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What do the UK government's 'Green Day' policies mean for net zero?

The policies follow a High Court ruling last year which said existing plans were unlawful.

electric car charging

The government is investing nearly £400 million to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations. (Image: Eren Goldman/Unsplash)

The UK government has announced 60 new policies on its much-heralded “energy security day” that they say will ensure the UK reaches net zero by 2050 as well as improve energy security amid increasingly high bills. So will it?

The proposals  – previously dubbed “Green Day” before the pop-punk puns set in – have already faced criticism from experts and climate organisations who say the policies are not “genuinely world-leading” or “competitive”, and that more is needed.

Greenpeace UK’s head of climate Mel Evans told the Big Issue: “Green Day has turned into Groundhog Day – yet another government failure on climate action. As climate chaos hits our shores and millions struggle to pay their bills, ministers have again spectacularly failed to rise to the challenge.”

Some campaigners expected plans to rival the US Inflation Reduction Act, which included $500 billion in new spending and tax breaks to boost clean energy and create green jobs. But Chris Venables, head of politics at Green Alliance, told the Big Issue what has been announced is “is falling far short, and still largely focusing on short term fixes”. 

“This piecemeal, re-heated, and confusing announcement is just not enough to meaningfully tackle climate change or to provide secure, affordable energy for households. Ministers talk about leading the world, but the UK is not even making it to the starting blocks of the green tech race,” Evans added.

The announcement comes after a High Court ruling last year said existing plans were unlawful and lacked detail.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the policies would “ensure our energy security in the long term with more affordable, clean energy from Britain, so we can drive down energy prices and grow our economy”.

Here’s what you need to know about the new plans.

Phasing out petrol and diesel while growing the UK’s electric vehicle charging network

From 2024, a minimum 22 per cent of new cars sold should be electric and this will steadily increase until it reaches 100 per cent in 2035, said energy secretary Grant Shapps as part of his “power up Britain” strategy.

This is ahead of the 2030 ban on the sale of all new petrol and diesel vehicles being sold.

There are, however, loopholes to the plans as companies will have a certain number of allowances to sell petrol and diesel cars that they can trade with each other, and carmakers can offset shortfalls in meeting the targets during the first three years by selling more in later years.

To further support the target of phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles, the government is also investing nearly £400 million in infrastructure to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations across the country.

Greenpeace UK told the Big Issue that the measures are “welcome but do not go far enough”. 

The organisation said: “Without further action to secure battery plants to deliver green job opportunities and more money and enabling policies to deliver adequate charging infrastructure to meet demand, the government’s EV strategy would still be in need of a jump start.”

man putting petrol into car
By 2030, the sale of all petrol and diesel cars will be banned. (Image: Erik Mclean/Unsplash)

Rollout of carbon capture and storage

Energy secretary Grant Schapps has doubled down on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s allocation of £20bn over the next 20 years for carbon capture and storage technologies, which involve taking carbon dioxide emissions from industrial production, transporting it, and then storing it underground, 

Speaking at a visit to a nuclear fusion development facility in Oxford, Shapps said carbon capture is as necessary as continued use of fossil fuels

“Unless you can explain how we can transition [to net zero] without oil and gas, we need oil and gas. I am very keen that we fill those cavities with storing carbon,” he said. “I think there are huge opportunities for us to do that.”

Two locations for carbon capture have already been announced, with eight projects between them.

The government has said they hope to store 20-30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2030 despite scientists warning that the technology has not yet been proven to work on a large scale and is not a replacement for stopping oil and gas production.

Experts also say this normalises using carbon and would not pave the way for net zero emissions in 2050.

Greenpeace UK said carbon capture is “unlikely to see dramatic cost reductions or be scalable; and is often used for greenwashing by oil and gas companies so they can carry on polluting” while Chris Venables at Green Alliance said that carbon capture “will play a role in the future” but could also be “used to justify further oil and gas drilling”.

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Launching the Great British Insulation Scheme

This is a repackaged version of the existing insulation scheme announced in December. The original scheme was due to start in April 2023 and would run to March 2026, helping those on the lowest incomes and living in the least energy efficient homes to upgrade their insulation.

The scheme will give funding to nearly 80 per cent of households in council tax bands A to D to insulate their homes, which could help them save nearly £400 a year on energy bills and lower emissions.

The government has said this will help hit targets to reduce energy demand by 15 per cent in the next seven years.

Ministers have said it will launch as planned in April.

The government has also announced an extension to the boiler upgrade scheme, which will offer £5,000 to replace boilers, which use fossil fuels, with a heat pump or a biomass boiler up until 2028.

None of this is new and no further funding has been allocated despite organisations like Friends of the Earth previously calling for a street-by-street insulation programme that will ensure the poorest and most inefficient households will receive insulation first. 

The government’s own Environment Audit Committee (EAC) has said a “national war effort” to fix Britain’s leaky homes is necessary.

Investment in hydrogen and nuclear

A £240m pot of funding for companies developing low-carbon hydrogen projects will have its first recipients revealed soon, according to today’s announcements. No further details on the scope and timescale of the hydrogen projects have been revealed by the government.

Great British Nuclear, which was discussed during Hunt’s budget announcement, has appointed an interim chair and CEO to run the competition to fund small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).

The government said the first successful bidders will be announced later this year and Hunt previously said nuclear power would be part of a “clean energy reset” for the UK.

Greenpeace UK told the Big Issue that nuclear power is “an expensive distraction from genuine climate and energy security solutions, like renewable power and grid upgrades”.

“SMRs don’t yet exist, are highly unlikely to solve our energy woes and won’t provide a solution to the waste hazards that come with nuclear,” it added.

nuclear power station
Nuclear power plant in Czech Republic. (Image: Lukas Lehotsky/Unsplash)

Renewable energy

The government has announced a £160m investment for offshore wind from today, with a 12-week competition for manufacturers to bid for the funding. Payments from the fund will be made between now and 2025.

The announcement also includes promises to streamline planning permission for solar and offshore wind and ensure that it is efficient and fit for purpose. They say this will attract further investment into renewable energy.

Greenpeace UK said the £160m doesn’t come close to the nearly £4bn  needed for the project.

Many environmentalists were hoping the government would fully overhaul the ban on onshore wind in order to ensure a major push towards renewables.

“There is an ongoing failure to permit onshore wind in England that remains blocked by planning rules, and promises to streamline planning for offshore wind and solar were made in the British Energy Security Strategy nearly a year ago and have seen little change,” Greenpeace UK said.

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Responding to the net zero review

Today’s policies also follow an independent review of the government’s net zero policies and targets conducted by former energy minister and Tory MP for Kingswood Chris Skidmore in January, who said the UK is “falling behind” and needs “a new approach” in reaching net zero.

The government said they welcomed the net zero review and agreed with the review’s conclusion that “net zero is the growth opportunity of the 21st century and could offer major economic opportunities in the UK”.

In its 67-page response, covering each of the 129 recommendations in the review, the government has said they would be “fully or partly acting on” 23 of the recommendations Chris Skidmore put suggested should be implemented by 2025. 

Many of the recommendations included in the review were rejected outrightly, with the government stating they do not “consider it to be the right time” to create an onshore wind task force, use taxes from oil and gas licensing and operations to set up a net zero fund, or introduce a statutory duty for local authorities to consider net zero targets when planning.

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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