The Eco Expert by Josh Jackman
The government has published its new Net Zero Strategy, as the High Court ordered it to do in July 2022.
The highly anticipated strategy comes just a week after a landmark report by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned the world has one last chance to avoid catastrophe.
The IPCC said the world must cut 60% of carbon emissions by 2035 – compared to 2019 levels – to stay below 1.5°C of warming.
And a report from the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) condemned the government on 29 March for “a striking lack of climate preparation.”
The CCC's Baroness Brown said: “This has been a lost decade in preparing for and adapting to the known risks that we face from climate change.”
She added: “We have laid out a clear path for Government to improve the country’s climate resilience. They must step up.”
What's the government's new Net Zero Strategy?
The government's new Net Zero Strategy – titled Powering Up Britain – is a roadmap laying out how the UK will reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
This legally binding target, set by Prime Minister Theresa May's government in 2019, has to be backed up by a detailed plan.
Therefore, the strategy covers most of the areas the UK needs to target to reach net zero: electricity, heating, energy efficiency, and vehicles.
What are the major changes?
The Net Zero Strategy has placed a large emphasis on renewable and low-carbon technology in the battle to lower bills and make us less dependent on other countries for our energy.
However, despite encouraging words and signs, not much has changed for the better.
There were few major new announcements, even in areas the government has consistently favoured in recent times, such as hydrogen and carbon capture.
The £450 million Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which gives households £5,000 discounts on the cost of a new air source heat pump, has been extended for three years until 2028.
The scheme has failed badly since its launch in May, falling 67% short of its target, so it's encouraging that the government has promised to “enhance the current marketing campaign to increase consumer awareness and take-up.”
The government told us that it hasn't yet decided whether funding will be increased for the initiative from 2025 onwards, which has a target of 30,000 heat pump installations per year.
It's unclear how this relatively small scheme will enable the government to reach its goal of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028 – which the Climate Change Committee has said is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of a warming climate.
In response, a Greenpeace representative said: “The Boiler Upgrade Scheme is failing and needs a much more rounded strategy to increase heat pump uptake including skills packages, independent consumer advice and support, advertising and promotion, as well as much more money.”
Making electricity cheaper
Gas is currently three times cheaper for households than electricity, largely thanks to levies on electricity that artificially raise its price.
With electricity vital to building a greener energy network, for everything from solar panels to heat pumps and infrared panels, the government has committed to “rebalancing prices between electricity and gas to remove these distortions.”
This is a good move, though we shouldn't expect much to change until the end of 2024.
The government accepted the recommendation to “commit to outlining a clear approach to gas vs. electricity ‘rebalancing’ by the end of 2023/4 and should make significant progress affecting relative prices by the end of 2024.”
Octopus Energy CEO Greg Jackson said: “We're delighted the government is looking to remove outdated levies from electricity bills,” adding that “ending these taxes on increasingly clean electricity is essential.”
Climate activists who were hoping the government would raise the ban on onshore wind will be disappointed by yet another vague pledge instead.
The strategy states that “the government has consulted on changes to planning policy in England for onshore wind to deliver a localist approach that provides local authorities more flexibility to respond to the views of their local communities.”
The government then promised to respond to this consultation “in due course.”
Sam Richards, who founded green campaign group Britain Remade, condemned the strategy for not lifting the onshore wind ban.
“By ending the ban on new onshore wind developments in England we can unlock at least 20 GW of onshore wind generation by 2030,” he said. “But this plan is silent on the cheapest form of energy available to us.”
The government has promised to publish a requirement that offshore wind be formally seen as “critical national infrastructure”, which should make it easier and quicker to create new offshore wind farms.
The other big offshore wind announcement was Floating Offshore Wind Manufacturing Investment Scheme (FLOWMIS) – a port infrastructure initiative that was originally announced, at the same funding level, in May 2022.
