Environment

5 key takeaways from a damning review of the government's net zero progress

The report by Tory MP Chris Skidmore said the UK government is "falling behind" on its net zero commitments

solar panels on roof net zero

The report has called for solar panels to be approved more easily. (Image: Watt A Lot/Unsplash)

An independent review of net zero has criticised the government for inconsistent policies and a lack of commitment to meeting their emissions targets.

The report, conducted by former energy minister and Tory MP for Kingswood Chris Skidmore, looked at whether the UK would be able to reach net zero by 2050 based on current policies and guidelines.

And it’s not looking good. Skidmore’s report said the UK is “falling behind” and needs “a new approach”, warning the country risks missing out on its targets if there isn’t enough incentive to invest in renewable energy.

However, climate campaigners say the review itself is unambitious in its method of using constructive suggestions rather than hard-hitting demands for how net zero can be achieved. 

Greenpeace UK’s policy director Doug Parr said: “Whilst there is much useful analysis of the problem the review stops short of recommending the kind of muscular policies that would really drive change towards the massive growth in renewables which will be necessary.”

Parr said he hoped ministers will finally listen to the benefit of achieving net zero, both for the climate and for the economy now that it’s coming from “one of the governing party’s own MPs”.

He added: “We should stop faffing about and get on with it.”

The report calls for 25 actions within the next two years to reach net zero. But, here are the key things to take away from the review.

1. The government must increase transparency for the public

While there is “widespread support” for a net zero transition, there is a lack of clear information on cost and implementation and the public is unaware of how to make the transition, Skidmore has said.

The review calls for the government to put “public engagement at the heart of its work on net zero” so people can “understand the changes that are happening and being planned”.

Skidmore called for a public engagement strategy, which would improve and increase the information available to the public, as well as a carbon calculator to provide people with the information they need to make informed individual decisions.

2. Net zero is the biggest economic opportunity of this century

One of the things the report is most consistent about is how net zero can benefit us economically. 

“We have heard from businesses that economic opportunities are being missed today because of weaknesses in the UK’s investment environment – whether that be skills shortages or inconsistent policy commitment,” Skidmore wrote in the report.

The review said investing in net zero will be cheaper in the long-run than delaying and the UK should take advantage of the economic opportunities provided by achieving net zero, which includes an estimated 2 per cent growth in GDP, new jobs, increased economic activity, reduced fossil fuel imports, and cheaper household bills – as well as being good for the environment.

The report was commissioned by former prime minister Liz Truss to review the government’s actions on net zero, particularly ensuring all net zero policies were also “pro-growth and pro-business”.

“There is no future economy but a green economy,” the report says.

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3. The government needs to change its approach

All of Skidmore’s recommendations will not happen without a “change in the government’s approach to delivering net zero”.

According to the review, respondents were frustrated by “a lack of long-term thinking”, poor communication from government departments, and “uncertainty over the length of funding commitments”, all of which are inhibiting the implementation of net zero.

A drastic change in approach would include following all 25 recommendations set out in the report in various areas. But, the report particularly calls for the government to put forward a financing strategy by 2023 to provide long-term clarity to businesses and investors about a green transition.

Further commitment to net zero policies, in the long-term, and creating a department solely dedicated to delivering net zero would also strongly benefit the UK as a whole.

wind turbine farm
Wind farm in unknown country. Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy is a key part of net-zero targets.
(Image: Abby Anaday/Unsplash)

4. All action on net zero should be locally-led

The national government can also hinder development of net zero in local areas, according to the review. 

It writes: “The government must provide central leadership on net zero, but it must also empower people and places to deliver.”

Locally-led action would involve reforming planning systems at both local and national levels to support net zero, ensuring local authorities and stakeholders are able to access funding for net zero initiatives, and providing further support to areas that are aiming for net zero by 2030 instead of 2050.

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5. The government must urgently deliver cleaner, cheaper, and greener homes

The review said the government needs to “further and faster” in terms of energy efficiency. It said all homes sold should have an energy performance rating of band C by 2033.

Energy efficiency ratings are used to measure how costly it will be to heat and light your property, as well as the carbon emissions from the energy used. It ranges from very efficient (band A) to inefficient (band G). 

According to the Office of National Statistics, homes in England and Wales have an average energy efficiency rating of band D, while band C and above is considered to be the most efficient in terms of both cost and emissions.

The Environment Audit Committee (EAC) recently released a report arguing for a “national war effort” on energy saving and efficiency in the UK to reduce bills and emissions, which would be in line with Skidmore’s recommendations.

The review also states the government should “urgently adopt a 10-year mission to make heat pumps a widespread technology in the UK” as well as putting forward regulation to stop any new or replacement gas boilers to be installed by 2033.

Skidmore has called for the UK to launch a “rooftop revolution” by removing planning permission requirements to install solar panels.

He said: “We need the full-scale deployment of solar, including through a ‘rooftop revolution’ that removes the existing constraints and barriers to solar panel deployment across residential and commercial buildings in the UK.”

Currently, only a million homes in the UK have solar panels installed, which is less than 5% of all homes. 

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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