remarks emphasise the urgency of stronger and more decisive actions in the face of the growing climate crisis.
“In the global race to attract green investment, jobs and growth the UK risks falling behind without a material response to initiatives from other countries like the US’s Inflation Reduction Act,” he said.
A government spokesperson said: “We can be proud of the UK’s record as a world leader on net zero. We are going far beyond other countries and delivering tangible progress whilst bringing down energy bills, with hundreds of pounds coming off bills from next month.
“The UK is cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country and attracted billions of investment into renewables, which now account for 40% of our electricity. In the last year alone, we have confirmed the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years and invested billions to kickstart new industries like carbon capture and floating offshore wind.
“With a new department dedicated to delivering net zero and energy security, we are driving economic growth, creating jobs, bringing down energy bills, and reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels.”
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