Today, 28 June, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has released its latest annual report. The 2023 Progress Report to Parliament highlights the extent to which the nation is off-target on its 2030 net zero goals – and the repercussions of not making a timely net zero transition. “The true test of leadership is delivery. And here I am more worried.” Lord Deben, outgoing chair of the Climate Change Committee, does not mince his words in his introduction to the CCC’s 2023 progress report. The committee’s confidence in government’s ability to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target has “markedly declined”. Progress is too slow and, despite the legally binding nature of our net zero ambition, the government does not seem focused on achieving it, the new report declares.
InactionThe report, published on 28 June 2023, has been described as “damning”. It makes it clear that no sector of the UK economy is currently on track to achieve its part of the country’s net zero target. The CCC report criticises inaction in a number of areas.
Industrial emissions cutsThe government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) sets out the intention to cut industrial emissions by 69% from a 2022 baseline. This means roughly 8% a year. In the past year we have seen emissions fall by just 3%, which means we need to speed up to stay on track.
Industrial electrificationThe CCC finds that there is “no clear plan” to support the electrification of industry and little evidence that industry is preparing for this. Policy is urgently needed to make it happen, including reducing the price of electricity enough to encourage the transition.
Domestic energy efficiencyThe UK famously has the oldest, leakiest housing stock in Europe and the CCC has long recommended higher energy efficiency standards for our homes. The recommendation in their 2022 progress report was modest: implement a minimum standard of EPC C for owner-occupied homes by 2035. But the government has done absolutely nothing towards achieving this in the year since then.
Low-carbon heatThe direction of travel for low-carbon heating has been uncertain for some time, with confusion over the role of hydrogen. The CCC recommends that the government set aside the hydrogen issue for now and get on with electrifying our heating. (The CCC made it clear as far back as April 2019 that we need to accelerate the electrification of heating systems.)
TransportSurface transport emissions have increased by 3% since the CCC’s last progress report. While sales of electric cars are growing ahead of the CCC’s pathway, this has not been enough to stop the rise in emissions from the sector.
MethaneMethane has stronger global warming potential than carbon dioxide and is the biggest source of farming emissions. But the government does not have a plan for how it will honour the Global Methane Pledge. (We need to reduce emissions by 30% on 2020 levels before 2030.)
Land useThe CCC’s 2020 report makes it clear that a change in land use is needed. By 2035 it recommends planting 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland and shifting 260,000 of farmland to produce energy crops. We also need restoration and protection of peatlands. The UK is currently falling short of all its targets on this. Not only that, but the planting of perennial energy crops has remained static since 2013.
Actively counterproductiveBut inaction and slow progress aren’t the only things taking us off course for net zero. The CCC report highlights a number of developments that are actively undermining our efforts.
Airport expansionDespite talk of “Jet Zero”, we are a long way off developing a sustainable aviation sector. The only realistic way to get flying in line with our net-zero goals is to do less of it. This is why when the CCC published its Sixth Carbon Budget, it recommended no further airport expansion. This advice has been completely ignored, with many airports increasing capacity and planning to increase it further.
Fossil fuel explorationThe CCC finds that the UK’s recent decisions on fossil fuel exploration have not just jeopardised its net zero goals, but “damaged its international reputation”. The approval of the Cumbria coal mine is inconsistent with a decarbonising fuel sector and hurts our credibility when trying to persuade other countries to ditch coal.
Obsessing over “innovation”The report finds that government policy focuses too much on innovation and unproven technologies. While innovation is important – the CCC recommends more support for new research – the UK should not be relying on it. We need to use proven ways of cutting emissions, even if this means making potentially unpopular decisions. The CCC report is clear that the UK government is failing on most fronts. But it is not too late to get on track for net zero, provided the government turns pledges into actions. Lord Deben describes the present time as a “key moment”. It is time for government to grasp the opportunity.
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