The UK’s first citizens’ assembly on climate change has called for strong leadership and a focus on a green recovery in its final report.
A group of 100 members of the public were selected from across the UK’s demographics, meeting six times between January and May to discuss the country’s approach to reaching net zero. The assembly put together a set of 50 recommendations following this, urging Parliament and the government to rise to the challenge of achieving the net zero target in a clear, accountable way.
These recommendations cover everything from electricity generation to land use, calling for fairness and cross-party cooperation throughout.
One of the key recommendations of the assembly was to build net zero into the country’s recovery from COVID-19, with 79% of assembly members saying they either ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that ‘steps taken by the government to help the economy recover should be designed to help achieve net zero’.
Welcoming the publication of the report, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, Darren Jones MP, said that it was “vital” that Parliament and government examine and use the recommendations.
“Assembly members agree that the task of reaching net zero is a responsibility shared by all generations and we thank them for doing just that, giving up their time to listen, understand, debate and propose solutions which are underpinned by a desire to be fair to everyone in our society, and to retain freedom and choice for individuals and local areas wherever possible.”
Today’s (10 September) report, was accompanied by a number of letters to the prime minister and other MPs, asking them to show “leadership at the very highest level of government” to tackle climate change and ensure the UK reaches net zero.
Heating and the home: A technology question remains
With 15% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from the residential sector, the need to decarbonise heating is becoming increasingly pressing.
In order to move towards greener heating, 86% said that there should be a ban on new gas boilers from 2030 to 2035. However, exactly which technology should take over was a matter of significant policy debate.
But at least 83% of assembly members 'strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that hydrogen should play a role, 80% that heat pumps should and 80% that heat networks should.
The best solution should be chosen for each area, with 94% of assembly members ‘strongly agreeing’ or ‘agreeing' that “people in different parts of the country should be offered different solutions to zero carbon heating”. This will offer flexibility and allow the best technology can be chosen for the need in each region.
David Smith, chief executive of Energy Networks Association, said:“85% of homes are connected to the gas grid. We want to green that gas and convert our network to hydrogen and biomethane. Government can supercharge this by mandating all new gas boilers to be hydrogen-ready by 2025.”
Lowering the cost of EVs
The Citizens Assembly called for an emphasis on switching to electric vehicles (EVs) to help the UK decarbonise on land transport. It recommended a ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2030–2035, currently the government has set this at 2035, but many groups have called for this to be brought forwards.
There should be cross-party support of such decarbonisation measures, it continued, to ensure the 23% of the UK’s greenhouse emissions that come from on land transport can be effectively tackled.
A strong emphasis was placed on ensuring solutions are accessible and affordable to all sections of society. To aid this, 74% said there should be grants for businesses and people for buying low carbon vehicles and 66% said there should be a car scrappage scheme.
Criticism of EVs is often set against the high cost involved in purchasing one, together with range anxiety and infrastructure concerns. But despite this, a recent report by Deloitte found that near half of drivers would consider an EV as their next vehicle, as we move towards a tipping point.
The greater uptake of EVs to push decarbonisation must be supported by improved public transport, with 75% of the assembly saying it should be brought back under government control.
Renewables a clear winner
Renewables are by far and away the most favoured electricity generation technologies for decarbonisation. The three most popular technologies were offshore wind, onshore wind and solar power.
In particular, 95% of the Citizens Assembly members said they ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that offshore wind should be part of how we reach net zero. The technology was notable as no one disagreed that it should play a part, with people keen that it was out of the way.
Given the UK’s ‘windy’ nature, onshore wind also proved popular with 78% of members agreeing it should play a role in the country’s energy generation mix. Solar was supported by 81% of the assembly, who saw the flexibility of where it can be installed as a particular advantage.
Bioenergy, nuclear and fossil fuels with carbon capture proved less popular, with 46% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with nuclear for example. This was largely based off of the cost of the technology, along with its safety and issues of waste and decommissioning.
Similarly 56% disagreed with fossil fuels even with carbon capture and storage, viewing it as a short-term fix and remaining concerned over the safety risks, in particular with regards to carbon leaks.
Bioenergy was the fuel the assembly members were most unsure about, with 36% responding as such. Questions remain with this generation technology around what is being burnt, how production is regulated and therefore what its environmental and CO2 impacts are stated the report.
As such, there were concerns about land use and the environmental impact of utilising bioenergy, together with a general feeling that there was better technologies available already.
Greg Jackson, CEO and founder of Octopus Energy, welcomed the report's emphasis on people embracing change.
"In particular, the assembly named fairness and open communication as the two most important guiding principles for the transition to net zero, and we completely agree. For too long, companies have hidden behind claims that greener energy would put up bills - but the reality is the opposite. We need to be clear that, used correctly, green energy is cheaper and can bring bills down for everyone.
"It's great that the assembly sees heat pumps and electric vehicles as crucial to decarbonising heat and transport. In combination with smart tariffs to minimise the total system costs, these are better for customers on cost and experience, and are vital for the transition to net zero."