On 4 February, the government launched COP26 with more of a whimper than a bang. The UN summit, to be hosted in Glasgow in November, is arguably the most significant international climate moment since Paris in 2015. 2020 is the year when all countries will need to ratchet up the promises they initially made five years ago and set out clear plans to achieve them.
Unfortunately, the sacking of Claire O’Neill, the government appointed COP president, ahead of today’s launch, was not a good look. It has sent out worrying signals and risks the government looking unprepared to host such an important summit in November, only ten months away.
There are no policies yet for net zero
However, there were already indications before this that the government was not doing all that is required to host a game changing summit. Whilst its passing of a net zero target last year was very welcome, it has so far not put any of the policies in place needed to get there by the 2050 goal. In fact, it was already off target to meet its less stretching carbon budgets, based on 80 per cent reduction of carbon emissions on 1990 levels by 2050.
To be a credible host, inspiring other nations to act, the UK must ensure that its own house is in order first. This is why Green Alliance has launched, as part of our flagship Cutting Carbon Now partnership, a UK net zero policy tracker to make sure that, over the coming months, everyone understands clearly the extent to which the UK has stepped up to take its commitments seriously, or not. This will be updated regularly as policy and funding pledges are made and it will show how much further there is still to go.
The tracker will measure any significant policies that reduce carbon, and also the funding needed to tackle the climate emergency over the next three years. The starting point is that there is an enormous gap of 313MtC02e reductions needed by 2032to be on track to net zero by 2050. A more ambitious aim of getting to net zero by 2045 would raise this shortfall to 574 MtC02e.
The big actions needed will also be crowd pleasers
To give you an idea of what this means in terms of action, our tracker shows that a 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles would save 98 MtCO2e over the fifth carbon budget period (to 2032). Boris Johnson’s announcement today, that the government will bring forward the ban from 2040 to 2035 will only save 57 MtCO2e. A 2030 ban combined with a major home energy efficiency scheme, bringing all of the country’s existing homes up to EPC band C (saving 96 MtCO2e), would get the government nearly two thirds of the way to being on track to net zero by 2050.
We’ve identified five policies, including these on housing and transport, that could be implemented right now. They will be relatively cheap (compared to carbon cutting action that will otherwise be needed down the line). And the bonus is that they come with a huge number of other crowd pleasing benefits, like better health, lower bills, and more productive industry. If they are introduced in the government’s new programme before the summer they will put the UK in an excellent position as COP host, clearly demonstrating exemplary climate leadership.
The responsibility of hosting such an historic international event cannot be taken lightly and every government department should have success at the Glasgow summit in mind as a priority.
A speech disappointingly light on detail
The prime minister’s speech today was disappointingly light on detail. No new president announced, no real strategy, and one policy that is not ambitious enough, nor set in law.
2020 was never going to be an easy year for the government but now is the time for it to treat its responsibilities in tackling the climate and nature emergencies more seriously.
To do so it must do three things: demonstrate it is a legitimate leader on the international climate stage; set strong domestic policies – in law – to get on track to net zero; and make spending commitments that lay the groundwork to start the decade of action that is needed.
So far the government is just sitting on the starting line in all three areas, and today’s launch hasn’t changed that. Our policy tracker will be making public any progress or regression to meet these aims. We want to make sure that the prime minister can stand up before the world at the end of the year and confirm that he has achieved all three.