Net-zero tsar urges ‘step change’ in UK approach to meeting climate targets

Net-zero tsar urges ‘step change’ in UK approach to meeting climate targets

Downing Street’s net-zero tsar is set to recommend a fivefold increase in solar power, an earlier ban on new gas boilers by 2033 and curbs on the export of plastic waste by 2027 in a far-reaching report to be published on Monday.

Chris Skidmore, Tory MP and former science and university minister, was commissioned in the fall to conduct a review of Britain’s 2050 emissions target to ensure that it is consistent with the government’s pro-growth and pro-business strategy.

With Britain in the grip of a cost of living crisis, some Conservative MPs are suspicious of the net-zero target, believing it will impose unnecessary costs on the UK for decades to come.

But Skidmore is expected to emphasize that the transition to a low-carbon economy is “the industrial revolution of our time” with opportunities for companies, which need more government certainty, according to a leaked draft of the 340-page report.

“We have heard from businesses that economic opportunities are being missed today because of weaknesses in the UK’s investment environment — whether that be skills shortages or inconsistent policy commitment,” the report said.

Although Skidmore was commissioned by former prime minister Liz Truss, work on the review has continued under the premier Rishi Sunak.

Grant Shapps, business and energy secretary, said: “The UK is well placed to ensure that tackling climate change also brings new jobs and investment for businesses and communities. I am grateful to Chris Skidmore for his detailed report today, which offers a range of ideas and innovations for us to consider as we work to grasp the opportunities from green growth.”

The report advocated reforms to local and national planning systems to “unleash” cheaper forms of electricity generation — onshore wind and solar — albeit with the caveat “where [such technologies are] locally supported”.

The review called for the British government to set an official target for solar power for the first time — proposing that the UK develops 70GW of solar generation by 2035 compared to the current figure of 14GW.

Last March, Kwasi Kwarteng, then business secretary, had wanted to set a firm 50GW solar target in the government’s energy security review.

In the report, Skidmore urged the Treasury to give greater “longer-term certainty” to nuclear power stations, hydrogen technology and carbon capture and storage projects.

He advised Sunak to carry out a “cross-sectoral infrastructure strategy” by 2025 to ensure that the country is equipped for greater demand for electricity, hydrogen and “other liquid fuels”.

Skidmore proposed a faster end to the installation of gas boilers, saying this should happen in 2033 instead of 2035, while accelerating action to make electric heat pumps “a widespread technology in the UK”.

The document also advised leasing that all homes and commercial buildings reach a certain standard of energy efficiency within a few years. It also acknowledged that the rise in electric cars “will require reforms to fuel duty and road taxation.”

More broadly, the MP urged a “step-change” in the government’s approach to the government’s climate targets by creating an “Office for Net Zero Delivery” to take ownership of priorities spanning multiple departments.

“The review has heard from many respondents frustrated by a lack of long-term thinking, siled behavior from government departments, and uncertainty over the length of funding commitments,” he wrote.

Ministers should reconsider how to use the tax system and capital allowances to incentivize investment in decarbonisation, the report suggested. Meanwhile, ministers should seek to “de-risk” investment projects by providing guarantees to attract private finance.

Amanda Blanc, chief executive of Aviva, welcomed the “ambitious” review and urged both main political parties to “act swiftly on its recommendations”.

The review also advised the government to create a standardized approach to “ecolabelling” by 2025, ban the export of British plastic waste by 2027 and raise the minimum percentage of recycled content targets for a range of products.

The Treasury had previously estimated that the cost of reaching net zero would be £1tn over the next three decades. But Skidmore’s report argued that the benefits will ultimately outweigh the costs.

“In some estimates, the UK would see approximately 2 per cent additional growth in GDP, through the benefits from new jobs, increased economic activity, reduced fossil fuel imports and cost savings,” it said. “These estimates do not reflect the risk and disruption of not acting.”

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