UK set to miss net zero targets, reports conclude

Out-Law News | 08 Mar 2022 | 10:33 am | 2 min. read

The UK is likely to miss its legally binding target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, two separate reports have concluded.

Last week the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee and the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee both found the government had failed to put in place concrete, achievable plans to meet the target.

The Lords called for the “urgent establishment” of a ‘transformation taskforce’ within government to set out a clear roadmap for the development and implementation of energy policies, and act as a coordinator and monitor of progress.

The Industry and Regulators Committee also said the government should urgently explain how the transition to net zero would be funded and should review its opposition to government borrowing.

The Public Accounts Committee echoed this conclusion, saying there should be annual reports from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and HM Treasury on progress relating to specific measures such as vehicle and fuel-related duties.

Climate change and sustainability specialist Michael Watson of Pinsent Masons said: “Climate change is the greatest existential long-term threat to the planet. It is a true massive emergency; relatively slow-moving but accelerating.”

“Funding comes up all the time as being the challenge – we need more of it and faster and yet it is said it takes time to put in place the regulations and structures required to attract funding,” Watson said.

“We should ask ourselves: is it really impossible to accelerate the pace and scale of the funding needed to address climate change?” Watson said.

The House of Lords report, The net zero transformation: delivery, regulation and the consumer, set out a number of recommendations for government. It called for clarity on funding and business models across several areas, including carbon capture, usage and storage and the increased use of hydrogen.

It said the government should set out a roadmap by 2024 of the way it will deliver the energy mix it envisages for achieving net zero in a secure way, including funding structures and exploring the UK’s own energy resources.

The committee recommended more clarity on energy regulator Ofgem’s role in the transition to net zero. This included the publication of a strategy and policy statement to provide further clarity on how Ofgem should make trade-offs between affordability, net zero, security of supply and the interests of current versus future generations in its regulatory decisions.

The Lords also said consumers had to be engaged with the process of transition, and required more clarity, information and guidance to enable them to play their part.

The Public Accounts Committee’s report into the government’s progress in achieving net zero also said consumers needed more information, and there remained significant uncertainty on whether consumers would rapidly change behaviours in line with the net zero strategy. It said BEIS needed to monitor consumer take-up of new technologies, such as heat pumps or electric vehicles, and inform policy responses with research into why there was any shortfall.

The committee added that local government needed to be more closely involved in the process, and said BEIS should clarify the role it expects local authorities to take in achieving net zero.

With the report finding that neither the private nor public sector yet had the skills to deliver the net zero strategy, the Public Accounts Committee said BEIS should work with the Cabinet Office to analyse what skills were needed and set out a strategy to encourage the private sector to deliver these.

The UK published a net zero strategy document (36.3MB / 368-page PDF) in October 2021. In January this year environmental legal group ClientEarth announced that it was taking the UK government to court over “huge gaps” in the strategy, arguing that the policy breaches legally binding climate change legislation.