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What does the Climate Change Committee’s progress report mean for the UK infrastructure sector?

29 June 2022

The Climate Change Committee has warned the UK government that current policies will not deliver net zero. 

What does the Climate Change Committee’s progress report mean for the UK infrastructure sector?
Electric car uptake is already ahead of CCC and government growth projections. Image credit: nrqemi/Shutterstock

The CCC has published its annual report to Parliament on the UK’s progress towards net zero.

This year, the committee updated its monitoring framework to focus more on the tangible changes needed in the economy and society to achieve net zero.

Here are five takeaways for the infrastructure sector:

1. The Net Zero Strategy won't deliver net zero

The UK’s carbon emissions are continuing to fall. They're now almost half (47%) 1990 levels.

In 2021 they were 10% below 2019 levels, despite a slight uptick as the UK emerged from lockdown.

Yet, the report cautions that the Net Zero Strategy will not deliver net zero by 2050.

While the CCC calls the government’s ambition credible, there are big failures in delivery programmes.

The government's plans for over a third of the emissions reductions needed carry serious risks. These include policy gaps and lack of alternatives.

The areas of greatest concern lie primarily outside of economic infrastructure. Mostly, in agriculture and land use.

Yet, there are big issues with the current plans for energy efficiency and engineered CO2 removals.

2. Lessons from renewable electricity and electric car success

The report highlights strong progress in renewable electricity generation and electric car uptake.

This proves the benefit of a well-designed government policy framework.

Emissions from generating electricity have fallen by almost 70% in the last decade. This was led by huge growth in offshore wind.

Electric car uptake is already ahead of CCC and government growth projections.

Their success shows that costs can be cut dramatically when developing low-carbon solutions. Consumers will adopt low-carbon options when offered cost-effective, good quality products.

Still, the report warns that use of private cars picked up faster than public transport after the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Meanwhile, uptake of other electric vehicles is lagging, as is the roll out of charging infrastructure.

The uptake of electric cars also makes the challenge of replacing the current motoring tax system urgent.

3. Progress in the next year is vital

While high-level policies are now in place for most sectors, there's still a lack of delivery progress. This means it's highly likely that most areas will be under-delivered.

Some risks link to factors such as relying on new technologies, but most often it's policy gaps that threaten delivery.

There's been a failure to develop suitable policies for improving home energy efficiency. This means progress has been well below the level needed for the last decade.

Big gaps in adaptation policy also threaten the resilience of the renewable-dominated electricity network to future weather extremes.

There's a need for a huge delivery programme this decade to keep the UK on track for its interim targets.

The CCC says it's ‘imperative’ that the government completes the necessary policy framework in the next 12 months.

4. Net zero should be better aligned with other long-term objectives

Fixing the policy framework means embedding climate action across the governance landscape.

And yet, net zero and adaptation were largely absent from the recent Levelling Up White Paper. ICE highlighted this in our recent policy paper.

Local delivery will be vital. Still, there's a need for clarity about how central, devolved and local government could reasonably work on climate action.

All levels of government need to have clear roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, effective accountability mechanisms are needed to deliver the required changes at pace.

The report also highlights the need to manage risks and create reliable back-up plans since not all policies will deliver as planned.

5. More public engagement is needed

More action is also needed on cross-cutting supporters of progress, such as public engagement.

There's growing public support for net zero, but awareness about how people can help is lower.

Recent research commissioned by ICE shows the British public would find it just as or more difficult to make positive changes to lower emissions compared to two years ago in 10 key areas, such as living car-free.

The CCC also warned that the government is missing opportunities to highlight the co-benefits of climate action. For instance, on levelling up and mitigating the rising cost of living.

Public support is vital given the role of behaviour change in delivering net zero and the need to pay for the transition.

Yet, the Treasury has not yet set out how to share the costs and benefits of the net zero transition.

In areas such as energy, the government remains largely supply focused. The report calls for demand-focused policies to lower emissions and strengthen contingency planning.

This is vital given the high risk that there's too much reliance on engineered solutions such as carbon removal technologies.

ICE’s view:

The continued fall in emissions and the declining cost of rolling out renewable energy are welcome signs of progress toward net zero.

Still, the report’s conclusions on the factors holding back further progress and their risks are both familiar and worrying.

Long-term flaws in the UK’s infrastructure system include:

  • Poor coordination and accountability across levels of government.
  • A planning system that serves as a barrier.
  • Inaction on climate adaptation and resilience.

The National Infrastructure Commission warned that policy gaps and inaction are putting the UK’s long-term infrastructure goals at risk. The CCC’s call for urgent action in the next 12 months echoes this warning.

A global challenge

The rising cost of living increases the need to move away from energy sources that carry a high economic and environmental cost. Instead, we need to go big on renewables and energy efficiency.

The report also makes clear that this is a global challenge.

Following COP26 the UK has an opportunity to be a world leader in showing what's possible.

Indeed, it's one of the few countries whose emissions targets are in line with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

Learn more

Read ICE’s policy position statement on defining the goals from levelling up.

Read more about our latest work on strategic infrastructure planning and the National Infrastructure Commission’s work.

  • David McNaught, policy manager at ICE