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January 16, 2023

UK net zero review criticises lack of long-term thinking

An independent review led by former energy minister Chris Skidmore has urged the government to implement a number of climate change strategies or risk the UK falling behind other countries.

A review of the UK’s approach to meeting its net zero commitments has called for “a step change” from the government, suggesting that an absence of long-term thinking and funding uncertainty are holding back the deployment of green technologies.

Commissioned in September 2022 and led by former energy minister and Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, the report has recommended the introduction of a financing strategy by the end of next year, as well as the provision of “longer-term funding certainty” for achieving net zero targets and the establishment of an Office for Net Zero Delivery.

It also proposed reforms intended to improve energy efficiency, suggesting the government legislate by 2025 that all non-domestic buildings should achieve a EPC B minimum energy efficiency ratings by 2030. Buildings in the UK receive energy performance certificates, or EPCs, ranging from a top rate of A to a bottom rate of G. The review also asked the government to bring forward the banning of gas boilers from its proposed 2035 date to 2033.

The report pointed out extensive investment in technology by other countries, citing the US’s commitment of more than $370bn towards clean energy as part of its 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. It warned that the UK could fall behind other countries.

“As the US and EU invest heavily in new net zero industries, the question for the UK is will it let itself get left behind in the global race to develop cleaner car, steel and renewable industries?” asked the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s head of energy Jess Ralston.

Inconsistent policies

The report represents the latest call-to-arms for the government to step up its commitment to tackling climate change. 

Earlier in January, the UK parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee demanded a national “war effort” to cut emissions and reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. The EAC then heard from solar energy advocates that its ambitions for the nation’s annual solar energy output could be scaled up

In response to Skidmore’s review, EAC chair Philip Dunne said: “In some areas the UK government has made major advances in tackling climate change, and its stated ambition is undoubted. 

“But inconsistent policies and a lack of coherence across government in implementation, with little effective cross departmental governance, does not give confidence to those sectors that will drive real change and develop green skills.”

The report recommended the creation of new select committees in both houses of parliament that would scrutinise the government’s progress towards net zero, in addition to the existing Climate Change Committee.

Receiving more than 1,800 responses, the review said it had been told of “foundational barriers to building the infrastructure, unlocking the private investment, and forging the global partnerships required to unlock net zero”.

The government should publish a review of regulations concerning emerging net zero technologies by Autumn 2023, it said. It should consider how policy incentivises investment in decarbonisation, and assess options for offering “longer-term certainty to a small number of major priorities for net zero”.

Greater investment will also be required, with the review noting that a lack of funding “is diminishing UK comparative advantage”. 

In a written statement part of the review process, the London School of Economics said the UK has been investing significantly less as a fraction of its gross domestic product than its competitors over the past decade. “The first challenge is therefore to create stronger conditions for private investment,” the LSE said, according to the report.

According to the Climate Change Committee, additional net zero capital investment will need to surge to £50bn a year in 2030 from its annual level of around £10bn as of 2020.

Energy efficiency

As well as encouraging greater funding and more clarity, the report made a series of recommendations on improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings with the introduction of minimum standards. Earlier in January, the government proposed reducing the emissions limits imposed on new oil and gas plants from 2034.

All new non-domestic buildings from 2025 should have an EPC B rating, Skidmore’s review said.

All homes should have EPC C ratings by 2033, while the government should regulate now for the end of new and replacement gas boilers by 2033. The review said the transition to net zero could save an average household between £400 and £6,000 in aggregate by 2050.

“Bringing forward the phase out date for gas boilers and investing in the zero carbon transition will help ease the pressure on less affluent households struggling to pay their bills, while driving economic growth across the entire country with new jobs and innovative industries,” think-tank Green Alliance executive director Shaun Spiers said.

With some UK politicians remaining sceptical of the government’s net zero ambitions — such as the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which has a number of Conservative MPs, was formed ahead of the COP26 summit — Spiers said he hoped that the review would “put an end once and for all to Conservative party infighting over net zero”. 

“Ministers should ignore those living in the dark ages”, he said. 

A service from the Financial Times