Government’s net zero strategy ‘major step forward’ on climate action – advisers

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The Government’s strategy to cut emissions to net zero is a major step forward on eliminating climate pollution, independent advisers have said.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) said the wide-ranging strategy to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas pollution to zero overall by mid-century makes an important statement ahead of the global Cop26 climate summit.

But there are gaps and uncertainties in the plans, including on improving home energy efficiency and encouraging changes to diet and how people travel, which it urged ministers to address.

The committee has released an assessment of the strategy published by the Government last week on meeting the UK’s legal goal to cut emissions to net zero by 2050 – which requires cutting pollution as much as possible and using measures such as woodland creation to mop up what remains.

The Government strategy includes action on home heating, clean cars and power, and planting more trees.

The statutory advisory Climate Change Committee said the strategy was an achievable and affordable plan that would bring jobs, investment and wider benefits to the UK.

The strategy’s ambitions align to the UK’s legal targets of net zero by 2050 and a 78% reduction in emissions on 1990 levels by 2035, the advisers said.

It has ambitions for an emissions-free power sector by 2035 and a phase-out of fossil fuels from road transport, home heating and much of industry.

Levels of deployment of offshore wind, electric cars, heat pumps for heating homes, energy efficiency, tree planting and low-carbon hydrogen production that the Government proposes would deliver on the carbon targets.

It presents credible proposals for driving delivery and scaling up private investment, the committee’s assessment finds.

But gaps include plans to tackle emissions from agriculture, insufficient action on engaging the public in the shift to a clean economy, and it has “nothing to say” on diet changes away from meat and dairy or limiting the growth in flying – which the committee said are valuable for reducing emissions.

Plans to scale up the heat pump market as a clean alternative to boilers are only early stage, and more plans are needed to improve home energy efficiency in the 60% of UK households that are owner-occupied but not in fuel poverty.

And while there is more focus across Government on net zero, that does not constitute a full “net zero” test on all decisions – raising the risk of policy or planning decisions that are not compatible with climate efforts, the CCC said.

It urged the Government to address the gaps and to move proposals in the strategy into implementation as quickly as possible.

The assessment has been published just days before the UK hosts the key UN Cop26 climate summit, with world leaders gathering to drive forward efforts to combat global warming.

The committee said the net zero strategy put the UK on a pathway to meet its commitment under the global Paris climate treaty to cut emissions by 68% by 2030, and was arguably the world’s most comprehensive plan to reach net zero emissions – representing a positive example to bring to Cop26.

Committee chairman Lord Deben said: “The net zero strategy is a genuine step forward.

“The UK was the first major industrialised nation to set net zero into law – now we have policy plans to get us there.

“As we welcome world leaders to Cop26 in Glasgow, that is an important statement.”

He said ministers had made the “big decisions” to cut carbon out of the power sector by 2035, phase out diesel and petrol vehicles and back heat pumps for homes – and had proposed policies to do it.

“I applaud their ambition. Now they must deliver these goals and fill in the remaining gaps in funding and implementation.”

He said the committee will “hold their feet to the fire” as it was required to under the Climate Change Act which legislates for emissions cuts and set up the CCC to advise and hold governments to account.

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