New climate targets won’t solve old problems without more action 

The UK’s announcement that it will accept the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation to set a new legally binding climate target to reduce emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 should be welcomed with open arms. This target, which will sit alongside the 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) promise to cut emissions by 68 per cent by 2030, is especially significant as it includes international aviation and shipping (IAS).

Emissions from IAS have long evaded inclusion in carbon budgets and national targets, despite contributing a tenth of total UK emissions. These bold commitments are certain to encourage other countries to set ambitious climate targets in the run up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Ambitious new targets, however, mean very little when they are not backed up with robust, consistent, and decisive action. Green Alliance’s Net zero policy tracker published last week, shows that, on the basis of current policies, UK emissions will be nearly 40 per cent higher in 2030 than they need to be to meet our NDC target. This is an overshoot roughly equivalent to the total emissions generated by all UK buildings in one year alone. Simply put, setting new climate targets does not automatically solve the flaws in current UK climate policy, currently characterised by piecemeal sector strategies and inconsistent decision making.  

Decarbonisation is being delayed
Our analysis shows that, since the start of 2020, new policy has made up a quarter of the shortfall to our 2030 target. This is largely thanks to policy measures announced in the PM’s Ten point plan for a green industrial revolution and the new UK Infrastructure Bank, unveiled in the chancellor’s spring budget in March. Emissions reductions progress so far, however, has been stymied by the government’s willingness to kick decarbonisation down the road. Key decarbonisation strategies, such as the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the Heat and Buildings Strategy, and the England Tree and Peat Strategy, have been repeatedly delayed, leaving important sectors without support or direction as to how they should make significant changes for the transition to a net zero future.   

To make matters worse, many of the sector specific strategies and plans that have been published this year lack the fine detail and financial backing to make them effective. The long awaited waste prevention plan, for instance, whilst stronger than its 2013 version, which has since only prevented 0.009 per cent of waste in England, is extremely unlikely to deliver the transformation needed without greater funding and policy development. 

The Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy too, which aims to slash emissions from industry by two thirds by 2035 (compared to 2018 levels), is hamstrung by a lack of firm policy detail and no new funding. To reach its legally binding net zero targets, the UK must stop delaying critical strategies and, instead, support them with clear and quantified policies intended to close the gap, with strong financial backing from the Treasury.  

There are glaring inconsistencies in government policy
At the very beginning of this year, it was clear that there were glaring inconsistencies in current domestic policy, such as the promise of £27 billion for the roads programme and the government’s ambiguous position on the new deep coal mine in Cumbria. Alarmingly, four months later, with important global summits creeping ever closer, little has been done to address these conflicts with climate strategy.

On the Cumbrian coal mine, the government has ordered a public inquiry into the proposal. Whilst this decision to intervene is positive, it is still highly concerning that the inquiry – which could take months – could cast a cloud over UK climate leadership in the run up to the Glasgow climate summit and could ultimately end with approval.  

Over the past four months, the government had made other decisions which contradict with its net zero ambitions, such as signalling support for reducing air passenger duty on domestic flights and scrapping the Green Homes Grant, the government’s flagship green recovery policy. Axing the scheme is not only a backwards step for climate action, as the UK’s housing stock is in desperate need of retrofitting, but for the UK’s post-pandemic recovery. Ending the programme will result in job losses, particularly in the Midlands and North of England. As the international reaction to the Cumbrian coal mine has proved, these contradictions will damage the UK’s reputation as a climate leader.   

Five new policies this year would help close the gap
Two steps forward, one step back is how the UK’s climate policy could be seen right now. However, with time running short before this year’s important G7 and climate summits, it is urgent that the UK drives forward detailed decarbonisation strategies, backed by long term funding and consistent policy. 

Here are our five priority net zero policies for this year: 

  1. A new, strong homes decarbonisation policy to replace the Green Homes Grant.  
  2. A new target to halve overall resource consumption by 2050.  
  3. A Transport Decarbonisation Plan that puts the whole UK transport sector on track for net zero. 
  4. Better regulation and higher ambition for the Environmental Land Management scheme.  
  5. Phase out unabated natural gas for power by 2035 and set new ambition to increase renewable capacity.  

For more information about the government’s climate policy progress, with a sectoral breakdown, please see the latest update of our Net zero policy tracker.

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