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‘Time to act’: Government slammed by CCC over ‘shortfall’ in net zero policy action

Image: Getty

Image: Getty

Current policy is insufficient for previous emissions targets and must be ramped up if the net zero goal is to be reached, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said.

Only one of the 25 policy recommendations made by the CCC last year for getting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets back on track been implemented, it revealed as it published its 2019 Progress Report. Ten of those policies have not shown even partial progress.

The CCC has claimed there is a substantial gap between current plans and future requirements and an even greater shortfall in action and that net zero policy must be implemented across all levels and departments of the government. Policy should also be business friendly, providing a clear direction and investable set of rules and incentives that leave room for innovation.

Lord Deben, CCC chairman, said legislating for net zero and making a bid to host COP26 are “historic steps forward” that position the UK as a global leader, but action is needed to support this.

“It’s time for the Government to show it takes its responsibilities seriously. Reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, requires real action by Government now," he said.

Vehicle bans and EV incentives

Surface transport emissions – which excludes aviation and shipping - fell by 2% in 2018, with the greatest reduction coming from cars. But transport is on the ‘frontline’ of decarbonisation as the largest emitting sector, the CCC said. Its report urges the Department for Transport to prioritise reducing emissions, working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and HM Treasury to achieve this.

A phase out of internal combustion engine vehicles should be brought forward to between 2030 and 2035, a recommendation reiterated from the CCC’s Net Zero report. An earlier date is not only needed to reduce transport emissions in line with 2050 targets, it said, but will also have lower financial costs. This would mean a rapid increase in the market share of EVs during the 2020s.

The government should also clarify that only battery electric or other zero carbon vehicles will be permitted to be sold after this point, a recommendation echoed by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) in a report last week.

In the next year, the government should also put into place stronger incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles and create a plan for the roll out of zero emission HGVs. In the long term, the development of charging infrastructure should be continued, a decision on the future of HGVs should be made and a 98% reduction in emissions by 2050 should be aimed for.

The CCC did, however, praise the increased deployment of charging infrastructure, which rose from 16,700 chargers in June 2018 to 23,500 in June 2019.

Routes to market and contingency plans

Decarbonisation of the power sector was celebrated overall in the report, with CCC saying the success was driven by strong policy. Emissions in the sector fell by 10% in 2018, placing them 68% below 1990 levels. And low carbon generation accounted for a record high of 54% of the UK’s total generation, with renewables increasing by 12%.

However, emission reductions are slowing in comparison to the average annual reductions of 14% since 2012. In addition, contingency plans for the possibility of new nuclear projects not being delivered have not been set out. Plans for additional low-carbon generation to be brought forward in this scenario should be created in the next year.

The CCC also pointed to contract prices for nuclear projects remaining significantly higher than those of renewable technologies such as wind and solar.

In the forthcoming Energy White Paper, the government should outline plans for a route to market for solar and onshore wind. Blocking the technologies from participating in the Contracts for Difference auctions without providing another route to market is limiting the potential speed of decarbonisation and adding to costs, the CCC said.

The Energy White Paper should also aim to support a quadrupling of low-carbon power generation by 2050. This would mean the deployment of more low-carbon capacity in the 2020s, which would potentially be consistent with a carbon-intensity of 50gCO2/kWh by 2030.

The government should also develop and deliver, in coordination with Ofgem, a plan to upgrade networks in the 2020s to accommodate new electricity demands, for example from electric vehicles, and future proof them to help limit costs.

Longer term milestones for the power sector include reaching 320TWh of low carbon generation by 2030 and 99-100% low carbon generation by 2050.

The CCC also said it doesn’t expect renewables without a government-backed contract to be deployed at a enough scale to meet a potential low-carbon generation gap in 2030. And additional low-carbon generation from long-term contracts will affect the marginal value of new generation and the volatility of revenue, the CCC says, which could diminish the role of renewables without a government contract over the next decade.

Steps to be taken

Alongside recommendations for individual sectors, the CCC also issued four strategic priorities for the government:

  • Net zero must be embedded across all levels and departments, with strong leadership at the centre.
  • Government policies must be business friendly to encourage investment and innovation.
  • The public should be engaged in the transition, and policy and low-carbon products should be designed to reflect this.
  • International increases in ambition should be supported and UK ambition should be celebrated.

Other recommendations made by the CCC to reach net zero include the development of a plan for operational carbon capture and storage by the mid-2020s, a strategy for developing low carbon hydrogen use as well as the start of large-scale hydrogen trials and detailed policy for energy efficiency.

A government spokesperson said the government has “set a strong example” by legislating for net zero, reducing power sector emissions and championing adaptation.

“We know there is more to do and legislating for net zero will help to drive further action,” the spokesperson said, continuing to outline government plans to set out solutions for tackling emission from heat, energy, transport, aviation, agriculture and transport in the coming months. A formal response to the recommendations will be released in October.

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