When you leave the Committee on Climate Change’s offices to head towards Sloane Square, there’s a telecoms box adorned with a fairly nondescript lime green poster. A5 in size, it’s a piece of a street art left behind by Andy Leek.
His ‘Notes to Strangers’ have attracted a cult following in central London. They consist of little more than inspirational quotes scribbled on pastel-coloured paper, designed to lift the mood of passers-by. The one just outside 7 Holbein Place simply reads ‘Make Your Energy Memorable’.
Lord Deben, chairman at the Committee on Climate Change, would appear to have taken this particular note to heart.
Prior to yesterday’s publication of this summer’s progress update, the Committee on Climate Change hosted a briefing for journalists. Lord Deben was in rare form, clearly frustrated by a distinct lack of progress in the six months that have followed his committee’s last set of directions.
In January the CCC responded to the previously published Clean Growth Strategy, stating – yet again – that solar and other established renewables needed a route to market. It called out the government for a perceived lack of ambition and urgency, for not even attempting to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets with its plans, for a strategy featuring Gaps larger than those on Oxford Street.
Just less than six months on, and Claire Perry has yet to deliver.
And, as a result, the CCC has responded in kind. It’s BEIS’ increasingly beleaguered parent, disappointment gradually bordering anger. Its voice getting sterner and harsher in tone.
There’s a marked change in language from the government watchdog these days. “Act now, climate change will not pause while we consider our options,” Deben’s foreword utters, just after stating simply; “This can’t go on”. And he was even more candid speaking to journalists, stating how his committee’s latest report was characteristic of the “degree to which uncertainty is egregious in this government”.
It’s about as dismissive and as withering as an independent watchdog can be.
“I think if you wanted to characterise this report, it’s the degree to which uncertainty is egregious in this government and that we’re not getting certainty in all sorts of areas"Lord Deben
And it’s not as if his demands are particularly onerous. Contracts for Difference auctions extended beyond next Spring; a route to market for more established, more cost-effective renewables like onshore wind and solar – and enough of them to bring power sector emissions down to 100g CO2/kWh by 2030.
Demands like getting legislation out in full and on time. Transport secretary Chris Grayling’s ‘Road to Zero’ plan – which will outline how the government intends to radically decarbonise the transport sector – is about as delayed as a Govia Thameslink service, much to Lord Deben’s frustration.
Simple elements, like the kind of ambition necessary to tackle a threat as globally significant as climate change, have irked in their absence. The government wanted to bask in the glory of banning the sale of new conventional vehicles by 2040 but was quickly outdone by other nations, including those we share borders with. Lord Deben was clear cut and concise in his recommendation that the UK government bring forward its ban on petrol and diesel vehicles “as close to 2030 as possible”.
Lord Deben is not a worrier. He points towards the successes in the power sector so far as reason to believe that the government can and will replicate that achievement in transport, the built environment and agriculture. But the peer cannot hide his frustration with the lack of movement to date and the stark change in tone emanating from 7 Holbein Place cannot be ignored. This is a government body quickly losing patience with what it sees as the dragging of feet that simply cannot continue.
Yesterday, energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry said the government would be responding officially to the progress update during the week commencing 14 October 2018. It just so happens to be HMG’s newly-organised ‘Green Britain Week’, set up to celebrate green achievements in the UK so far. Having occupied her ministerial role at BEIS for just over a year now Perry, who certainly appears to know her beat inside out, will know too well that her department simply cannot afford another misstep.
Perhaps, during one of her inevitable visits to CCC HQ in the coming weeks and months, she can take inspiration from that little lime green poster adorning the transformer box. She has the opportunity to make the country’s energy memorable. Failing to do so would lead to consequences that will be difficult, if not impossible, to forget.