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‘Time is running out’ for UK making serious climate commitments

The government has made historic climate promises in the past year, but has been too slow to follow these with delivery, while this defining year for the UK’s climate credentials has been marred by uncertainty and delay to a host of new climate strategies. So concludes the government’s own advisor, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), in two new progress reports.

The Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies and, importantly, the public has not been informed or engaged in the changes that must lie ahead, says the CCC. The government is taking a gamble to focus everything on a new net zero strategy in the autumn – it is critical that the new strategy is published before the COP26 climate summit, with clear policy plans, backed fully by the Treasury, adds the Committee.

In the reports, the CCC offers its appraisal of progress on the twin climate challenges of cutting emissions to net zero and adapting to the climate risks facing the UK. 

Despite UK emissions falling to nearly 50% of their 1990 levels during the 2020 lockdown, the journey to net zero is far from half completed, says the CCC, and emissions next year are expected to rebound. The relative success of decarbonising electricity must continue, but it must be matched with solid commitments to decarbonise buildings, transport, industry and agriculture.

Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (eg business travellers accounted for 15–25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding, says the CCC. HGV and van travel are back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, is only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.

Sustained reductions in emissions will require sustained government leadership, underpinned by a strong new net zero strategy. The CCS recommends:
  • A new ‘net zero test’ would ensure that all government policy, including planning decisions, is compatible with UK climate targets.
  • An ambitious heat and buildings strategy, that works for consumers, is urgently needed.
  • Delayed plans on surface transport, aviation, hydrogen, biomass and food must be delivered.
  • Plans for the power sector, industrial decarbonisation, the North Sea, peat and energy from waste must be strengthened.
  • The big cross-cutting challenges of public engagement, fair funding and local delivery must be tackled.
Meanwhile, progress in adapting to climate change is not keeping up with the increasing risks facing the country. Only five of 34 sectors assessed by the CCC have shown notable progress in the past two years, and no sector is yet scoring highly in lowering its level of risk. 

Chairman of the CCC Lord Deben said: ‘We are in the decisive decade for tackling climate change. The government must get real on delivery. Global Britain has to prove that it can lead a global change in how we treat our planet. Get it right and UK action will echo widely. Continue to be slow and timid and the opportunity will slip from our hands. Between now and COP26 the world will look for delivery, not promises.’

Energy UK Chief Executive Emma Pinchbeck largely agreed with the CCC view, adding: ‘If we get the right policies and strategies the industry is confident we can deliver – we’ve gone much faster than any thought possible on things like renewables. But change takes time – hitting 78% emissions reduction by 2030 means taking action on policy and regulation today.’ 

News Item details

Journal title: Energy World

Countries: UK -

Organisation: Committee on Climate Change

Subjects: Metering, monitoring and targeting - Net zero -

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