Yesterday, the UK government released its eagerly anticipated Net Zero Strategy. With just days to go until COP26, the delay in this landmark plan has been criticised but the strategy itself could prove to be a watershed moment in the race to mitigate climate change.
The government’s strategy builds on an existing set of policies and will be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) as the UK’s second Long Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy under the Paris Agreement. The delivery of the net zero strategy is supported by the Net Zero Research and Innovation Framework, an ambitious document that will set out the key research and innovation priority areas for the UK over the next five to ten years.
The commitments include supporting the electrification of the UK automotive system, venture-capital style investments into innovative green technologies of the future, the decarbonisation of buildings, a boost to the UK’s Nature for Climate Fund and the Future Nuclear Enabling Fund.
Despite the optimistic delivery of the strategy, critics have wasted no time in responding. Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, dubbed the government’s plan as “more like a pick and mix than the substantial meal that we need to reach net zero”. Separately, criticism has also come from within the Conservative party. The Treasury published its own document on Tuesday, the “Net Zero Review” that highlights not only the expected loss in government revenue from fossil fuel taxes, but also the potential need for new taxes to fund the country’s decarbonisation. Patrick Hall, a senior research fellow at the Conservative think tank Bright Blue said that the existing funding “simply isn’t sufficient”.
Loud criticism has also been heard north of London, with the Scottish government accusing Westminster of betrayal after being excluded from the first round of funding from the Hydrogen Revenue Support scheme as detailed in the government’s Net Zero Strategy. The Acorn project at St Fergus gas terminal is a ground-breaking carbon capture, utilisation and storage scheme of the North Sea, and yesterday’s decision risks straining even further Westminster’s relationship with Holyrood.
Speaking at the Global Investment Summit in London on Tuesday, the prime minister reiterated that the government’s plan to achieve net zero will make the country ‘the Qatar of hydrogen’. Challenging times await the ‘Moses of climate change’, and whether the government’s commitment to its course is unwavering or buckles under pressure remains to be seen.