UK Government criticised for inconsistency on green policies

Article by Amanda Doyle

DESPITE some new announcements for funding for green industrial projects, the UK Government has been criticised for a lack of a coordinated plan on reaching net zero and for a lack of strong leadership as COP26 host.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report on 5 March, Achieving Net Zero, saying that there currently is no coordinated plan for reaching the legally-binding target of net zero emissions by 2050. It said that Government departments are still not considering net zero when planning projects, the Government has not ensured that it is not just transferring emissions overseas as it reduces emissions in the UK, it has not engaged with the public on the role they need to play, and that the Government needs to engage more with local authorities.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "Government has set itself a huge test in committing the UK to a net zero economy by 2050 – but there is little sign that it understands how to get there and almost two years later it still has no plan.

“Our response to climate change must be as joined up and integrated as the ecosystems we are trying to protect. 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."

Separately, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee published an interim report, Net Zero and UN Climate Summits: Scrutiny of Preparations for COP26, also on 5 March, saying that the Government has no plans on how it will measure success against each of its ambitions.

Darren Jones, Chair of the BEIS Committee, 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.

“We have concluded that the current ‘themes’-based approach to COP26 is too broad, without clear measures for success, and that more focus needs to be given to the overriding necessity to agree deliverable policies that keep global temperature rises to as close to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels as possible.”

COP26 President Alok Sharma responded to MPs’ queries in a parliamentary committee hearing on 11 March. According to Business Green, Sharma said that a ministerial statement on preparations for COP26 is due to be published next week and that COP26 officials were working towards engaging with each Paris Agreement signatory. Sharma also said that the Government wants COP26 to be an in-person event, with the possibility that some elements are held online.

Green announcements not enough

On 3 March, the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, detailed the annual budget which included announcements on new funding for several green projects. The budget included a £68m (US$95m) competition for first-of-a-kind long-storage energy storage solutions; a £4m competition for biomass feedstock programmes that could increase the production of biomass that can be used for energy; £27m for the Aberdeen Energy Transition Zone which aims to support North East Scotland with the energy transition; up to £2m for the North Sea Transition Deal; and £4.8m for a demonstration hydrogen hub in Holyhead to produce green hydrogen for heavy goods vehicles.

The budget also included the publication of Build Back Better: our plan for growth which outlines the Government’s plans for growth based on three principles: investing in infrastructure, giving people the chance to improve skills, and investing in innovation. Under infrastructure, it includes £12bn in funding – which had previously been announced – to achieve net zero through the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. The document says that action to be taken in the near future will be the publication of the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy within the next three months and the publication of the Hydrogen Strategy in the next six months.

While some of the announcements were welcomed, the budget was also criticised for not doing enough to cut emissions. It also didn’t address the fact that most of the £2bn funding that had been allocated to a scheme designed to create green jobs and improve energy efficiency in domestic buildings is being pulled, despite the fact that dealing with domestic emissions is essential to reach net zero. The Green Homes Grant was given an extra £1bn in the Ten Point Plan, but has been fraught with issues such as significant delays in paying suppliers.

Jonathan Marshall, Head of Analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said: "Amid talk of green recoveries and commitment to green growth, the Budget contained an alarming lack of measures to cut emissions. Each passing fiscal event without required actions only accentuates the gap between current policies and those needed to get on track to net zero.

"Unnecessary uncertainty over home efficiency upgrades, clean transport and low carbon industry would be worrying at the best of times. Mid-pandemic, when businesses and industries are crying for stability, this lack of direction is remarkably short-sighted. Without long-term, properly-costed policies, there is scant evidence that government is facing up to the next challenges that net zero brings.”

Sir Jim McDonald, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, welcomed the recognition of the UK’s innovative technology companies and investment in green industry, but cautioned that in order to achieve net zero, the number and diversity of people with engineering and technical skills needs to improve.

“The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in school age education, hugely disrupted further and higher education, and risks reducing the diversity of young people going into engineering.

“Engineering is a crucial component of infrastructure, skills and innovation – the mechanisms identified by Government to drive the UK economy. In Engineering a resilient and sustainable future the engineering profession set out actions that would achieve a recovery that marries economic renewal with the societal goals of spreading opportunity and skilled employment more evenly across the nation and reducing our net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. The engineering profession is ready to work with Government to make that a reality.”

Inconsistent messaging

The Build Back Better document said that as COP26 host, the UK will promote the importance of low carbon infrastructure. However, this is inconsistent with plans to build a new coking coal mine in Cumbria. The Woodhouse Colliery was approved in October 2020 by the Cumbria county council and in January this year Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick refused to block the plans for the mine, saying that it was a local issue. On 12 March, Jenrick did a U-turn and ordered a public inquiry into the mine. The mine is planned to be operational until 2049, against the advice of the Climate Change Committee which says that there may be no need for domestic coking coal after 2035 if other technologies are implemented.

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK's Chief Scientist, said: “It should never have taken this long for the coal mine to be called in – the case for it was untenable from the start. But this is certainly fantastic news and definitely better late than never. The Government may have just about saved its blushes, so long as the mine is canned. But with plans still to expand airports and a green homes programme left in ruins, there’s a long way to go before Boris Johnson can truly have the full credibility required of a man hosting vital climate talks later this year.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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