The new Government must outline the road map to net zero
The window for game changing action on climate change is closing and we need to move at pace in this Parliament, says Alistair Phillips-Davies, Chief Executive of SSE.
The one consistent message throughout the UK General Election campaign was the need to tackle climate change with urgency. Looking ahead to the Queens Speech and the 2020 policy agenda, now is the time to translate political pledges into practical action to pave the way for net zero emissions by 2050.
As a company that’s been advocating for bold and decisive action for many years and has been investing heavily – about £4m every day – in assets and infrastructure to support a low-carbon economy, it is important to recognise how far the energy industry has come. Today the UK is almost coal free, leads on offshore wind, has one of the most progressive carbon tax policies and was the first country to legislate for net zero. But thirty years will come quickly for policymakers and long term investors, therefore the next Parliament will be critical in setting the country up for success.
The new Government has already committed to backing SSE’s call for ramping up renewables with a new target of 40GW of offshore wind by 2030. This is a clear signal to an industry to build on successes to date and continue its huge investment programme. SSE will be playing its part building the world’s largest offshore wind farm at Doggerbank off the east coast of Yorkshire and Seagreen, off the coast of Fife, which will be Scotland’s largest offshore wind farm. However, delivering enough projects will require policy changes to introduce more regular renewable energy contract auctions and focused collaboration to address obstacles such as planning, electricity grid constraints and aviation restrictions.
Renewable energy will need low-carbon flexible backup. Carbon capture and storage fitted to thermal power stations has high potential here and must be demonstrated at scale within the next decade. SSE also sees potential in hydrogen power technologies too. Both will need Government collaboration and support to take the technologies forward.
Smart and reliable electricity transportation networks are also needed to reach net zero. We have submitted plans for an electricity transmission network for net zero in the north of Scotland which will see billions of pounds invested to support the expansion of renewables across one of the windiest parts of Britain. Reforms will also be needed to provide enough electric vehicle charging coverage to enable drivers to have confidence in EVs. We risk repeating the problems with the broadband rollout, where certain communities have been left behind unless we create an urgent rollout framework with local authorities, transport bodies and electricity networks working together to set up tenders to rollout the most extensive EV charging network in the world and to enable collaboration to provide charging where it is otherwise uneconomic.
Of course, as an industry, along with water, rail and telecommunications, we also need to redouble efforts to restore trust given the fact that nationalisation was a key feature of the political debate. Together we have to demonstrate to the public that we can deliver for the industry, customers and society alike. Being responsible employers; paying our fair share of tax, a Real Living Wage, treating suppliers fairly, investing for the long-term in communities, respecting the environment - these are all important if we are to deliver a fair return to society on the profits we make.
Ultimately, the window for game changing action on climate change is closing and we need to move at pace in this Parliament. Five years ago world leaders signed the landmark Paris Agreement which paved the way for action to address climate change and cut carbon emissions. In advance of the critical UN COP26 climate talks in Glasgow next November, the new Government needs a world-leading net zero roadmap to energise the next phase of delivery. We stand ready to help create it. Manifestos are a shop window for prospective governments. Now our elected representatives must be ready to get out on the shop floor and make good on their promises