Image Credit – Heidi Fin
The UK government has come under fire for dragging its feet on climate targets, as the Climate Change Committee, in a condemning report,¹ finds that it is not on track to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The 2022 Progress Report to Parliament finds ‘major failures’ in the country’s delivery programmes towards reaching its climate goals, stating that ‘tangible progress is lagging the policy ambition.’²
In 2021, emission levels increased by 4% as the economy recovered from the effects of COVID-19.³ This year, the cost of living crisis and rising energy prices caused in part by Russia’s war with Ukraine are further increasing the challenge of transitioning to a green economy by reducing affordability and increasing fossil fuel consumption.
The government is trying to combat these difficulties through new short-term measures. Prime Minister Liz Truss has recently announced a 2 year cap of £2,500 for household energy bills which will help to alleviate surging prices this winter.⁴ The Energy Bills Support Scheme has also been introduced, providing £400 towards the energy bills of eligible households for winter 2022-2023.⁵ However, there are concerns over the government’s long-term plans, as analysts at Cornwall Insight warn electricity bills could remain high into 2030.⁶
Rising energy prices should further encourage the country to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Yet, in an attempt to boost domestic hydrocarbon output, the government has recently opened a new licensing round for companies to search for oil and gas in the North Sea, awarding as many as 100 licenses for exploration in 900 locations.⁷ Global Energy Monitor (GEM) found the licensing to be ‘radically at odds’ with the UK’s climate change goals, calculating that we would exceed our legally binding carbon budget by nearly double if the oil reserves in the North Sea were extracted and released into the atmosphere.⁸ Phillip Evans, energy transition campaigner for Greenpeace, also stated, ‘new oil and gas licenses won’t lower energy bills for struggling families this winter or any winter soon nor provide energy security in the medium term,’ calling this a policy that only benefits fossil fuel companies.⁹
The Climate Change Committee’s report concludes ‘significant risks remain in most sectors, particularly buildings, industry, aviation and shipping.’¹⁰ The quality of the UK’s housing stock is very poor, with The Institute for Government observing the UK ranks lower than countries across Europe in terms of energy efficiency.¹¹ The government should be providing household owners with more information on home insulation and incentives to save energy, although recently, Truss has faced criticism for blocking plans for a public information campaign asking households to conserve energy over the winter months.¹²
There has at least been progress with electric vehicles, as the report finds that ‘as of August 2022, 14% of new car sales were battery electric vehicles,’ a dramatic rise from 1% in 2018.¹³
While reaching net zero will undoubtedly require systemic changes in the economy and society, the CCC report concludes that the foundations are in place to achieve this. Though by now it is obvious that fossil fuel projects should be phased out and shut down, not expanded, and blocking attempts to educate the public on the conservation of energy at the height of an energy crisis is entirely nonsensical. Ultimately, the UK government must step up and deliver on its legally binding commitments to achieving net zero.
¹Climate Change Committee, 2022. Progress Report. Available at https://www.theccc.org.uk/2022/06/29/current-programmes-will-not-deliver-net-zero/ [accessed 16/10/22]
²Climate Change Committee, 2022. Progress Report.
³International Energy Agency, Global Energy Review 2021: CO2 Emissions. Available at https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2021 [accessed 16/10/22]
⁴Gov.UK, 2022. Policy paper: Energy bills support factsheet. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/energy-bills-support/energy-bills-support-factsheet-8-september-2022 [accessed 16/10/22]
⁵Gov.UK, 2022. Policy paper: Energy bills support factsheet.
⁶Cornwall Insight, 2022. Energy prices to remain significantly above average up to 2030 and beyond. Available at https://www.cornwall-insight.com/press/energy-prices-to-remain-significantly-above-average-up-to-2030-and-beyond/ [accessed 16/19/2022]
⁷BBC, 2022. UK defies climate warnings with new oil and gas licences. Available at https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-63163824 [accessed 16/10/2022]
⁸Global Energy Monitor, 2022. Hooked on Hydrocarbons. Available at https://globalenergymonitor.org/report/hooked-on-hydrocarbons-the-uks-risky-addiction-to-north-sea-oil-and-gas-development-at-odds-with-climate-goals/ [accessed 16/10/22]
⁹BBC, 2022. UK defies climate warnings with new oil and gas licences.
¹⁰Climate Change Committee, 2022. Progress Report.
¹¹Institute for Government, 2022. Tackling the UK’s energy efficiency problem. Available at https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/tackling-energy-efficiency-problem.pdf [accessed 16/10/22]
¹²The Guardian, 2022. Will an energy cutting campaign be Liz Truss’s next U-turn? Available at https://amp.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/07/will-energy-campaign-be-liz-trusss-next-u-turn [accessed 16/10/22]
¹³Climate Change Committee, 2022. Progress Report.