The UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) has raised concerns about the government’s ability to meet its net zero target, following recent changes to policies on building energy efficiency, vehicles, and low-carbon heating.
In a blog post published today (12 October), the CCC said it had “run the numbers” and that policy changes “increase longer-term risks” to decarbonising the UK. It also said that it remained “concerned about the likelihood of achieving the UK’s future targets,” especially the 2030 goal.
The changes in question include a five-year delay on the ban of new petrol and diesel cars and vans, to 2035; a weakening of requirements for all homes with oil and gas boilers to replace them with low-carbon alternatives and watering down of requirements for landlords to improve building energy efficiency.
The government has defended the changes, saying that they are necessary to protect the public from undue cost and insisted that they will not undermine the UK’s long-term transition to net zero. But, the CCC says it has not seen any evidence to support this claim.
“Recent policy announcements were not accompanied by estimates of their effect on future emissions, nor evidence to back the Government’s assurance that the UK’s targets will still be met,” said Professor Piers Forster, chair of the Climate Change Committee.
The committee called out what it called, “real and tangible policy progress” since June, citing the confirmation of the Zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate and the recent deal with Tata Steel for industrial electrification in Port Talbot.
The former sets targets for the sale of zero-emission vehicles in the automotive industry, while the latter is a collaborative agreement proposing investments in low-carbon, electric arc furnace steelmaking at the Port Talbot site in South Wales
In addition, the implementation of a cap for the ETS that is aligned with Net Zero is also seen as an important step forward, especially in decarbonising industry.
However, it goes on to explain how other developments have made meeting future targets harder.
For instance, even though a 2035 phase-out date for fossil boilers is potentially compatible with the goal of reaching net zero, exempting 20% of households from this phase-out will impact emissions until 2050, making the net zero objective considerably more difficult to attain.
Similarly, delaying the phase-out date for fossil-fuel cars until 2035 might not have a significant direct impact on future emissions, thanks to the confirmed ZEV Mandate, but there could be indirect consequences due to the uncertainty introduced by altering short-term consumer targets.
The Committee also warned that sudden changes in shot-term policies can result in a lack of consumer confidence and/or jeopardise some inward investment, stating, “technology cost reductions often stem from policy certainty, which these announcements undermined”. In other words, the prices of heat pumps and electric cars could remain higher for longer because of changes in government policies.
The post concludes with a clear message urging the government to, “restate strong British leadership on climate change in the crucial period before COP28”.
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