The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) have published their annual progress report. This latest report is significant for a number of reasons.
- It comes amidst a pandemic with little precedent in terms of its impact upon global health, the economy, and society.
- This is the first annual report since the UK set a legally-binding ‘net zero by 2050’ target last summer, and was due to be released in the lead up to the UN climate conference in Glasgow (before this was postponed until 2021).
- The CCC advice also comes as the UK negotiates its future relationship with the EU, and the rest of the world, following our membership coming to a formal end at the beginning of this year.
In our response to the new report, we will reflect on what the CCC advice means for energy efficiency in homes and the decarbonisation of heat, low carbon transport, and each of the devolved nations.
The need to embed net zero into all policy formation across departments is a strong theme throughout the report. While good progress has been made since 1990 to reduce emissions (primarily from the power sector) looking to the future, the UK and devolved governments must prioritise policies and investments that adhere to the advice given by the CCC and get us back on track to meeting our upcoming fourth and fifth climate budgets.
For the first time, this progress report groups the CCC’s advice not by topic but by the responsible UK Government department. In an attempt to “bring extra clarity to the steps required across government and to emphasise that this is indeed a task for the whole Administration” is positive. We welcome the CCC holding every government department to account for their action on climate change.
In the year since the net zero target was introduced, ambitious policies to meet the target have not been as forthcoming as some had hoped. Despite the UK having reduced its emissions by 3-4% in 2019, the seventh annual reduction in a row, the rate of reduction is not high enough to meet our climate targets – we’re just not going fast enough.
The CCC do welcome a number of policies that have been announced in the past year, including the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change, the National Infrastructure Strategy, the Citizens Climate Assembly, and the consultation on bringing forward the date new diesel and petrol vehicles can no longer be sold. The CCC are quick to point out that many of these actions have been piecemeal and slow to materialise and urge the government to deliver on these, and other recommendations over the next year.
The CCCs recommendations are ambitious but achievable with considerable benefits to undertaking the required work quickly. Throughout the report the CCC highlight that acting now to reach net zero offers considerable opportunities. Separate analysis has shown that following the 2008 recession, green investments outperformed traditional, high-carbon investments and this trend can be repeated now.
Energy efficiency in homes and the decarbonisation of heat
Energy Saving Trust has continuing concerns about the lack of policy certainty and ambition around energy efficiency and low carbon heating in homes in England, despite this being a key manifesto commitment of the current government. Emissions from buildings accounted for 18% of direct emissions in 2019 and millions of people across the UK remain in fuel poverty, the CCC highlight a lack of policy in this area as a concern, stating: “buildings and heating policy continues to lag behind what is needed.”
While programmes in Wales and Scotland continue to make good progress in addressing building energy efficiency and low carbon heat, there remains a distinct policy gap in this area in England. We need a robust new programme in England of advice, funding and regulation to bring homes up to scratch. Since the coronavirus crisis a large number of organisations have highlighted this area as a ‘shovel-ready’ green recovery option, including the International Energy Agency in their wide-ranging and detailed recent ‘Sustainable Recovery’ report.
These calls are expanded upon in the report with a recommendation that the ‘Buildings and Heat Strategy’, due later this year, must “take low-carbon heating from a niche market in the UK to the dominant form of new heating installation by the early-2030s. It should be supported by a national effort to improve the energy efficiency of UK buildings along with ensuring their safety and comfort”. The CCC calls for greater funding for low-carbon heat installations, funded through taxation that prioritises low-carbon heat over fossil fuels. The government continues to show a lack of ambition in this area. For example the proposals in the ‘future support for low carbon heat’ consultation for support for heat pumps fall short of what is required.
Throughout the report an argument for widespread retraining and reskilling is made. This will be necessary if policies for energy efficiency improvements and heat decarbonisation are implemented. These schemes are labour-intensive and geographically dispersed – offering considerable employment opportunities – supporting over 150,000 skilled and semi-skilled jobs to 2030 and strong economic multiplier effects.
The CCC also call for “deep retrofits” to “be provided on a targeted basis, for example for the fuel poor or across social housing.” We welcome this proposal as it prioritises both high-emitting, inefficient homes and some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Transport – active travel and ULEVs
Improvements in air quality since lockdown have been welcomed by the public. Amid the lockdown the number of people opting to walk and cycle increased dramatically and the CCC argue that this initial boost must be cemented in place and expanded upon if we are to reduce emissions from surface transport which accounted for 24% of UK emissions in 2019.
The CCC has recommended that the government invest in walking and cycling infrastructure, strengthen other schemes to support active travel, and lock-in positive behaviours (eg home-working) through improved infrastructure connectivity which reduces travel demand. We welcome these recommendations, firmly believing that reaching net zero will require people to view active travel as the natural option for short journeys.
Reaching net zero will also require far greater penetration of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) into the market. The Government are in the process of consulting on bringing forward the cut off for new diesel and petrol vehicles to 2035 or earlier and include hybrids in the ban. We welcome this consultation and would urge the Government to show ambition in this area. The CCC have recommended that the upcoming ‘National Infrastructure Strategy’ should make the provision of electric vehicle charging infrastructure an “important priority”. We agree, to achieve the level of ULEV uptake required to reach net zero, an ambitious policy of EV infrastructure provision must be delivered.
