House of Commons Science and Technology Committee publishes report

The Science and Technology Committee has highlighted the lack of Government policies in place to deliver the net zero target by 2050 and recommends 10 steps the Government should take to meet this legally binding target.

The Committee welcomes the Government’s decision to strengthen its long-term emissions reduction target, to effectively eliminate all emissions by 2050. However, the Committee on Climate Change has warned that the UK is not even on course to meet its existing legally binding targets for 2023 to 2032. The Committee’s Report on clean growth highlights that urgent Government action is needed to reverse the current policy trend of cut backs and slow progress.

Ten key areas of shortfall

The Committee identifies ten key areas in which Government policy to support the implementation of low-carbon technology has been delayed, cut back or undermined carbon reductions:

  1. the ‘plug-in grant’ for low-emissions cars was reduced for the lowest-emissions cars in October 2018, and cut completely for other low-emissions cars;
  2. fuel duty has been frozen for nine years in a row, while bus and train fares have been allowed to increase every year over the same period;
  3. the ‘feed-in tariff’ for low-carbon power generation was closed;
  4. the Energy Companies Obligation scheme was restricted to vulnerable households in November 2018, despite the Government conceding that this would result in lower carbon emissions reductions being achieved;
  5. the Government launched a consultation on how to build a market for those able to pay for their own domestic energy efficiency improvements in 2017, but has still not announced what new policy framework will emerge from the consultation responses;
  6. following the cancellation of the ‘zero-carbon homes’ policy in 2015, the Government said that it would consult on changes to building regulations in 2019 to improve energy efficiency but no consultation has been launched;
  7. changes to business rates in 2017 have seen business rates on solar panels increase between three- and eight-fold, equating to thousands of pounds in additional costs each year for schools, SMEs and hospitals;
  8. onshore wind and large-scale solar power have been excluded from the financial support mechanism available to other renewable power technologies since 2017, and planning permission for onshore wind farms has also been made more difficult to obtain since 2015;
  9. the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is due to close in 2021 but no replacement scheme has yet been announced; and
  10. the Government’s new White Paper on ‘The future of the energy market’ was due to be published in ‘early’ 2019, but has not yet been published.

Recommendations for change

Against this backdrop of policy delays and reversals, the Committee makes a series of recommendations across different sectors, including transport, heating, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas removal to get the UK ready for net-zero by 2050. Ten priorities include:

