I’ve been wading through the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) report on the UK’s chances of getting to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is a document written in terms emollient enough for even the current government not to be too offended. Its assessment of current progress towards an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050 (the existing target) does not use inflammatory language, but is nevertheless a severe indictment of government action. For example (page 176):
Delivery must progress with far greater urgency. Many current plans are insufficiently ambitious; others are proceeding too slowly, even for the current 80% target:
‒ 2040 is too late for the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars and vans, and current plans for delivering this are too vague.
‒ Over ten years after the Climate Change Act was passed, there is still no serious plan for decarbonising UK heating systems and no large-scale trials have begun for either heat pumps or hydrogen.
‒ Carbon capture (usage) and storage (CCUS), which is crucial to the delivery of net-zero GHG emissions and strategically important to the UK economy, is yet to get started. While global progress has also been slow, there are now 43 large-scale projects operating or under development around the world, but none in the UK.
‒ Afforestation targets for 20,000 hectares/year across the UK nations (due to increase to 27,000 by 2025), are not being delivered, with less than 10,000 hectares planted on average over the last five years. The voluntary approach that has been pursued so far for agriculture is not delivering reductions in emissions.
Of course, if this were put directly to members of this dissembling apology of a government, all we would hear about is how ‘tackling climate change is an absolute priority’ – which, as ever in such cases leaves one wondering if the government has any priorities whatsoever. Yes, of course – I nearly forgot – Brexit means Brexit. If the Tories had paid as much attention to climate change as they have to Brexit we could probably achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
Thus the CCC report cleverly seeks to make the new 2050 target digestible, and when it was released it was largely met with a sigh of relief that life could go on pretty much as normal. That’s what ministers want to hear. The problem is, that’s what they’ve always heard, and because the message is delivered in a relatively kindly fashion, it has led to the backsliding as outlined in the extract above. There’s always another day, que sera, sera. The report however does make the important point that the UK has the capacity to lead the world in decarbonising, and thankfully suggests that we have what amounts to a moral obligation to do so, given our historic responsibility.
But despite all its graphs and charts, there is a kind of lacuna in the heart of the CCC report, i.e. an absence of precise timings for policy delivery – the most we see are limited to decades or half decades. Obviously, one couldn’t say that by e.g. March 31st 2027 all new vehicles will be electric, but the more flexibility the report allows politicians to take advantage of, the less it has credibility in my eyes. The CCC must be aware of this weakness, given the number of times it refers to the mismatch between government ambition and actual delivery. If we are currently failing to meet our present ambitions, will this report really improve matters? One can’t blame the CCC entirely for being somewhat speculative. It refers, almost in passing to new nuclear as helping us towards the 2050 goal. But new nuclear projects are notorious for being delayed. We can see this now with the government’s current plans for new nuclear in complete chaos, and looking uncertain to say the least.
The report seems to have an idea that so far as our behaviour s concerned, only relatively minor tweaks will be necessary. Eat a bit less red meat. Fly a bit less. On moving about, it says (page 188):
Shifting to more sustainable modes of transport could be a cost-effective alternative to private car ownership, depending on location. This could mean more walking and cycling (which would also provide health benefits by increasing the amount of physical activity people do) or low-carbon public transport (electric buses and trains) for longer journeys. (emphasis added)
Could be?? Is it the report’s contention that we should, regardless, retain the option of private car ownership? Shouldn’t it read should mean more walking and cycling, there should be more (and cheaper) public transport? I only found one other mention of rail in the report (page 200). Perhaps the report’s authors are all too aware of our current Transport Secretary’s incompetence, and have thrown their hands up in despair.
Anyway, I haven’t quite finished reading the report yet, and this afternoon I’m off to hear Rebecca Long-Bailey launch Labour’s Green Industrial Strategy, so I will seek to find out if she thinks this report is adequate. It can’t be considered so if we now believe we face a climate emergency. More on this later.