The Climate Change Committee (CCC) published its 15th annual report today on the UK’s progress in reducing emissions to meet its own legally binding net zero commitments. It found that the UK is failing to deliver.
Lord Deben, outgoing chair of the CCC commented, “Even in these times of extraordinary fossil fuel prices, Government has been too slow to embrace cleaner, cheaper alternatives and too keen to support new production of coal, oil and gas. There is a worrying hesitancy by Ministers to lead the country to the next stage of Net Zero commitments”.
The UK is no longer a climate leader
The CCC report stated that better transparency was no substitute for real delivery on climate commitments:
“UK greenhouse gas emissions have so far fallen 46% from 1990 levels. At COP26, a stretching 2030 commitment was made to reduce them by 68%. In only seven years, the recent rate of annual emissions reduction outside the electricity supply sector must therefore quadruple.”
In his final report as chair of the CCC, Lord Deben commented in his foreword that “the true test of leadership is delivery” and stressed the need for faster progress from ministers: “I urge Government to find the courage to place climate change once again at the heart of its leadership”.
There is strong cross-party consensus on net zero policies, therefore it seems odd, or a “curious situation” as Lord Deben describes it, that this support is not matched with rapid policy deployment.
UK government has deprioritised climate change
Professor Piers Forster, interim chair of the CCC and professor of climate physics at University of Leeds, told Yorkshire Bylines that missed opportunities from the UK government have, so far, led to regions such as Yorkshire missing out on the benefits from net zero delivery.
“We have marked [the government’s] plans and found them wanting. Additionally, the government has missed some important opportunities to support UK industries and jobs. It deprioritised tackling climate change just at the time it should be ramping up efforts.
“The EU, the US and China made huge investments in renewables and green industries over the last year to improve their energy security, tackle the cost-of-living crises and support green industries. Frankly, we find it baffling that this government has not done the same, but instead has granted new North Sea licences and let the development of a new coal mine go ahead. These will bring no benefit to energy prices and it undermines our international credibility. Green jobs and industries are being lost overseas.
“A lack of decision from government around the use of hydrogen for home heating is hampering Yorkshire businesses. The government really needs to develop workforce skills. We need more heat pump installers, foresters, and engineers in new green technologies. The government’s workers’ action plan next year needs to specify where sectors and jobs will be supported. Yorkshire farmers are also an important part of net zero delivery. There has been no progress in reducing agriculture emissions during the past ten years. Farmers and landowners need direct government support to plant more trees and restore peatland.
“Overall, I think Yorkshire has huge contribution to make to UK’s net zero delivery. To play a fuller part, it needs government to improve planning, regulation, and pricing structures for electrification of homes and businesses. It also needs to work with councils to provide education programmes to develop appropriate skills and awareness. Central government needs to fund and support combined authorities and local councils to lead the way for their communities.”
Is the UK on track to meet emissions targets?
The CCC monitors and tracks 50 key real-world indicators of emission targets. It found that 11 were off track, marked red in the table below, 14 were slightly off track and only nine were on track (a dismal 20% of key indicators). The report calls for urgent action, while there is still time to do so:
“The slow progress to date on delivery towards Net Zero means that it is no longer tenable for the Government to develop strategies that do not contain committed policies. Policies with immediate delivery are needed, in parallel with development of new strategic visions.”
Priority areas for action
The report outlines 27 clear priority areas for action that need to be in place before the next general election. It highlights that ten out of these 27 recommendations are already overdue. This point of overdue recommendations is repeated later in the report, where it describes methodically how each sector can stay on track to meet the UK’s climate targets. Simply rolling over targets from report to report will only increase the difficulty of the UK meeting its legally binding commitment.
“The CCC’s departmental recommendations set out the steps required by each Government department and other key bodies to stay on track to meeting the UK’s climate targets. This year, we present 300 recommendations, over half of which were carried forward from our previous progress report.”
Notable recommendations are with the aviation industry, where “No airport expansion without UK-wide capacity management” is addressed. Measures to reduce car demand are also a notable recommendation that had been carried over, urging restrictions on new road building: “Conduct a systematic review of current and future road-building projects to assess their consistency with the Government’s environmental goals.”
Global rising emissions
The efforts of the UK to reach net zero come within the wider context of global efforts to reduce emissions. This week, it was reported by the Energy Institute that global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise by just under 1%, as fossil fuel, rather than renewables, continue to dominate the world’s energy consumption. These rising emissions take many countries further away from their commitments under the Paris Agreement, meaning that faster delivery on policy now has to happen.
In the past week, Scotland has also missed its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that this is now the eighth time in 12 years that the legally binding target has been missed: “Total emissions were 49.9% lower in 2021 than in 1990 but the target for the year was a 51.1.% cut.”
Without serious penalties and sanctions for countries missing their legal targets to reduce emissions, it is likely that reductions could be seen as optional rather than compulsory.
Expansion of fossil fuel projects are climate-wrecking
Today’s report from the CCC is timely, as the UK government continues to push forward with more oil expansion in the North Sea, through the proposed Rosebank oil field. Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, is leading a debate in parliament today, 28 June, urging the government to stop the Rosebank oilfield, describing it as a “climate-wrecking oil field”.
There can be no more backtracking on fossil fuel commitments, states the report. With the strong likelihood of an El Niño year this year, extreme weather events and risks of climate change impact will be increased. In short, we are doing this to ourselves – we are ‘wrecking’ our own climate. As the report declares, “Many extreme weather events can be linked to climate change, with human-induced warming affecting both the intensity and frequency of events”.