The net zero policy vacuum: 8 things you need to know

A raft of government policies aimed at steering the UK towards net zero emissions by 2050 have been scrapped or delayed just two months before the UK hosts the crucial COP26 summit. Here’s what you need to know.

Critics have claimed that without a strategy, the UK's net zero ambitions leave a vacuum for climate sceptics. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Treasury has delayed the publication of the net zero strategy over fears it will hit working class families hardest

Last week, it was reported that a key Treasury review into the cost of achieving the government’s flagship net zero goal has been delayed again. It was due in spring 2021, but has yet to emerge.

According to reports in the Sunday Telegraph, prime minister Boris Johnson Johnson believes if early adopters of new technologies such as hydrogen boilers and electric cars can be encouraged, then prices will eventually fall. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is said to agree on the need to bring down the cost of new technologies, but wants the private sector to “do most of the heavy lifting”, the report said. 

This followed the scrapping of the green homes grant

Sunak’s March budget made no mention of the fate of the Green Homes Grant, £1bn of which was underspent from the first tranche and will not be rolled over, according to reports. 

Intended to act as both an economic stimulus for the construction industry during the height of the pandemic and to help the country decarbonise, the subsidy was scrapped in March, resulting in stern criticism from green groups.

Less revenue is being raised through green taxes than a decade ago

According to a recent analysis by law firm Pinsent Masons, the government raised only £40.8bn through environmental taxes and charges last year - just 6% out of the £633bn raised through taxes overall.

The figure is down from 8% of government income a decade ago, the amount brought in having risen only 19% since 2009/10 compared to a 53% increase in taxes overall. 

Experts say that the freezing of key policies, such as the level of fuel duty and carbon price support, indicates that green revenue will continue to fall, providing insufficient stimulus for investment and decarbonisation

Other plans have been delayed or need revising

The government’s much-anticipated Hydrogen Strategy, which was rumoured to be published this month, has failed to emerge. As has the heat and buildings strategy, which will seek to decarbonise a sector that comprises 40% of total energy demand and 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.

There has also been a u-turn over the government's transport policy

In July, transport secretary Grant Shapps admitted that the government’s overarching planning policy for major new road schemes, known as RIS2, was incompatible with net zero and must be revised.

The government had previously argued in court that its RIS2 road building programme, worth £27bn, did accommodate its net zero obligation.

The delays have led to criticism from the Climate Change Committee

This week, the Climate Change Committee’s’s chair Lord Deben said it was a problem that the government’s overall work on net zero had not yet appeared, although he acknowledged that the work was complex.

He added that: “Other countries would be much more willing to recognise that this is proper leadership if they see a programme in detail, but we haven’t committed ourselves to that.”

Deben said climate sceptics are using the strategy vacuum to “attack and undermine” the government's target

Deben’s comments came shortly after it emerged that backbench Tory MPs were planning to set up a new group aimed at questioning the Westminster “consensus” on the need to urgently curb greenhouse gas emissions.

According to reports, the group does not intend to deny climate science, but will want to highlight the anticipated costs associated with meeting the government’s 2050 net zero targets, and ask for more transparency over the data being used to drive the decisions. 

Boris Johnson has been called on to distance himself from the group

Labour called for Boris Johnson to distance himself from “the climate sceptics on his backbenches”.

A Labour Party spokesperson told ENDS that the prime minister should distance himself from the climate sceptics on his backbenches and that giving “credence to the views” of those questioning the need to deliver net zero to protect people and planet “risks seriously undermining the UK's credibility as hosts of COP26”.