The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, questioning the recent announcements that have seen dates and targets moved back for key net zero policies.
In a letter written by EAC Chair Philip Dunne MP on the Committee’s behalf, the EAC expresses concern over the presentation of the debate around net zero, which paints the challenge as a binary choice between those opposing net zero policies and those demanding change at an impractical or unaffordable pace.
The letter states that in reality, “there has been significant consensus” across all parties on the evidence for climate change and the measures required to tackle it.
The committee welcomes several changes, such as the commitment to greater scrutiny of net zero measures and the decision to increase the support available for installation of air source and ground source heat pumps. However, it points out that these plans are not accompanied by a clear strategy to achieve them.
For example, the announcement of an increase to individual grants for air and ground source heat pumps was not accompanied by an announcement about the overall level of funding for the scheme, and “will in fact deliver fewer upgrades to properties”.
The EAC is concerned that the government’s new policy changes will make it harder to meet the UK’s carbon budget targets. They are asking the government to explain how they plan to meet these targets, given the rollback of existing policies.
The new carbon budget delivery plan was presented as part of the government’s Net Zero Growth Plan, a follow-up to its previous and unlawful Net Zero Strategy, and sets out the amount of greenhouse gases the UK can emit during 2033-37 and still achieve the net zero target.
Like its predecessor, this plan is being taken to court by green groups, who argue it does not go far enough to meet the UK’s legally binding climate targets.
Dunne notes that the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) latest 2023 emissions reductions progress report flagged significant risks to the UK’s decarbonisation goals, even before the recent delays. The CCC found that the pace of decarbonisation programs remains “worryingly slow,” especially in energy efficiency upgrades, heat pump installations, and tree planting.
Last week, Lord Deben, former Conservative minister and Climate Change Committee chair, criticised the environmental policy rollbacks, calling them “not to be conservative at all” and warning of damage to businesses and trust.
The committee also pointed out that several of the policy proposals that the PM called “worrying” and intended to scrap, such as new taxes to manage aviation demand and a reduction in meat consumption, were never actually government policy.
The letter concludes with a plea for “further information and clarification” on a number of different issues, including the impact of the delayed ban on new petrol and diesel cars, particularly its impact on emissions reductions, GDP, and employment.
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