‘Damning assessment’: CCC report finds net zero target at risk

The risk of the UK not meeting its legally binding commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 is higher than before, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has said, in what commentators have described as a “damning assessment” of the government’s revised strategy.

In the CCC’s ‘Progress in reducing emissions report’, published today, the committee found that key government departments such as DEFRA and DLUHC have failed to achieve any of the CCC’s “priority recommendations” made in 2022. 

The committee welcomed the creation  of a new department for Energy Security and Net Zero, but added that progress has still not been made on recommendations made to its parent department, BEIS, last year. 

READ MORE: CCC Report - Seven key insights on the UK’s progress on reducing emissions

In July 2022, the High Court found in favour of campaigners that the government’s Net Zero Strategy was ‘unlawful’ because it did not meet the obligations under the Climate Change Act to produce detailed climate policies that show how the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets will actually be met.

The government did not appeal the decision, and were given until the end of March this year to set out a new strategy. Scraping right up against that deadline, the government published a whole raft of policy papers on March 31 in what was dubbed “green day”, the most relevant to net zero being its Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP).   

READ MORE: Planning reforms and new arm’s-length bodies: Your at-a-glance guide to the government’s ‘Green Day’ plans

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, the group which brought the legal challenge alongside Client Earth and the Good Law Project, described the CCC report as “a damning assessment” of the government’s new strategy. 

He continued: “Its own advisors say there are now only credible plans for less than a quarter of the emissions cuts needed to meet the UK’s legally binding climate targets - an alarming backwards step from last year when just 39% of plans were deemed fit for purpose.”

Childs also drew out a part of the CCC report which emphasises that the government’s approval of a highly controversial new coal mine in Cumbria last year has compromised its global standing as a leader on climate change. 

Chairman of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben, who has previously told ENDS that approving the coal mine was “a mistake”, told press: “The climate change committee is less certain now than it was a year ago [as to] whether the government will meet its commitments.

“We've committed ourselves to the toughest targets, we set the world on the right path, we were followed by many who others didn't expect, and since then, we have done a number of things which have run counter to that.

“Agreeing to have a new coal mine is utterly unacceptable.” 

Deben warned ministers that “pace must be prioritised over perfection” in order to meet the UKs targets. 

SEE: INTERVIEW- Lord Deben on climate immigration to come and how the Environment Agency lost power

Environmental Audit Committee chairman, Philip Dunne said the report “makes for concerning reading”, adding that it “should serve as a wake-up call to ministers”. 

He continued: “While the government has indicated the ‘what’ it intends to deliver, there remain gaps in the ‘how’ to achieve through policy levers, leaving stakeholders at a loss to judge whether the UK is properly on track to meet its net zero commitments. 

“This risks not creating sufficient confidence for investors looking to support the net zero transition in the UK: the current demand signals to investors lack clarity and consistency.”

Dunne called for “quick wins” such as reviewing the planning rules to improve national grid infrastructure and boost onshore wind and solar, and grid development, as well as insulating homes.

He continued: “Polling has consistently shown that climate change is one of the biggest concerns facing adults in Britain: the government must listen and grasp the significant challenge ahead.”

Helen Clarkson, chief executive at non-profit lobbying organisation Climate Group, said the government has “taken its eye off the ball when it comes to delivering on net zero”. 

She continued: “A lack of action is holding back business investment that could reduce emissions, boost economic growth, and lower fuel bills this winter. People don’t want more warm words and empty promises, they want to see the policy and investment necessary to accelerate action.” 

A Government Spokesperson told ENDS: “We can be proud of the UK’s record as a world-leader on net zero. We are going far beyond other countries and delivering tangible progress whilst bringing down energy bills with hundreds of pounds coming off bills from next month.

 “The UK is cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country and attracted billions of investment into renewables, which now account for 40% of our electricity. In the last year alone, we have confirmed the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years and invested billions to kickstart new industries like carbon capture and floating offshore wind.

“With a new department dedicated to delivering net zero and energy security, we are driving economic growth, creating jobs, bringing down energy bills, and reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels.”