The strategy changed very little for the solar industry or people looking to install panels on their roof, but there was at least a commitment to creating more solar farms.
The government said it wants “large scale solar deployment across the UK, looking for development mainly on brownfield, industrial and low/medium grade agricultural land.
“The government will therefore not be making changes to categories of agricultural land in ways that might constrain solar deployment.”
Considering the nonsensical amounts of pressure from those opposed to solar farms, the government should be praised for at least standing firm.
However, despite saying it's seeking “widespread deployment of rooftop solar in commercial, industrial, and domestic properties”, the government didn't commit to anything more than setting up a taskforce.
We've long known that solar energy is desperately necessary for the route to net zero, relatively cheap to install, and free at the point of use, so it's unclear why the government continues to be so slow to get behind it.
Despite hopes that the government would introduce a home insulation grant to slash installation costs, the only change made was to the name of the ECO+ scheme, which now goes by The Great British Insulation Scheme.
The government hasn't increased the programme's funding ahead of its launch in April 2023, but has said it will help “around 300,000 of the country’s least energy efficient homes.”
Since the government announced ECO+ as a way to help 70,000 homes, this would represent a massive increase – especially considering the lack of any extra funding.
The government's press release states that “around 300,000 more of the country’s least efficient homes could benefit from improvements”, which suggests that 70,000 homes from a potential pool of 300,000 will benefit.
We’ve contacted the government for comment.
Friends of the Earth's Mike Childs said: “Instead of the nationwide insulation programme urgently needed to fix our heat-leaking homes, they’ve simply re-branded an existing scheme that will only reach a fraction of the properties that need improvement.”
The government has launched Great British Nuclear, after first announcing its plans for the government body in April 2022.
GBN's first task will be running “a competition to select the best Small Modular Reactor technologies”.
This technology isn't operational yet, but as with carbon capture and hydrogen, the government is investing in the potential of new developments at the detriment of incredible green products that already exist.
A Greenpeace representative said: “SMRs don’t yet exist, are highly unlikely to solve our energy woes and won’t provide a solution to the waste hazards that come with nuclear.”
Why has the strategy been revised?
The government was forced to present a new Net Zero Strategy after the High Court ruled its previous version was “unlawful” and “inadequate”.
The July 2022 ruling, made in favour of climate activists including Friends of the Earth, ordered the government to publish a new strategy by 31 March 2023 – so here we are.
What difference will it make?
This new Net Zero Strategy will make very little difference to household bills or the legally mandated fight to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The great majority of funding mentioned in the document has already been announced, and most new investment is going to research and development in hydrogen and nuclear energy.
The extension of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme is welcome – though the scheme needs to improve hugely to make it worth it – and the pledge to lower electricity bills and reduce hurdles for wind and solar installations is positive.
But overall, the plan will struggle to convince anyone that the government cares about reaching net zero.
Britain Remade's Sam Richards said: “Unfortunately, with no real commitment to deliver the real planning reforms needed, the steps outlined today by the government fall short of what is needed.”
Friends of the Earth's Mike Childs said: “Ministers should be scaling up and accelerating the race to net zero, but these plans look half-baked, half-hearted and dangerously lacking ambition.”
He added: “These announcements will do little to boost energy security, lower bills or put us on track to meet climate goals.”
Want to find out about how reducing the number of hours we work could help us meet our climate goals? Read our page, What Would Be The Environmental Impact of a Four-Day Work Week?
Is net zero feasible under this strategy?
No, net zero is not feasible under this strategy.
The CCC's damning report on the government's progress may have been released before the new strategy, but it still applies to this document, which makes no significant changes to the UK's net zero plan.
Baroness Brown said: “The Government’s lack of urgency on climate resilience is in sharp contrast to the recent experience of people in this country.
“People, nature and infrastructure face damaging impacts as climate change takes hold. These impacts will only intensify in the coming decades.”
This strategy has made some positive moves, but it has not moved the needle.