by Jack Wilkinson-Dix
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) advises government on large scale and long-term infrastructure policy, which aims to support sustainable economic growth, improve competitiveness and improve quality of life across all regions of the UK. This week the Commission published an updated sector-by-sector assessment of the Net-Zero-readiness of their previous National Infrastructure Assessment proposals.
The original proposals were published in July 2018 – prior to the Government announcing its 2050 Net Zero target. The Commission’s Assessment proposals aimed to be bold but cost-effective, in-line with Government guidelines for investment.
In this new report, the NIC determines that its original proposals did align with the net zero agenda but now, it calls for greater urgency in power and energy efficiency. The first assessment proposals called for improving the energy efficiency* of buildings as a first step, while trials of low-carbon heating systems such as heat pumps and hydrogen systems are undertaken. It was clear in stating, “the UK cannot achieve its emissions targets while relying on natural gas, a fossil fuel, for heating”.
In the new report, the Commission highlights the challenge presented by energy efficiency and heating buildings, particularly for hard-to-treat homes, and so recommends that work begins urgently in this area. It reiterates the importance of urgently delivering energy efficiency improvements to homes, before the introduction of low-carbon heating systems, which the Commission argues need to be more widely trialled.
On surface transport*, the Commission argue that the Government should prepare for 100% of new cars and vans to be electric by 2030, with greatly expanded charging infrastructure. The Commission had also proposed that £43 billion of stable, long term transport funding should be made available for regional cities.
The publication of this report coincides with an open UK Government consultation concerning bans on the sale of new petrol and diesel powered cars and vans. The consultation is asking for views on the possibility of bringing the cut off for sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans forward to 2035 or earlier, and the possibility of including hybrid vehicles in the ban.
It will be interesting to see how recommendations from this new report will influence the Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, which is due to publish this year. The NIC report adds significantly to pressure on the Government to deliver on energy efficiency in homes a part of the strategy, and in line with Conservative manifesto commitments.
The Conservative Manifesto committed to £9.2bn of spending on energy efficiency, with an expectation of further detail in Rishi Sunak’s first budget in March. However, Sunak did not announce new spending measures, as Treasury priorities shifted to the COVID-19 crisis. As things stand, spending on energy efficiency in buildings remains far lower in England than in other parts of the UK, with little in the way of support for households wishing to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
Energy Saving Trust welcomes the Commission’s recommendations. This Net Zero report, along with the more detailed first Assessment report, make it clear where infrastructure spending priorities must lie over the next 30 years if we are to reach net zero.
As we overcome the immediate crisis of COVID-19, we will likely face a prolonged economic downturn. Decisions made over the coming months and years will have a dramatic and long-term impact on the climate and the people of this country. Investing now in a UK-wide programme of energy efficiency improvements and retrofit is a no-regrets approach that will provide green jobs and a boost to the economy across the entire nation. It would help tackle fuel poverty and ill health and provide stimulus to left-behind towns.
The Commission points out that “too often… delivery of the UK’s major infrastructure projects has been slow and uncertain” and it calls for decisive, long-term planning and action to address the needs of the country as a whole. The Commission found that its proposals broadly aligned with the stringent ‘further ambition’ scenario put forward by the Committee on Climate Change. It highlights that its’ recommendations could be achieved with additional investment of only 1 – 1.2% GDP between 2020 and 2050, making its proposals cost effective as well as necessary.
**These recommendations to UK Government relating to transport and energy efficiency apply principally to England, as energy efficiency and transport are areas of devolved policy making.