Energy Saving Trust is helping to promote an early transition with the support it provides to business fleets and consumers, helping them understand the potential of ULEVs to replace existing fossil-fuelled vehicles. We’re also working with local authorities and public sector agencies to enable them to decarbonise their fleets and build capacity in delivering vehicle charging infrastructure.
Progress across the UK nations
Since 2016, Wales has set its own national greenhouse gas reduction targets and is striving to reduce emissions by 95% by 2050. This lower reduction target reflects the unique challenges Wales faces in reducing its emissions, being more reliant on heavy industry and agriculture.
Energy Saving Trust continues to believe that these challenges make it even more essential that Wales shows ambition in two key areas; progress on which has been unfortunately delayed by COVID-19. Wales must continue to take strong action on fuel poverty. While Wales has good ongoing fuel poverty programmes, it lacks a long term strategy to promote energy efficiency in low income households. The Welsh Government is in the process of drawing up a new ‘Fuel Poverty Strategy’, its first in a decade. This work has been delayed by coronavirus and the draft policy will now be consulted on in September. The Welsh Government must show ambition in this new strategy and draws lessons from its own existing fuel poverty programmes as well as those in Scotland. The upcoming Welsh Housing Quality Standards can augment this approach.
Meanwhile, consultation on both the Transport Strategy and EV Charging Strategy have similarly been delayed until the Autumn. These strategies must address the fact that Wales is currently trailing other parts of Great Britain in the transition to low emission vehicles and active travel. Recent announcements of extra funding from Welsh Government have been promising.
As for many industrial and de-industrialised regions of the UK, there must be a focus on re-skilling and re-training so that the workforce can not only adapt to a zero carbon future but thrive in it. This is a point keenly illustrated by the CCC, who dedicate an entire chapter to the case for their recommendations to deliver a resilient economy – something which has been repeatedly called for by Welsh policymakers. Elements of this approach can be seen in the ongoing Swansea Bay City Deal and the projects it is supporting.
Scotland also sets its own emission reduction targets, alongside contributing to the UKs overall net zero target. Scotland has the most ambitious target of any of the UK nations, of net zero by 2045. This target represents a strong challenge to the Scottish Government and a concerted effort will be needed to achieve it.
The Scottish Government have published their latest greenhouse gas emissions data which indicate that emissions have increased for the second year in a row – up 1.5% between 2017 and 2018 (the most recent data available). Whilst Scotland have made impressive strides in reducing their emissions – halving them in 30 years – more ambitious action is required to reach the 2030 targets and beyond. The CCC were unable to comment on these latest figures but will publish dedicated progress reports for Scotland and Wales this year.
Scotland continues to perform well in terms of climate-focused policy with strong renewables, low-carbon transport, and home energy efficiency schemes. Scotland has managed to decarbonise more rapidly than the other nations of the UK.
Like Wales, Scotland has introduced a mechanism to try and deliver a just transition through their current and future policies. In Scotland this is achieved through the ‘Just Transition Commission’ which works to help Scottish Government “plan, invest and implement a transition to environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, sectors and economies, building on Scotland’s economic and workforce strengths and potential”. The Commission seeks to “provide practical, realistic, affordable recommendations” to achieve these goals. This ‘just transition’ approach has been championed by the CCC who highlight this as a key priority of any recovery.
Climate policy in Northern Ireland has trailed efforts in the other nations of the UK. For example, it does not have its own emission reduction targets. The creation of statutory emission reduction targets in Northern Ireland would be a welcome step towards meeting their share of the net zero challenge. This is a view shared by the CCC who state: “The UK cannot achieve its future climate goals without strong statutory frameworks for emissions reduction from… Stormont – and strong policies… to match”.
Much like Wales, Northern Ireland (NI) has distinct challenges to address on the path to net zero, with a large proportion of emissions being from agriculture and a challenging housing stock; the majority of which is off-grid and heavily reliant on oil heating.
The NI Executive has reconvened after an almost three-year hiatus. In the intervening period important opportunities have been missed and this is part of the reason NI is lagging behind other UK nations on climate policy. Since returning, the Executive has made it clear that it wants to make up for lost time and is in the process of formulating a wide-ranging energy strategy that looks promising in its scope and ambition. Energy Saving Trust responded to this consultation in March.
This was welcomed by the CCC who look set to publish specific guidance for NI in the coming year.
For NI it will be essential to act immediately to achieve the societal changes required to meet net zero. While the energy strategy, and the newly announced sub-inquiries are welcome, the policies which flow from this process must be suitably ambitious. Concerns remain about the existing policy direction in NI. In particular, the continued expansion of the gas grid, which may prove surplus to requirement if the electrification of heat continues and will lock NI into a high emission pathway in the short to medium term. Given that 68% of homes are off grid and use oil for heating an approach to heat decarbonisation which has electric heat pumps at its core should be a priority.