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Conservative Party unveils net zero package to muted response

Image: Crown Copyright.

Image: Crown Copyright.

The Conservative Party has pledged a suite of new policies comprising a ‘net zero package’ which it said would put “21st Century Conservativism” at the heart of the government’s green agenda.

But the suite of policies, some of which had been previously announced, has been criticised by the sector for failing to address the challenge with the requisite urgency.

Over the weekend, just as the Conservative Party Conference was kicking off in earnest, business secretary Andrea Leadsom, alongside environment and housing secretaries Theresa Villiers and Robert Jenrick, unveiled a raft of measures aimed at helping the country meet its legally binding 2050 net zero emissions target.

Those measures have been targeted at the transport, power and housing sectors principally, with up to £1 billion in R&D funding announced for the UK’s automotive sector.

That funding is to support “green growth and a new future of mobility”, the party said, aimed at keeping the industry at the forefront of cleaner and more advanced transport technologies. It is to be focused primarily at the manufacture of batteries, electric motors, drives and power electronics, with a secondary aim of helping support job creation in the sector.

In addition to transport, measures have also been announced to support further decarbonisation in power generation. The Tories have lauded their record on renewable power, pointing in particular to cost reductions seen in offshore wind over the last four years, and have now announced plans to design, develop and build a fusion power plant within the next 20 years.

An initial £200 million investment is to support the first five-year development phase of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project which intends to build a commercially viable fusion power plant by 2040.

Also on the Conservatives’ agenda is emissions from housing, and the party has announced the introduction of a ‘Future Homes Standard’ aimed at improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing fleet.

The policy, originally announced by former chancellor Philip Hammond in March, is to see requirements of buildings on regulations for new homes raised by 2025, with interim regulations to be in place from 2020.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said he wanted new homes to “play their part” in tackling climate change.

“That’s why I am introducing a Future Homes Standard which ensures that no new home is built from 2025 without the best levels of energy efficiency and low or zero carbon heating. And because I want to lead the world in this area, I am implementing the first steps on this revolutionary road as early as next year,” he said.

No specific details of what that standard will be have been announced as yet, but talk of tighter regulations for new homes will invoke connotations with the Labour Party’s Zero Carbon Homes policy, announced in 2006, which was to legislate that all new homes would be built to an effective zero emissions standard by 2016.

That policy was scrapped in 2015 just months after the Conservative Party swept to a majority government in the general election of that year, a policy decision which sparked considerable criticism.

Andrea Leadsom, secretary of state for business and energy, said that addressing climate change was a “top priority” for the Conservative Party.

“Today’s announcement is further evidence of the benefits of going green. The Conservatives are doing this properly: creating hundreds of thousands of low carbon jobs and growing our economy while successfully reducing emissions.”

The party will further discuss its proposals for clean growth during its conference this afternoon at 2pm, however the party has already been criticised for a lack of urgency in the measures announced to date.

Lawrence Slade, chief executive at trade body Energy UK, warned that far more is needed if the country is to “serious address what is one of the most critical issues of our age”.

“We need to see action that will really shift the dial - including a Government-funded national energy efficiency programme and measures to tackle complex areas such as the decarbonisation of heat, which will be critical to achieving our climate targets.

“The power sector has been world-leading in reducing emissions and we have an opportunity to continue the UK's global leadership but we urgently need the policy framework to allow the required innovation and investment to flow,” he said.

Last week’s Labour Party conference saw the official opposition pledge to build as many as 37 new offshore wind farms to take the country’s offshore wind portfolio to 52GW by 2030, while simultaneously investing billions into EV charging infrastructure.

The conference also saw the party agree to bring forward the net zero target to 2030, a move which the sector described as hugely challenging and in need of a significant ramp up of various clean technologies.

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