  1. Strategy for decarbonising heat: The Government must urgently develop a clearer strategy for decarbonising heat. This will require large-scale trials of different heating technologies, such as heat pumps and hydrogen gas heating, operating in homes and cities to build the evidence base required for long-term decisions.
  2. Incentive scheme for energy efficiency home improvements: Previous initiatives to encourage the installation of energy efficiency improvements in the ‘able-to-pay’ market have failed because they have focused too narrowly on providing financial support for specific interventions. In order to incentivise homeowners to install energy efficiency improvements, the Government should consider adjusting Stamp Duty so that it varies according to the energy performance of the home as well as the price paid for it. Homebuyers should then be able to make energy efficiency improvements within a defined time after purchasing the property, and claim back corresponding reductions in the Stamp Duty paid retrospectively. The Government should additionally establish a ‘Help to Improve’ scheme by July 2020 that offers matched funding and interest-free loans to homeowners, to cover the costs of making energy efficiency improvements.
  3. Plan for reducing vehicle emissions: The Government must bring forward the date of its proposed ban on the sales of new ‘conventional’ cars and vans to 2035 at the latest, and ensure that it covers hybrids too. In the near-term, the Government must reconsider the fiscal incentives for consumers to purchase both new and used vehicle models with lower emissions. The Government should also work with public services and owners of public land, such as schools and hospitals, to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle chargepoints, and introduce measures to ensure that chargepoints are interoperable, compatible with a smart energy system, reliable, and provide real-time information on their current functionality. Although ultra-low emissions vehicles generate very little emissions during use, their manufacture generates substantial emissions. In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership therefore does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation. The Government should not aim
    to achieve emissions reductions simply by replacing existing vehicles with lower-emissions versions.
  4. Support for onshore wind and solar power: The Government must ensure that there is strong policy support for new onshore wind power and large-scale solar power projects, where there is local support and projected cost-savings for consumers over the long-term. Planning consent and technological lifetimes mean that most existing onshore wind farms were expected to last 25 years before needing to be decommissioned or ‘re-powered’ with upgraded equipment. The Government should ensure that national planning policy facilitates the re-powering of existing sites, with a clear planning permission framework for re-powering existing onshore wind farms in place by the end of 2020.
  5. Review of the Smart Export Guarantee: The Government must review the functioning of the Smart Export Guarantee the planned successor to the feed-in tariff scheme by the end of 2020, and should be ready to include a minimum price floor if there is evidence of a lack of market competitivity for example, if uptake of tariffs is not significantly greater than the current number of tariffs or if the tariffs offered are significantly lower than wholesale electricity prices.
  6. Sustain nuclear power without growing the industry: The Government must make a decision on the future finance framework for new nuclear power by the end of 2019. Subject to value for money, the Government should seek to support new nuclear power generation so as to sustain, but not grow, the UK’s nuclear power industry. It must anticipate any gap in future generation capacity such a policy would cause, and support sufficient renewable power alternatives to fill the gap.
  7. Removal of greenhouse gases: The Government should launch a consultation to inform the development of a future framework for managing and incentivising greenhouse gas removal on the scale required for net-zero emissions, and to provide greater certainty to encourage private investment in the development of these technologies. In line with this strategy, the Government should be ready to increase funding for research, development and demonstration of greenhouse gas removal technologies.
  8. Clear action on carbon capture, usage and storage: The Government must provide greater clarity on the details of its carbon capture, usage and storage action plan, setting out:
    a. what it considers to be deployment at scale;
    b. what constitutes cost-effectiveness or sufficient cost-reduction;
    c. how it expects to share costs with industry; and
    d. what the major milestones for the plan are, as well as when they are expected to be achieved.
    The Government should learn from previous carbon capture and storage projects and ensure that a sufficient number of projects, of sufficient scale, are undertaken to optimise the chance of successful deployment, and that the knowledge gained from publicly-funded work is publicly accessible.
  9. Clean growth regulation of the energy market: The Government should consider the case for amending Ofgem’s principal objective so that it explicitly
    includes ensuring that regulations align with the emissions reduction targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.
  10. Support for local authorities: The Government should support local authorities and members of the public in contributing to the UK’s net zero target. For local authorities, this should include access to low-cost, long-term finance as well as a statutory duty to develop emission reduction plans in line with the national targ ets set by the Climate Change Act 2008. For members of the public, the Government should publish an easily accessible central guide explaining what measures households can take to support decarbonisation and re-introduce a bespoke telephone and visiting advice service.
    Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:
    ‘Parliament has declared a climate emergency. The worrying effects of climate change, such as heatwaves, wildfires and flooding are already occurring at an alarming rate and will have a huge impact on future generations. Throughout our inquiry, it was worrying to hear that although the Government may be ambitious when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, it is not putting the policies in place which are needed to achieve those targets. We need to see the Government put its words into actions.’ The Government’s own projections suggest that the UK is not currently on track to meet its current emission targets, let alone net zero by 2050. The rate of deployment of several key low-carbon technologies is significantly lower than what is required to meet the Government’s ambitions, and various stakeholders expressed concern at the current and projected rate of progress of the UK’s decarbonisation.
    We heard of cut backs in various programmes and slow progress, which are incompatible with the UK’s two upcoming, legally binding, carbon budgets this is unacceptable. If Governments across the world fail to act, it will have dire consequences for the environment and generations to come.
    The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated. This Report clearly highlights ten key areas of concern and we hope the Government listens to our realistic, achievable recommendations on how to make the UK a world leader in cutting carbon emissions once again.