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3 things we hope to see in the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy update

23 February 2023

Dr Karen Barrass, Climate Insights founder, highlights the UK government’s opportunity to present a cohesive plan for net zero delivery.

3 things we hope to see in the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy update
All critical infrastructure needs to be decarbonised and climate-proofed. Image credit: Shutterstock

This year has seen some major developments that may impact the UK’s trajectory to net zero over the coming weeks, months, even years.

Chris Skidmore MP’s net zero review, Mission Zero, was launched, and the UK government did a mini-reshuffle, which brought a new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) into being.

We await the updated Net Zero Strategy in the next few months with anticipation. We hope that it will deliver the breadth, detail and focus required to meet the government’s legal targets.

To do so, here are three things we hope to see in the strategy update.

1. Close attention paid to the recommendations set out in the Skidmore Review

It's been over a month since Skidmore released ‘Mission Zero’, his independent assessment of the government's approach to delivering net zero by 2050.

It’s an extensive menu of enticing options.

The short-term recommendations are wide-ranging and include both mapping out more specific details about implementation, and broader governance changes. But they all have a role in getting us where we ultimately need to be.

The question is though, will the government listen?

The government has been compelled to update the Net Zero Strategy by providing more detail about ‘how’ the strategy will be delivered.

Chris Skidmore has done a significant share of identifying the prioritisation of tasks for the government - should it choose to follow his recommendations.

2. Not just focussing on energy policy

The creation of the DESNZ could be seen as an encouraging sign that the government is committed to taking the recommendations of the review seriously.

However, how much attention will be given to net zero is in question. There’s a danger that the focus will be on energy policy only.

Six departmental priorities have been identified:

  • four focus on energy matters
  • one focuses on seizing the jobs and growth potential of net zero
  • the final one ensures the UK can meet its net zero commitments and support economic growth by significantly speeding up delivery of network infrastructure and domestic energy production

What about the long list of other things the Skidmore Review tells us need doing by 2025 and by 2050?

Without a clear mandate to be the place where net zero sits across the government, and to guide and compel other departments, these imperatives can easily fall through the cracks.

The Skidmore Review was clear that we need an Office of Net Zero Delivery to handle this oversight.

A look into emissions

In fact, the latest emissions data tells us that other sectors demand attention.

Greenhouse gas emissions from energy are 67% lower than in 1990.

Meanwhile, heavy goods vehicles’ emissions have not reduced at all in 30 years. And agriculture and light duty vans emissions have increased by 23% and 63%, respectively, in the same timeframe.

We’re going in the wrong direction. We need to focus on more than just energy to meet net zero.

Of the 25 short term recommendations Mission Zero made, just 10 are energy-related. Just 54 of the 129 long-term targets focus on energy. Energy isn’t the whole picture.

3. Factoring in climate resilience

As comprehensive as Mission Zero is, the CCC launched a report earlier this month highlighting that net zero cannot be the only area of focus for investment and transformation.

This is because we’ve already begun to experience the impacts of climate change.

Preparing and developing resilience is an area where much more attention and investment is needed.

But first, we need adaptation goals to know what investment is needed.

All critical infrastructure needs to be decarbonised, but these systems also need to be climate-proofed.

Indeed, all large investment programmes need to factor not just net zero, but also climate resilience.

There needs to be coordination as programmes develop, and it needs to be clear where responsibility lies, or else the future costs could be significant.

What’s next?

We’re at a crossroads.

The government has framed net zero delivery in a jobs, growth and technology setting, taking an energy-focused, market-led approach to meeting its legal obligations.

Mission Zero has made it clear that societal transformation is required, and that a whole sector approach is necessary.

It emphasised that there are significant opportunities in taking this approach, and the CCC highlighted that resilience must be built into the government’s plans, to minimise the costs of future impacts.

With its updated Net Zero Strategy, the government has the chance to present a detailed, cohesive implementation plan. One that can motivate DESNZ to take the reins in government, and lead the UK through this transformation.

As Chris Skidmore said at the Mission Zero debate, DESNZ now has a ‘blueprint to know how they have to move forwards as soon as possible.’

The government must give assurances that DESNZ will take responsibility to steward wider net zero delivery and to ensure that Mission Zero is accomplished.

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  • Dr Karen Barrass, founder at Climate Insights