The Government still has “no plan” for achieving net zero by 2050, the Public Accounts Committee has said in a new report.
Despite the target being legally set almost two years ago, a lack of coordinated plan with clear milestones is holding back the country’s efforts and making it difficult to gauge the progress made.
Government departments do not sufficiently consider the impact of net zero when taking forward projects and programmes. While the Treasury has changed the guidance on policy appraisal so that departments put greater emphasis on the environments of their programmes, it has not set out how this will work in practice.
Additionally, it is not ensuring that its activities do not simply shift emissions creation overseas, undermining global climate change efforts.
The Public Account Committee said that as much as 62% of future emissions reductions will rely on individual choices – both through everyday behaviours, and through larger purchases such as switching to a heat pump or an electric vehicle – but the Government has not engaged with the public substantially on these points.
Some initial inroads have begun to be made, with the Committee pointing to the Parliamentary select committee’s Climate Assembly UK in 2020. But the Government needs to go further in encouraging a shift to net zero, and putting in place structural economic changes to support it.
The lack of progress is particularly significant given the UK is set to host the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November. This will mean “the eyes of the world, its scientists and policymakers are on the UK – big promises full of fine words won’t stand up,” said Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
Ahead of the event, the Government “intends to publish a plethora of strategies this year” setting out how it will reduce emissions in different sectors, but a clearer plan is still required.
Hillier said the Government had set itself a “huge test” through its Net Zero commitment, but has shown few signs it “understands how to get there”.
“Our response to climate change must be as joined up and integrated as the ecosystems we are trying to protect. We must see a clear path plotted, with interim goals set and reached – it will not do to dump our emissions on poorer countries to hit UK targets. Our new international trade deals, the levelling up agenda – all must fit in the plan to reach net zero.
The damning critique follows just days after the Chancellor presented his Budget for 2021/22 to the nation, itself drawing criticism for a lack of green pledges. While there were a few points welcomed, it has largely been seen as a ‘missed opportunity’ by those in the energy sector, while others have criticised the fuel duty freeze while there was no support within the financial statement for transitioning to electric vehicles.