Major report slams lack of strategy on reducing aviation and decarbonsing buildings

The government has been too “timid” in developing policies to progress towards net zero, climate change advisors have warned.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) said that there is a “large policy gap” between Boris Johnson’s promises on tackling carbon emissions and actions the government has taken.

COP26 shutterstock

The UK is due to host the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November

In a report on the government’s progress in reducing emissions, the advisory group said that initiatives announced so far are “not yet in step with the urgency of the challenge”.

The government’s net zero strategy, which will outline how the government intends to bring emissions down by 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035, is due to be published in the autumn.

But the CCC said that credible policies so far currently cover only around 20% of the required reduction in emissions, adding that the strategy needs to address “unanswered questions” on how net zero will be funded in a “fair way”.

Among the report’s criticisms was that the Department of Transport had not set out any plans for limiting growth in demand for aviation.

It said that an assessment of the UK’s strategy for airport capacity and a mechanism for managing demand for flying should be part of an overdue net zero aviation strategy.

The government included aviation alongside shipping in the UK’s sixth carbon budget, a policy proposed by the CCC which will limit greenhouse gas emissions over a five year period from 2033 to 2037.

The recommendations on aviation pour more cold water over prospects of an expansion to Heathrow and other airports, including Leeds.

The report also slammed several government departments including the Treasury, the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government, and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for “lagging behind” others in their approach to cutting carbon.

It said that the heat and buildings strategy, which has been delayed by a year from its original due date of summer 2020, needs to “signal a clear route to expanding heat pump and heat network supply chains now”.

The report warned that there are still “critical questions” to resolve around who pays for the decarbonisation of buildings through energy-efficiency retrofits and green heating systems.

The CCC said it wants sales of gas boilers to all homes and businesses phased out by 2033 and replaced by green alternatives including heat pumps, which can cost up to £35,000 each.

The government has said that it wants to install 600,000 heat pumps each year by 2028 in the 24.5 million homes that need them.

Responding to the report, the UK Green Building Council said that action to decarbonise homes is “simply not happening quickly enough”.

The group’s chief executive Julie Hirigoyen said: “As the report highlights, progress in upgrading our new build standards and enforcing them properly has fallen behind.”

The report also said that the government’s proposed planning reforms must reflect wider net zero policy.

Hirigoyen said that the government “must seize the opportunity offered by the new Planning Bill to deliver development and infrastructure that is compliant with Net Zero and resilient to climate change”.

She added: “In order to successfully achieve our net zero target, it is clear that a national retrofit programme to deliver energy efficiency measures and prepare our homes for the impacts of climate change must be delivered in the next 10-15 years.”

The CCC’s report did praise the government for committing to an “ambitious path” to net zero.

It said the covid-19 pandemic had shown that the government has the ability to act with “pace and scale when it is required” and that people are “willing to support change when they have the information before them”.

But it said that it is “hard to discern any comprehensive strategy” in climate plans announced in the last 12 months, warning that the UK “continues to blunder into high-carbon choices”.

The UK is set to host the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.