If Number 10 wants a ‘green industrial revolution’, they’d better tell the neighbours

This post is by Joe Tetlow and James Fotherby of Green Alliance.

The prime minister’s Ten point plan for a green industrial revolution was published last November with the intention of framing the way the UK could “build back better” from the pandemic on the way to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The plan included everything from new jobs in home insulation to investment in technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture. The very nature of net zero means it crosscuts government departments, requiring attention and energy from all the ministers around the cabinet table.

This week, six months on from the plan’s publication, the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy provided a progress update to the Commons. Despite listing several measures of progress, from historical government successes in backing offshore wind, to increases in electric car uptake in the past year, there was a discernible air of frustration at the despatch box.

Several key departmental strategies remain unpublished, including the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, Heat and Buildings Strategy, Hydrogen Strategy and, crucially, the Treasury’s Net Zero Review. On Tuesday, it wasn’t just one elephant in the room, but a whole herd. This malaise should be a cause for concern at the centre of government.

Underpinning it all is a lack of clear direction (or worse, a handbrake applied) by the Treasury. If Number 10 wants this plan to actually result in a ‘green industrial revolution’, and not just to be another fleeting government slogan, someone had better let their neighbours in Number 11 and across Whitehall know.

Whether the ten point plan was ambitious enough in the first place is a different matter, with considerable blind spots on resource use and the more efficient use of energy but, by its very own metrics, government progress has been patchy and uneven. If we learnt anything from Tuesday’s statement, it’s that efforts must be redoubled.

At Green Alliance, we have mapped out the 2020-21 target milestones in the ten point plan, and what the government has done to meet them so far. On Jet Zero and green ships, for example, the government is yet to deliver on its 2021 target milestone: the Aviation Decarbonisation Strategy. It has also stalled on greening aviation by signalling intentions to cut Air Passenger Duty for domestic flights. This measure is shortsighted and would put the UK at odds with other countries, such as France, which recently banned domestic flights for routes where rail alternatives exist.

And whilst Defra has made progress this week on protecting our natural environment through new tree and peat strategies, thornier issues like greening new homes have been kicked into the long grass over at the Housing Department. With the Future Homes Standard delayed until 2025,  hundreds of thousands of houses will now be built to lower standards, transferring the cost of home efficiency improvements on their future owners and the taxpayer.

The UK is hosting the UN climate change conference in Glasgow this year which adds international pressure on the UK to get its house in order. But, domestically, perhaps more importantly, failure to create low carbon jobs and kickstart a green industrial revolution not only undermines plans to meet net zero, but also an important component of the government’s agenda before the next election. Perhaps when the COP26 President, Alok Sharma, is finished with securing action from international leaders, he can turn his attention to his colleagues.

Green Alliance has analysed in brief the government progress so far on meeting its ten point plan, six months since its publication.

One comment

  • Clearly most of these critiques can only be realised when we have a different economic model that is driven by sustainability, resilience and sufficiency rather than perpetual growth.

    This is new economic paradigm would have to identify the safe energy capacity that is aligned with the national fair share of the global safe operating space.

    Once a national safe energy capacity has been determined, then economic activity, whether consumption or production, can be categorised as high, medium and low impact with energy impact assessments determining and highlighting opportunity energy costs.

    In this respect, the energy absolutism embedded in your critiques does not refer to a safe energy capacity that is driven by opportunity energy costs but refers to a technologically narrow binary between carbon outputs and non carbon outputs which doesn’t take the opportunity energy costs of inputs into account.

    If the Green Alliance are to evolve beyond the self defeating logic of carbon absolutism which conveniently ignores the carbon inputs of non carbon technologies, it must provide an alternative economic model that is able to specify a safe energy capacity which corresponds with the national fair share of the global safe operating space.

    From there we can democratically argue over opportunity energy costs.

    Thanks 🏵️🇬🇧🌍🏡🏞️🦉

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