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2023 Progress Report

Progress Report to Parliament slammed by campaigners as ‘a pitiful catalogue of Rishi Sunak’s climate failures’
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Aerial view of a huge wildfire on high level moorland next to a reservoir (Llangynidr Moors, Wales)

The UK government has published the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP), providing much greater transparency on its Net Zero plans.

However, despite over 3,000 pages of new detail, the Climate Change Committee has said its confidence in the UK meeting its goals from 2030 onwards is now ‘markedly less than it was in our previous assessment a year ago’.

A key opportunity to push a faster pace of progress has been missed, the CCC said.

‘A worrying hesitancy’

UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have so far fallen 46% from 1990 levels. At COP26, a stretching 2030 commitment was made to reduce them by 68%.

In only seven years, the recent rate of annual emissions reduction outside the electricity supply sector must therefore quadruple. Time is now very short to achieve this change of pace.

Glimmers of the Net Zero transition can be seen in growing sales of new electric cars and the continued deployment of renewable capacity, but the scale up of action overall is worryingly slow.

The government continues to place its reliance on technological solutions that have not been deployed at scale, in preference to more straightforward encouragement of people to reduce high-carbon activities.

The Committee has again flagged the risks of a policy programme that amongst other things is too slow to plant trees and roll out heat pumps.

‘The lesson of my 10 years at the Climate Change Committee is that early action benefits the people of this country and helps us to meet the challenges of the coming decades more cheaply and more easily.

‘Yet, even in these times of extraordinary fossil fuel prices, Government has been too slow to embrace cleaner, cheaper alternatives and too keen to support new production of coal, oil and gas. There is a worrying hesitancy by Ministers to lead the country to the next stage of Net Zero commitments.

‘I urge the Government to regroup on Net Zero and commit to bolder delivery. This is a period when pace must be prioritised over perfection.’

Chairman of the Climate Change Committee

Net Zero must return to top billing

In a crucial period for delivering progress, key departments did not deliver on recommendations made by the Committee last year.

The remit of the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has brought welcome focus to the programme, but progress has not been made on seven of the priority recommendations to BEIS in last year’s progress report.

Defra and DLUHC failed to achieve any of the priority recommendations made by the Committee in 2022.

‘There’s almost no progress in this progress report, just a pitiful catalogue of Rishi Sunak’s climate failures. The same government that promised to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth is now turbocharging fossil fuel expansion while actively blocking renewables and neglecting home insulation, public transport and an ageing power grid.

‘Sunak is snubbing the solutions that can give us lower bills, warmer homes and a safer climate, while cheerleading for the oil giants making billions from climate destruction and people’s hardship. Whose side is he on?

‘With their disposable green pledges, the prime minister and his predecessors have hoodwinked an entire generation while leaving the next one with a much steeper mountain to climb. As extreme weather worsens and public concern grows, Sunak’s poor track record on climate may well come back to bite him at the next election.’

Head of Politics for Greenpeace UK

Sending mixed signals

The UK has sent confusing signals on its climate priorities to the global community.

Support for new oil and gas, beyond the immediate increase in gas production demanded by the Ukraine invasion, and the decision to consent a new coal mine in Cumbria have raised global attention and undermined the careful language negotiated by the UK COP26 Presidency in the Glasgow Climate Pact.

Support is lacking for decarbonised industry in a new era of global competition. Government has high ambitions for decarbonised steel production but has no clear policy to deliver it.

Wider incentives are still needed for electrification of industry. The recent announcement of up to £20 billion funding for carbon capture and storage is welcome, but detail and implementation of these spending plans is still to come.

Rapid reform to planning is necessary. In a range of areas, the deployment of essential upgrades to the electricity grid and other Net Zero infrastructure is being stymied by restrictive planning rules.

The planning system should have an overarching requirement to ensure planning decisions give full regard to Net Zero.

Changing use of land takes time. Essential reforms have progressed, through the new Environmental Land Management policy, but Defra must step up rates of tree planting and peatland restoration and introduce a new framework for land use change.

The government does not expect to make a strategic decision on the role of hydrogen in heating until 2026. It must overcome this uncertainty by accelerating deployment of electric heating and pressing ahead with low-regret energy infrastructure decisions.

The list of UK airports proposing to expand capacity continues to grow, counter to the Committee’s advice that there should be no net airport expansion across the UK.

A UK-wide capacity management framework is needed to manage these decisions. No airport expansions should proceed until this is in place.

Real-word indicators of progress

Last year the Committee introduced a new indicator framework, focused on real-world changes. It shows that progress is off-track in a number of areas:

Surface transport: Sales of new electric cars continue to grow ahead of the CCC’s pathway, but electric van sales are still lagging and remain significantly off track.

Electricity supply: Renewable electricity capacity increased in 2022, but not at the rate required to meet the government’s stretching targets, particularly for solar.

An opportunity was missed for even more rapid deployment of onshore wind and solar, which could have grown the UK’s clean energy supply and helped to further reduce the UK’s dependence on imported fossil gas.

Buildings: The government proposes to scale-up the market for heat pump installations to 600,000 by 2028, but current rates are around one-ninth of this. Installation rates of energy efficiency measures fell further in 2022.

Rebalancing electricity prices vs gas: As part of a major package of consumer energy support, the Treasury has removed policy costs from electricity bills, moving electricity prices closer to gas prices.

This will aid the consumer incentives to adopt electrified technologies and should be made permanent.

Land use: Rates of tree planting must double by 2025 to reach the government’s target of 30,000 hectares per year of woodland creation.

Peatland restoration rates increased slightly in 2022 but remain a factor of five lower than the Committee’s recommended rates.

Agriculture: Ruminant livestock numbers, a key determinant of agriculture emissions, have declined slowly in number.

Reported meat consumption has also fallen, but data on meat availability shows a less clear picture; further policy intervention to shift towards healthier low-carbon diets is likely to be required.

Industry: Industrial emissions are the third highest among the sectors.

Measuring progress suffers from enduring poor availability of data, but it is off track for most available indicators.

There is still no clear plan to support industrial electrification and little evidence that industry is preparing to electrify at scale.

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