Government ambiguities and watering down of Net Zero targets risk imperilling Britain’s progress to the nation’s 2050 goal, key scientific advisors warn today.

The Climate Change Committee this morning reacted to Rishi Sunak’s speech to the Conservatives’ conference, in which the premier postponed by five years until 2035 the ban on sale of new fossil-fuelled vehicles.  He also invited ‘realism’ around gas boiler replacement in homes, watering down to 80% an earlier goal of substituting them all by 2035 with heat pumps.

Landlords will no longer be required to improve the energy efficiency of homes they rent out, Sunak also decreed.

In June, the CCC, Britain’s world-leading independent committee of academics, including climate scientists, energy economists and behavioural experts, warned Parliament that Britain’s progress is already lagging if it is to meet its legally binding climate pledges for 2050.

Today the CCC’s interim chair, Leeds University’s Prof. Piers Forster, writes that the CCC “remains concerned about the likelihood of achieving the UK’s future targets, especially the substantial policy gap to the UK’s 2030 goal“.

The CCC assesses that government intentions supposedly addressing this decade’s interim goals for carbon emissions are likely to fall short of the required cuts by as much as 20%, Prof. Forster makes clear.

Positive developments since June welcomed today by the CCC include:

  • plans to electrify steelmaking at Port Talbot;
  • a new cap implemented for the UK’s emissions trading scheme (ETS);
  • new laws to introduce the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate

Negative impacts outweigh these, however. The CCC report identifies the following as ‘making Net Zero considerably harder to achieve’:

  • Consumer and car makers’ perceptions, following Sunak’s delaying the ban on sales of new fossil-fuelled cars and vans.

“Uncertainty has been introduced by changing near-term consumer targets“, the CCC declares. “The buying public and car makers perceive a weakening of government commitment to the EV transition, which could undermine consumer confidence and/or jeopardise some inward investment relating to EV manufacturing“.

The CCC warned the government in June that the administrative strike price regulating September’s auctions was too high to attract bids and thus investment, today’s report reminds ministers including Claire Coutinho, D-ESNZ’s new secretary of state, pictured with Sunak.

“In forthcoming auction rounds, it is imperative that policy is adjusted to deliver contract award“, the CCC demands.

  • On decarbonising buildings, the announced changes will make it “more difficult“ to meet the government’s sectoral pathway.

A 2035 phase-out date for fossil boilers might yet contribute to Net Zero, the CCC concedes. But  the exemption of 20% of households from the phase-out by 2035 will have an impact on emissions all the way to 2050.

“Most importantly“, says the report, “it creates widespread uncertainty for consumers and supply chains. Although the grant for heat pumps was increased from £5,000 to £7,500, it has not been accompanied by a larger budget and will, therefore, serve fewer homes“.

From green industry lobbyists the Aldersgate Group, its head of public affairs Signe Norberg, said: “Today’s intervention from the Climate Change Committee is a stark reminder that the UK must maintain its ambition to deliver net zero by 2050 and back this up with robust policy measures and transparency to get on track to meet vital climate commitments.

“Lowering ambition and generating uncertainty by weakening targets only serves to increase costs in the long term, discourage investment, and impact the UK’s reputation on the world stage.

“At a time of increased international competition that threatens to divert investment in low-carbon industries away from the UK, businesses and investors need certainty and policy consistency to accelerate decarbonisation.

“We have seen the UK lead in the past with this approach across the economy, which has created a strong foundation from which to lead in the future, but without the right action now this opportunity will be lost“.


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