Norman Lamb MP: Parliament has declared a climate emergency – but the Government seems not to hear the sirens blaring
There is still time for the UK to meet its net-zero goal, but it will require determined action from the Government now, says Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Norman Lamb MP.
This summer may not have been particularly memorable in the UK but we have seen record temperatures around the world. Weather is not the same as climate, but experts agree that global warming is already making extreme weather more likely and more extreme. Parliament, like so many others, has declared a climate emergency – but the Government seems not to hear the sirens blaring.
Yes, the UK recently became one of the first countries in the world to commit to a ‘net-zero’ future, rightly adopting a legally-binding target to eliminate or offset all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 - and the Government should be applauded for that. This is critical if we are to avoid the dire consequences of more than 2˚C global warming. But long-term targets mean little without the policies in place to deliver them.
On this front, the Government has little to point to other than cuts, delays and setbacks. My Committee identified ten key areas in which policy has either stalled or moved backwards, including reduced subsidies for electric vehicles, restrictive planning policy for low-cost renewables, delays in decisions on domestic energy efficiency and disruption in payment schemes for small-scale power generation.
Meanwhile, the UK’s rate of decarbonisation has been slowing, when it needs to be accelerating. The Government’s independent climate auditor has warned that we’re not on track to meet even our previous targets, let alone our new ones. Action is needed across the economy, especially in areas such as transport and residential heating systems, which have seen little change or even increasing emissions since 2012.
Today, my Committee has published its Report identifying a series of measures the Government should implement as a matter of urgency.
Firstly, the Government must improve the energy efficiency of our homes. Building regulations should be updated to ensure that the new homes we’re building are compatible with a net-zero future. Lessons should be learned from previous policies intended to deliver energy efficiency in existing homes, and proper incentives introduced to encourage those who can afford to make improvements to do so – stamp duty could be adjusted according to energy efficiency, while ‘help to improve’ loans could provide financial support similar to the ‘help to buy’ scheme.
The Government must also adopt near-term and long-term measures to cut transport emissions. Around 55% of last year’s increase in car emissions was due to people choosing larger cars—we need stronger fiscal incentives for less polluting models. A faster roll-out of chargepoints will help to increase uptake of electric vehicles, and the future ban on sales of new ‘conventional’ cars and vans should be brought forward to 2035 at the latest. But emissions are generated by manufacturing as well as driving, and in the long-run the Government cannot aim simply to replace today’s vehicles with low-emissions models. Public transport, walking and cycling routes and shared car ownership must all be promoted as alternatives to personal car ownership.
The Government must continue to decarbonise electricity. This will require better planning and financial support to expand and upgrade established renewables like onshore wind and large-scale solar power. Decisions on the financial arrangements for new nuclear power are needed to avoid unnecessary disruption. And the Government’s new scheme to pay for community- and domestically-produced low-carbon electricity must be carefully monitored and made to work.
These measures all make use of tried and tested technology. But there are newer technologies that also need Government support, to move from development to demonstration to deployment. Large-scale trials of low-carbon heating systems, such as hydrogen heating, are needed to inform a future heat strategy. Clarity is needed in the Government’s ‘action plan’ for carbon capture and storage, which is widely thought to be critical for an affordable route to net-zero. And technologies that can actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere also need to be explored and readied for large-scale deployment by 2050.
There is still time for the UK to meet its net-zero goal, but it will require determined action from the Government now.
Norman Lamb is Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and Chair of the Science and Technology Committee.