The government has signalled its commitment to take taking emissions more seriously, with Theresa May’s decision to award energy and climate change minister Claire Perry the right to attend Cabinet in her reshuffle earlier this month.
Key to translating such aspirations is the Clean Growth Strategy, which Perry launched just over three months ago. But while the document shows the will to tackle climate change, many worry that it is shorter on practical plans to cut emissions.
It is the job of the Committee on Climate Change to make sure that ministers meet its statutory greenhouse gas reduction targets. Last week, the CCC published its response to the Strategy, which shows how the government plans to achieve these targets.
Lord Deben, the committee’s chair, is anxious to stress it has seen a “fundamental change” in the government’s stance on the issue.
The good news for Perry is the committee’s assessment that the government is closer to meeting the climate change targets outlined in the fourth carbon budget, which stipulate that emissions must be 52 per cent below 1990 levels by 2028.
Revisions to emissions projections, which were published earlier this month by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), cut the size of forecast savings that will have to be made in order to hit the fourth carbon budgets.
Less welcome will be the CCC’s finding that the policies and actions outlined in the strategy still fall “well short” of achieving the level of emissions reductions that will be needed to meet these targets.
The committee estimates that new policies will be needed in order to save a further 10 million metric tonnes of carbon (MtCO2) over the next decade, which is the size of the gap in the fourth budget.
And there is an even bigger shortfall to overcome in order to meet the fifth carbon budget under which emissions must fall to 61 per cent vis-a vis 1990 levels by 2033. “This shows that there is no way they are going to meet the fifth carbon budget targets without stepping up,” says Tim Yeo, former chair of the defunct Decc select committee.
Fill the gap
In order to help fill this gap, the CCC outlines a series of recommendations. For consumers, one of the report’s more eye-catching is the proposal for a more aggressive rollout of charging points in order to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles.
Potentially of higher impact for consumers, however are the CCC’s thoughts on the future of domestic heat, which accounts for around 45 per cent of final energy consumption in the UK and therefore represents a major opportunity to close the national emissions reduction shortfall.
The committee identifies heat decarbonisation as a major gap in the government’s clean growth strategy and insists a definitive decision must be made in the first half of the next decade on the future role of the gas networks in delivering heat to homes.
More immediately, while it welcomes plans to phase out fossil fuel heating in homes off the gas grid, the CCC says government must reform the rules of the renewable heat incentive to target support at heat pumps and biomethane. It also calls for more ambition in tackling the problem of energy efficiency in all new builds in the UK.
A specific government strategy considering the future of low carbon heat in the UK, is expected in the spring.
On generation, the committee says there should be more encouragement for onshore wind and solar, which will give the BEIS ministerial team ammunition in its attempts to overcome Conservative party hostility to the cheapest source of renewable power.
The report also says additional low-carbon power may need to be sourced if new nuclear plants and interconnectors fail to contribute the level of energy that the government expects. Its plethora of recommendations also include rolling out heat pumps in those areas which are off the gas grid and firmer policies to improve the energy efficiency of the building stock.
Perhaps the biggest call made by the committee is that for the government to set out plans in 2018 to kick-start a UK carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry in the 2020s.
Without the deployment of CCS, the committee’s report says the UK cannot the ultimate 2050 target to cut emissions by 80 per cent on 190 levels. And it says the £100 million earmarked in the CGS for developing CCS is insufficient.
Yeo admits that he is “anxious” about the committee’s reliance on the ability of CCS to be delivered economically, particularly if it encourages a more relaxed approach to gas use.
Seize the opportunity
Nevertheless, he believes that the committee’s report will help BEIS when it fights the Whitehall battles that will inevitably be required to turn the CGS’s vision into practical policy.
Richard Black, chief executive of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, believes that the government should seize the opportunity presented by the CGS, give that it is hamstrung on so many issues by lack of cash or Brexit. “Climate change and reducing emissions gives them an opportunity to do something because there won’t be a great deal of opposition in Parliament to implementing what the CCC has said,” he says.
However, the CCC is also clear that there is no time to waste, partly because of the government’s own dilly dallying over the last year and a half. And it says the government has a “small” window to develop policies, which will enable the UK to meet its statutory emission reduction targets. The delayed publication of the strategy in October, more than a year after the fifth budget had been set in the summer of 2016, means “urgent action” is required, the committee says.
This means outlining by the end of this year policies to enable the UK to achieve its fourth carbon budget targets. And policies to fill the gap in the fifth carbon budget should be in place by the end of 2020, says the report.
The committee is right to strike this urgent note, says Yeo: “This is very important because we will be at 2030 in no time. The investment cycle in all these programmes is so slow: a decision in 2018 means something might start happening in 2020 and fully operational by 2025, and you are almost at 2030.”
The pressure is on. It’s a good job Perry has her eye firmly fixed on the energy and climate change ball.