The UK's strategy for decarbonising the economy will not deliver net-zero emissions by 2050 if progress continues on its current trajectory, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned today.
In a landmark 600-page assessment, the government advisors highlight “major failures” in net-zero delivery programmes, with a thorough review finding “scant evidence” of progress against headline climate goals.
Although there are some bright spots, particularly around the deployment of renewable energy and adoption of electric cars, in most areas, “the likelihood of under-delivery is high”, which the CCC describes as a “high-wire approach”.
It found a “shocking” gap in policy for insulating homes, while agriculture and land use have the weakest policies in its assessment, despite also being vital to delivering other goals on food security and biodiversity.
This is the first appraisal of the government’s Net Zero Strategy, published last year, finding that over a third of emission reduction plans cannot be relied on to deliver the cuts needed to meet the sixth carbon budget in the mid-2030s.
Commenting on the findings, IEMA CEO Sarah Mukherjee MBE, said: “The CCC’s report provides further evidence that we still have a long way to go to develop a credible net zero strategy, that business and society need to deliver on the 2050 target.
“A key aspect in this is ensuring that all jobs in the UK are greener. We must equip both the current and future workforce with the knowledge and skills to deliver on the climate agenda.
“IEMA’s 18,500 strong membership of environmental and sustainability professionals continue to try to make this a reality.”
UK emissions are now almost half those recorded in 1990, and although these rose 4% in 2021 as the economy began to recover from COVID-19, they were still 10% below 2019 levels.
The CCC's assessment outlines how the areas of strongest progress are backed and led by well-designed government policies, such as with emissions from electricity, which have fallen by nearly 70% in the last decade.
Electric cars are also being adopted in greater numbers each year, with the rise already ahead of CCC and government growth projections, showing that consumers and households are willing to adopt low-carbon options when offered a cost-effective, good quality product.
However, when it comes to energy efficiency, the UK continues to have some of the leakiest homes in Europe, and installations of insulation remain at “rock bottom”, with average annual energy bills around £40 higher than if insulation rates from pre-2012 had continued for the last decade.
Progress in reducing farming emissions has also been “glacial”, and the government’s Food Strategy published a fortnight ago did little to address these issues, according to the assessment.
It explains how the risks of policy failures cannot be tackled credibly with an even greater reliance on greenhouse gas removal technologies, and calls on the government to develop contingency plans, such as encouraging healthier diets and fewer flights.
The strategy also highlights how there is still no public engagement strategy three years after the net-zero target was signed into law, and how the government has yet to set out how the full range of costs and benefits of the transition will be shared.
It states that the government must urgently review its tax strategy to support the transition, deliver a comprehensive reform of planning legislation to reflect the UK’s international and national commitments, and publish a Future Homes Strategy.
Bottlenecks, such as skills gaps and planning consents for infrastructure, should also be “anticipated and tackled early”.
The CCC revamped its framework for monitoring the UK’s climate progress in its assessment, focusing on the changes needed on the ground to achieve net zero, and developing detailed new progress indicators.
CCC chairman, Lord Deben, said: “It's no ordinary report, it really is a necessary programme for survival.
“The UK is a champion in setting new climate goals, now we must be world-beaters in delivering them. In the midst of a cost-of living crisis, the country is crying out to end its dependence on expensive fossil fuels.
“I welcome the government’s restated commitment to net zero, but holes must be plugged in its strategy urgently. The window to deliver real progress is short. We are eagle-eyed for the promised action.”
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