The UK government has announced plans to publish a “comprehensive” Net Zero Strategy ahead of next year’s COP26 climate summit that will outline how it intends to decarbonise the economy while harnessing “growth and employment opportunities” over the next three decades.
The government confirmed the plans for the new policy document late last night, as it published its official response to the annual progress report produced over the summer by its independent climate advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The move is set to be welcomed by business and environmental groups, which have long argued that an over-arching net zero decarbonisation strategy would provide clear investment signals and help ensure all government departments prioritise climate action.
But in its 156-page response to the CCC’s ‘bumper’ progress report, the government yesterday confirmed a raft of new deacrbonisation strategies are on the way. Specifically, it said it would publish a Hydrogen Strategy in Spring 2021 and a Biomass Strategy in 2022 that would set out how it intends to ramp up the low carbon fuels’ respective production and use across the UK.
The newly-announced strategies will join a number of other policy documents already in the pipeline that are expected to form the bedrock for how the UK can meet its legally-binding 2050 net zero ambition. In its response to its climate advisors, the government reiterated its timeline for a series of other net zero policy documents, confirming it would publish the long-awaited Energy White Paper and National Infrastructure Strategy this autumn, and the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Heat and Buildings Strategy before the close of the year.
In the wake of the CCC’s report, which warned that little progress had been towards the net zero target in the year since the UK legally binding goal had been set and recommended a low carbon spending blitz to drive a ‘green recovery’ to the pandemic, the government acknowledged it needed to step up its decarbonisation efforts.
“While we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other major economy over the past two decades, we recognise that more needs to be done if we are to meet the size of our net zero and carbon budgets ambitions,” Business Minister Alok Sharma and Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng wrote in the report’s foreword.
In response to the CCC’s call for the government to bring forward a ban on petrol and diesel 2032 at the latest, the government said it recognised “the need to go further than the existing regulatory regime” and was considering more stringent measures in its Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
In order to accelerate deployment of low carbon renewable technologies, the government also confirmed the next Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction for renewables projects would take place in late 2021 and that it would hold a new round every two years
Chris Hewett, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, welcomed the measures contained in the government’s response to its climate advisors today and called on the government to match its ambition on wind with its plans for the solar industry in the forthcoming Net Zero Strategy.
“The government has taken constructive steps on what will undoubtedly be a long road and the announcement of a comprehensive Net Zero Strategy is welcome,” Hewett said. “What we need to see in that strategy is the same level of ambition for solar and battery storage as there has been for wind. Britain needs to triple its solar capacity in the next decade in order to get on track for net zero.”
Kwarteng and Sharma also emphasised in the report that they would listen to the recommendations of Climate Assembly UK, the citizens’ assembly that convened by six parliamentary select committee to discuss how the UK could meet its 2050 climate target.
“We welcome the report and will be considering its findings closely as we shape our approach to net zero,” they said. “We have already committed to many policies in line with the report and wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of its recommendation on greater citizenship involvement around climate change.”
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