1.Government has not set out how it plans to achieve net zero despite having set the target in 2019. In June 2019, Parliament legislated for ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Department plans to launch a net zero strategy before the UK hosts the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) conference in November 2021. The Department aims that the strategy will set out the government’s vision for transitioning to a net zero economy, providing much needed clarity for stakeholders. But this nonetheless means that it will have taken Government over two years to set out its plans. Prior to the launch of the strategy, departments intend to publish several sector strategies, including for transport, heating, tree planting and energy. However, the publication of many of these strategies has already been delayed. For example, the Heat and Buildings strategy has been delayed from August 2020 to early 2021 at the earliest. The Department plans to publish many of the remaining strategies over the next 12 months but has not yet confirmed what will be published when.
Recommendation: The Department should ensure that the key sector strategies, and the overarching net zero strategy, are published by September 2021. These strategies should include a clear timeline of key net zero milestones and decision points, to give Parliament and the public an overview of government’s net zero plans, what it plans to achieve and when.
2.The Department is not yet reporting on the programmes across government that are crucial to the delivery of net zero in a way that enables Parliament or the public to scrutinise progress. In early 2019, government established new arrangements for coordinating the departments involved in achieving net zero. The Department has overall responsibility for achieving net zero and for ensuring cross-government arrangements are working effectively and that departments are reducing emissions over time towards achieving net zero. But there is no single place where information is brought together about the overall progress of key net zero policies, or a clear set of measures which can be consistently used to judge progress. This limits the Department’s ability to identify potential issues with achieving net zero and take corrective action if necessary. The Department is working with the Climate Change Committee to develop new measures of progress that are more straightforward to understand, which it expects could be used both for monitoring as well as in public communication of progress towards net zero. The Department must publish its plans and targets for all sectors and make clear to the public how government actions, such as the recent decision not to intervene over the local granting of planning permission to a coal mine in Cumbria, are consistent with its trajectory to net zero. Otherwise, government runs the risk of sending the wrong messages to the public about its commitment to this goal.
Recommendation: The Department should develop a clear set of metrics that provide a system-wide view of progress towards net zero. These metrics, which should include reporting on progress of emissions levels compared to expectations within each sector, should be reported regularly from the end of 2021, in as close to real time as is feasible and produced in a user-friendly manner for the public.
3.HM Treasury has not yet clarified how it will ensure net zero is given adequate weight in the assessment of government policies and projects. Achieving net zero will be an all-encompassing challenge requiring all parts of government to contribute to reducing emissions. Therefore, government must build net zero into the structures and processes that govern departmental spending and prioritisation. For example, by assessing the carbon impact of new projects or programmes to consider their impact on achieving net zero. The Treasury’s Green Book guidance requires all policy, programme and project proposals to consider environment and climate impacts, including UK greenhouse gas emissions. The Treasury has recently reviewed this guidance and is now looking to place more emphasis on strategic objectives such as net zero in the assessment of proposals. But departments’ capability to assess climate impacts is varied, with the skills needed concentrated in the Department. The requirements as set out in the revised Green Book will have less impact than the Treasury intends, and ultimately programmes will not contribute to achieving net zero, if a lack of capability across departments means they are not put into practice.
Recommendation: HM Treasury should, within two months, write to us outlining:
4.Government does not have a clear way of determining whether its actions to reduce emissions in the UK are transferring emissions to other countries. The net zero target applies to emissions generated within the UK and does not include emissions from the production of goods that are imported. This approach aligns with internationally agreed rules to prevent double counting of emissions. It is critical that actions to reduce the UK’s emissions do not result in simply moving them abroad, which would undermine global efforts to limit temperature rises. This could happen, for example, if UK policies push high-emitting industries (such as some manufacturing) abroad rather than ensuring those industries become carbon neutral. HM Treasury considers that this risk is lessened as other countries reduce their own emissions. But if the UK decarbonises more quickly than other countries (particularly countries it imports from), there will be a risk in the short term that policies to reduce emissions transfers them abroad instead.
Recommendation: The Department should review how policies aimed at reducing UK-based emissions take into account the risk that emissions are passed to other countries and explore how to make the level of emissions generated in the manufacture of imported goods more transparent.
5.Government has not adequately communicated to the general public the changes that individuals will need to make in the transition to net zero emissions. Achieving net zero will depend on individuals choosing to change their behaviour, from personal lifestyle choices, as well as decisions that rely to some degree on related technological developments such as buying an electric car or changing how they heat their homes. The Climate Change Committee estimated in 2019 that 62% of remaining emissions reductions will rely to some degree on individual choices and behaviours. But there is a disconnect between people’s concern about climate change and their understanding of what is required to achieve emissions reductions in the UK. There has so far been no coordinated government messaging about the changes and choices people will need to make. A key challenge will be engaging with, and supporting, those who are currently employed in sectors that will either decline as part of the transition to net zero, such as oil and gas extraction, or will need to significantly change, such as mechanics who must transition to working primarily on electric vehicles. Supporting these people could be complementary to the ‘levelling up’ agenda whereby Government aims to create opportunity for everyone in all regions and address disparities in economic and social outcomes. The Department established a public engagement team to begin work in April 2020 but accepts that it needs to do more on its communication with the public.
Recommendation: The Department should, in the next 12 months, develop a public engagement strategy that sets out how communications will be coordinated.
6.The Department has not sufficiently engaged with local authorities on their role in the achievement of net zero across the UK. Local authorities have significant scope to influence emissions in their area, both by leading decarbonisation of sectors (such as housing and transport) and by influencing local businesses and residents to take climate action themselves. However, local government representatives report a lack of clarity from central government on the role local authorities should play in achieving net zero, what will be expected of them or how they will be supported. The Local Government Association’s Climate Change Survey 2020 found that nine out of 10 councils have declared a climate emergency and 80% have set a carbon neutral target. But local authorities face a wide range of barriers to tackling climate change. Ninety-six per cent of local authorities report that funding is a barrier to them tackling climate change, and 93% that legislation or regulation is a barrier. Lack of workforce capacity or a lack of skills is also a cause for concern, with 88% and 78% of local authorities in the survey respectively reporting this as a barrier to tackling climate change.
Recommendation: Government should respond with a coherent National Fiscal and Policy Framework. This should set out Government’s national responsibilities. Local Authorities local and regional responsibilities and be clear how government proposes to work with local authorities to secure the funding, skills, resources and outcomes required to deliver Net Zero.