Last week, the Government published a suite of documents amounting to over 2,500 pages, mapping out proposals set to strengthen Britain’s long-term energy security and outlining commitments to decarbonisation. Of the documents released, Powering Up Britain set out an overarching strategy, bringing together the Energy Security Plan and the Net Zero Growth Strategy. Other documents also see the Government respond officially to Chris Skidmore MP’s independent net zero review, the latest Climate Change Committee (CCC) progress report, and a revised green finance strategy from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.
The Government has claimed that the overall strategy will deliver an ‘energy revolution’ - but the reality falls significantly short of this target. By the Government’s own admission, the new plans do not yet put the UK on track to meet its legally binding carbon targets, and the continued exploitation of fossil fuels puts the UK and its future generations in an increasingly vulnerable position.
The strategy shores up legislation to drive crucial green investment - although the approach is piecemeal. Transport decarbonisation featured prominently, especially the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) and Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) mandates. Whilst neither of the packages are new, they offer a real commitment to unlock private investment, with the potential to decarbonise key sectors and create green jobs. Similarly, the policy regimes for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and hydrogen projects have received some clarity needed to move forward - an important step, as the Climate Change Committee has recognised that scaling CCS is an absolute necessity if the UK is to meet its climate targets.
What is missing however, is a long term vision for these sectors, not only to drive short-term investment but also to ensure that they are not used as a fig leaf to expand fossil fuel production. The Government has shone a light on important policies and schemes, however on the whole, the strategy presents a “business as usual” approach.
Moreover, the strategy lacks meaningful policies to drive forward energy efficiency and the renewable industry sector. The Government once more postponed a decision on whether to remove the restriction on new onshore wind farms. In addition, the repackaged ECO+ scheme on housing insulation is too small - only 300,000 homes of the twenty million in need of an upgrade will benefit. There was also no update regarding the plans for stricter energy efficiency requirements for rental properties. Given that energy bills remain uncomfortably high for households, the Government’s decision to extend Energy Price Guarantee without a long-term vision to improve household energy efficiency is another instance of plaster politics.
To tackle rising bills, the Government should urgently look to mirror Labour’s proposals for a national energy efficiency plan which would evolve a long-term retrofit strategy.
The Government’s strategy also saw nothing new on nature, farming, food, waste, public transport and climate adaptation. The Government urgently needs to set out a coherent, long-term vision for climate action, incorporating not only energy security and net zero strategy, but also broader national resilience.