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‘Little evidence’ government has confronted scale of net zero

A coherent plan and consistent policy will be needed from government to hit net zero.

A coherent plan and consistent policy will be needed from government to hit net zero.

There is still ‘little evidence’ that the UK government has confronted the enormous scale of reaching net zero, according to a new report by the Institute for Government.

It warns that meeting the challenge of decarbonisation is more challenging than responding to the COVID-19 pandemic or getting Brexit done, as it will require transformations of every sector in the country’s economy. This will take sustained investment over the next thirty years, and change everyone’s lives substantially.

As such, one of the report's biggest suggestions is to take the responsibility for reaching net zero away from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

“It lacks the necessary authority and clout over other departments,” the report stated. "The Cabinet Office should take over responsibility for co-ordinating net zero from BEIS, with government plans for tackling climate change led by a senior Cabinet Office minister. That minister should be supported by a new net zero unit.”

This should be supported by the Treasury, which should make net zero a big theme in its spending review and produce a tax strategy that supports it.

The Institute for Government highlighted the Committee on Climate Change’s previous estimate that reaching net zero will cost 1-2% of GDP per year, the government must work out how to confront this cost and enact it, regardless of it is unpopular with specific groups.

While the report acknowledges that progress has been made in the power sector – thanks to successful approaches developed by both government and businesses – the scale of the rest of the task will make this look as though it were "easy".

Transitioning transport and heating will provide much bigger challenges to decarbonisation, but there will be substantial benefits if the right upfront investment is made and the cost balanced between businesses, consumers and taxpayers. This include improved health, new jobs in low-carbon industries and long term savings.

“But government should be under no illusion about the difficulty of its target, and of securing the public support needed to meet it,” the report continues.

In order for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, the Institute for Government has set out seven requirements.

These include the need for a coherent plan, consistent policy and regulatory frameworks, co-ordination across the government and beyond and minimising the costs while maintaining competitiveness.

Additionally, there must be the capability to make key decisions when necessary – even if technology options are uncertain – a project that builds public and political consent should be brought in, and there should be effective scrutiny by parliament and other bodies to avoid ‘backsliding’.

For the full report, click here.

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