As a climate solutions charity, Ashden welcomes the UK government’s 10-point green plan to put the country on the journey to becoming Net Zero. We have the solutions we need, many coming from brilliant British climate innovators. Committing to give those innovators the full support and financial backing to take their solutions to scale in practice is key.
It is positive to see the government narrative recognising that “the low-carbon transition is good for jobs and part of levelling up”. And making homes schools and hospitals greener and warmer is exactly where to start.
However, as the UK is leading the UN climate talks, COP 26, in just 12 months’ time, our goals must be ambitious enough to lead the world in this life-changing climate decade, and backed by the necessary plans, funds and powers. The UK will still drop well short of Net Zero by 2050, even with this new plan. Yet as the fifth richest country in the world, we need to be driving global leadership and innovation.
We need a broad approach that invites all of society in to help create fundamental shifts – not just in how we power society and the economy, but also in consumption – especially food and land use – and changing our lifestyles. We need to ensure it is a just and a fair transition, with people benefiting from warmer homes and schools, green jobs and new skills.
Serious investment is needed. Take schools for example: for all education buildings alone in England to be net zero by 2030 will cost at least a predicted £23.37 billion* – that is nearly 5 times the amount announced to fund the whole of the UK’s journey to net zero carbon.
Meanwhile, the government continues high-carbon activities such as road-building and supporting the airline industry and intensive agriculture, even though these go against the sense of this green plan. The carbon bathtub is over-flowing – we need to turn the tap off before we start mopping.
Although announced as a £12bn plan, the new money of £4bn falls well short of Germany or France in terms of funds and ambition and in terms of need. We would like to see more detail (perhaps in the long overdue Energy White Paper) about how the government plans to address this funding gap in the short and long term, and a commitment to funding the massive skills shortages for retrofit and green energy, a chance to generate badly needed jobs after the economic impact of coronavirus.
We hope the government can set a long-term direction, with greater certainty around forthcoming carbon budgets to provide a clear road map for investors and industry. That road map would create a new, clean, green and inclusive economic system that will breed innovation, behaviour change and attract in resources. It is time to be specific, clear and so enable the brilliant green innovators and companies we have in the UK to flourish.
In detail: Ashden examines four Government pledges
Greener homes and public buildings
It’s good that the green homes grant has been extended, and the decision to ban gas in new homes by 2023 is excellent. But much larger sums are needed, alongside policies to leverage in private finance.
Proven solutions for retrofitting insulation and installing renewable heating are available now. But government needs to seriously think about the skills that are needed, such as retraining gas engineers to install and maintain heat pumps, and equipping people with the skills to upgrade building insulation so that the steady, low-level supply from a heat-pump is able to heat the house easily while keeping energy consumption down.
With regards to retrofit, we would like to have seen confirmation of the government’s £9.2bn 2019 manifesto commitment for decarbonising buildings, and a statement of how and when this money will be spent. This plan gives only a commitment to one more year of funding (and it’s not clear if this is new funding or just the original Green Homes Grant commitment which will be underspent by March 2021). The industry will flourish with long term, stable commitments.
Improved public transport, cycling and walking
Promoting walking and cycling will cut demand for private vehicles – including electric cars and vans which, although better than fossil-fuel powered models, still demand huge resources to manufacture.
The materials for one electric vehicle could be used to build about 50 electric bikes, each with a range of 50 miles. Some distances are too long to be done by even an electric bike, but they are excellent for journeys of 10-20 miles, and also excellent for people with health problems. You can get a lot more transport for your material expenditure by bike or electric bike, than by car.
So government action is welcome – but it’s crucial that when it comes to sustainable travel, local authorities are given the power and resources to unlock progress. Councils can play a leading role in making the everyday changes that bring about our low-carbon future.
Protecting and restoring the natural environment
The Government plan is to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year, but the current area of woodland in UK is 3.21m hectares – so this is an increase of less than 1% a year of woodland. And if we also include the 742,000 hectares outside our woodlands already covered by trees, the new planting looks even less significant.
More ambitious numbers are needed, with a serious growth in both woodland and urban greenery. Government action in this area can deliver multiple benefits beyond tackling the climate crisis. Through permaculture and agroforestry approaches, for example, new tree planting could simultaneously produce food, capture carbon and increase biodiversity.
Supporting innovation and finance
Developing new cutting edge technologies is welcome, but the innovation we need to get to zero-carbon already exists – what is needed most is the policy and finance support to get it used at scale, and, crucially, a focus on societal and behaviour change. The path out of this crisis will not be purely technological. To win people’s support, we need to show how a low carbon future can deliver additional benefits – such as warmer homes, lower fuel bills and cleaner air – and a fairer society.
The investment in this green plan, while welcome, falls short. £4bn of new money has been allocated. To put this in perspective, the cost of HS2 alone is around £100bn. This summer’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme alone was £0.5bn, which provided the support for people to eat cheap meals for a few weeks. Are we really only spending eight times that amount to support the lives of current and future generations?