a guest piece by Peter Somerville
In this devastating critique, Peter Somerville makes a detailed examination of the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy. Read his review in full here.
He begins by setting the strategy in context.
When the government published their Ten Point Plan a year ago they recognised that it did not go far enough to fulfil their international commitment to reducing carbon emissions. One year on, their Net Zero Strategy does go a little further, but still falls far short of what is required. The problems inherent in the original plan persist, namely:
- A failure to recognise that the world is now experiencing a climate emergency, and therefore that more drastic action is required in the short term (before 2025) to reduce carbon emissions (see p18, Fig 1, or p77, Fig 13 – minimal reductions up to 2025)
- A continuing (and increasing) reliance on problematic technologies that do not currently exist at scale, particularly in carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) – e.g. direct air carbon capture
- A failure to explain clearly how expected future carbon savings have been calculated, particularly in industry, buildings and transport
- A neglect of issues relating to agriculture, food, land use and energy storage
- An emphasis on constructing new nuclear power plants, with a new (from 2022) Future Nuclear Enabling Fund of £120 million, but with no net increase in nuclear power capacity likely until after 2030 (Minus 45 – UK FIRES, p7); in the meantime construction work is adding significantly to carbon emissions (see, for example: Record-breaking concrete pour lays Hinkley Point base slab)
- An emphasis on GDP growth, despite the strong correlation between such growth and increasing carbon emissions
- A lack of clarity about how specific policies could achieve intended emission reductions, e.g. on hydrogen
- A failure to curb the expansion of aviation to 2030 and beyond (an expansion that is encouraged rather than hindered by the latest spending review’s decision to cut air passenger duty)
- A failure to take account of other government programmes that increase rather than reduce emissions, e.g. increased spending on roads (£27 billion) and defence (£24 billion) up to 2024.
In spite of progress in a number of areas, for example on the decarbonisation of electricity and industry, and possibly on restoring peatland, planting trees and reducing waste, this Strategy is little changed from the Ten Point Plan of a year ago. Progress on heat and buildings has stalled, due in part to the failure of the Green Homes Grant, and strategy on other sectors, such as transport and agriculture, remains confused and irrational, and inadequate to achieve the government’s goals. Overall, the Strategy lacks urgency, coherence or precision. Far from being the promised green industrial revolution, the Strategy seems focused on merely incremental change, such as from internal combustion engines to electric ones, from fossil-fuel boilers to low-carbon heating appliances, with continuing support for unsustainable aviation – no real modal shift from private to public transport or from unsustainable to sustainable farming.
This strategy fails to demonstrate that the UK can stay within its Sixth Carbon Budget, which is itself too loose to ensure that the UK makes its fair contribution to limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius (Calculating a fair carbon budget for the UK). The strategy takes no account of the UK’s historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions or for emissions embodied in imports or of the City of London’s key role in funding fossil fuels. It has nothing to say about divesting from fossil-fuel companies or about banks and pension funds divesting from those companies. It offers no forms of regulation or mandatory legislation that would be sufficient to bring about the necessary divestment. It exudes complacency by failing to comply with Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommendations (as of June 2021, the CCC’s 2021 Progress Report to Parliament, p16 stated: ‘credible policies for delivery currently cover only around 20% of the required reduction in emissions to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget’), and by effectively postponing decisive mitigative action until after 2025. The only amendment it suggests to the Climate Change Act 2008 is one that would include negative emissions technologies in the carbon budget, which would have the effect of making the carbon budget even looser than it is already, thus reducing the need for immediate and effective action – yet another clear step backwards rather than forwards in the struggle to prevent catastrophic climate change. Above all it continues to promote alleged climate ‘solutions’ that exist, if at all, only in the longer term (e.g. nuclear power and carbon capture and storage), while failing to act decisively in the short term and indeed continuing to support and encourage the fossil fuel extraction and burning that is primarily responsible for causing the current global climate emergency.