Meanwhile, other news on the climate emergency...

23 March 2021

Two influential parliamentary committees have this month published utterly damning reports on the government's lack of progress or plans to tackle climate change. It is worth noting that both of these committees have conservative majorities, so cannot be regarded as hostile to the government. Neither report addresses the much bigger question as to whether the government's greenhouse gas reduction target is adequate to avert climate disaster.

Report of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee: 'Achieving net zero'

Summary of conclusions and recommendations: 

'1. Government has not set out how it plans to achieve net zero (by 2050) despite having set the target in 2019;

Recommendation: The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (hereafter 'the department') should ensure that the key sector strategies, and the overarching net zero strategy, are published by September 2021. These strategies should include a clear timeline of key net zero milestones and decision points, to give Parliament and the public an overview of government's net zero plans, what it plans to achieve and when.

The Department is not yet reporting on the programmes across government that are crucial to the delivery of net zero in a way that enables Parliament or the public to scrutinise progress.

Recommendation:The Department should develop a clear set of metrics that provide a system-wide view of progress towards net zero. These metrics, which should include reporting on progress of emissions levels compared to expectations within each sector, should be reported regularly from the end of 2021, in as close to real time as is feasible and produced in a user-friendly manner for the public.

HM Treasury has not yet clarified how it will ensure net zero is given adequate weight in the assessment of government policies and projects.

Recommendation: HM Treasury should, within two months, write to us outlining:

  • how it will ensure its guidance, such as the Green Book, will lead to departments adequately considering and reporting the impact of policy decisions on net zero; how all fiscal stimulus packages and infrastructure proposals will be stress tested against net zero and what measures will be incorporated into the Green Book to ensure projects are only approved if they align with 2050 net-zero target; and
  • how it will ensure the development of skills across Whitehall to assess the impact of decisions on net zero.

Government does not have a clear way of determining whether its actions to reduce emissions in the UK are transferring emissions to other countries.

Recommendation: The Department should review how policies aimed at reducing UK-based emissions take into account the risk that emissions are passed to other countries and explore how to make the level of emissions generated in the manufacture of imported goods more transparent.

Government has not adequately communicated to the general public the changes that individuals will need to make in the transition to net zero emissions. Achieving net zero will depend on individuals choosing to change their behaviour, from personal lifestyle choices, as well as decisions that rely to some degree on related technological developments such as buying an electric car or changing how they heat their homes. The Climate Change Committee estimated in 2019 that 62% of remaining emissions reductions will rely to some degree on individual choices and behaviours. But there is a disconnect between people's concern about climate change and their understanding of what is required to achieve emissions reductions in the UK. There has so far been no coordinated government messaging about the changes and choices people will need to make. A key challenge will be engaging with, and supporting, those who are currently employed in sectors that will either decline as part of the transition to net zero, such as oil and gas extraction, or will need to significantly change, such as mechanics who must transition to working primarily on electric vehicles. Supporting these people could be complementary to the 'levelling up' agenda whereby Government aims to create opportunity for everyone in all regions and address disparities in economic and social outcomes. The Department established a public engagement team to begin work in April 2020 but accepts that it needs to do more on its communication with the public. (Note I have reproduced this conclusion in full.)

Recommendation: The Department should, in the next 12 months, develop a public engagement strategy that sets out how communications will be coordinated.

The Department has not sufficiently engaged with local authorities on their role in the achievement of net zero across the UK.

Recommendation: Government should respond with a coherent National Fiscal and Policy Framework. This should set out Government's national responsibilities. Local Authorities local and regional responsibilities and be clear how government proposes to work with local authorities to secure the funding, skills, resources and outcomes required to deliver Net Zero.'

Further reading here.

Report of the Commons Select Committee: Environmental Audit Committee: Energy Efficiency of Existing Homes: 22 March 2021

Summary (part)

(Note this is the larger part of the summary. There is nothing in the remaining part which mitigates these findings)

'The Climate Change Committee has said that the UK's legally-binding climate change targets will not be met without the near-complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK building stock by 2050. Emissions reductions from the UK's 29 million homes have stalled, which makes a comprehensive programme of home energy efficiency even more urgent. The failure of Government schemes yet to address this challenge adequately is therefore both disappointing and of great concern to the Committee.

Improving the energy efficiency of all homes provides a huge opportunity to develop supply chains and provide jobs across the UK for all levels and skills, helping to deliver the Government's levelling-up agenda and a sustainable post-covid recovery. Energy efficiency delivers much wider benefits to the population, including lower energy bills and improvements in health, and makes a vital contribution towards achieving net zero.

There is a chronic shortage of skills in the home retrofit sector. The industry has been bruised by stop-start policy and spending decisions and the Government must set long-term targets, with appropriate support mechanisms of multi-year duration, to give businesses certainty and not change the goalposts along the way. The Government's current energy efficiency ambitions need updating with new minimum energy efficiency standards across all tenures to set the trajectory to drive improvements for every home on a realistic timescale.

The retrofit of the existing housing sector needs much greater focus and is at risk of letting the rest of the economy down on decarbonisation. The task is colossal: in England alone, over ten million owner occupied homes and over three million private rented sector landlords need to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes to become A, B or C rated by 2035 for the Government's to achieve its climate aspirations. We consider the Government has significantly underestimated how much decarbonising our homes will cost, and it needs to get a grip on this now, before it is too late. Energy efficiency is an important precursor to low carbon heating and will put us on a least-cost path to net zero. While there are some welcome new policies such as the Home Upgrade Grant, overall policy is piecemeal and not delivering at the scale or pace required. It is also not coherent with policy costs disproportionately added to electricity bills, which is hampering the adoption of low carbon heating options such as heat pumps and support schemes such as the Energy Company Obligation, which only supports the upgrade of one energy efficiency measure at a time.

The Heat and Buildings Strategy must be urgently published. It ought to set out an enduring plan for at least the next decade to give industry and tradespeople time to upskill and give people the right signals to invest in energy efficiency. It must provide a more holistic plan for the sector and deliver on the Government's manifesto pledges on funding. Not all funding needs to come from central Government, but it needs to show more ambition and set the right frameworks to drive private investment.

New initiatives for owner occupiers are needed as this is where the largest climate benefits are to be made. The Green Homes Grant is welcome, but has been poorly implemented, beset by administrative problems and delays which fundamentally jeopardise delivery of the scheme's ambition. It is too short term and is now causing damage to the sector. The impact of its botched implementation has had devastating consequences on many of the builders and installers that can do the work, who have been left in limbo as a result of the orders cancelled and time taken to approve applications. It has only achieved ten per cent of its target to improve 600,000 homes in six months. We welcome the Government's commitment to improve the scheme. It must be urgently overhauled and extended to a multi-annual scheme to provide the financial support to homeowners and build trust within the industry to encourage installers to get accredited and enable companies to hire staff. This needs to be included in the Heat and Buildings Strategy as an urgent priority).'

Further reading here.









environmental audit committee