CST sets out path to whole systems delivery of net zero

The Council for Science and Technology (CST) has set out how a whole systems approach can enable the government to deliver net zero.

On 19 August, the CST’s correspondence with the Prime Minister was published, in which it outlined how a rigorous systems approach would reveal the impacts that policy decisions in all areas of government will have on the delivery of net zero, enabling decision makers to understand how different policies interact and influence the transition of the whole economy towards net zero. The CST further added that such approach would also enable the leadership required to drive behavioural change across the economy.

It looked made a series of recommendations across three areas, the first of which was strengthening the institutions, governance frameworks and leadership structures across central government to galvanise action to achieve net zero.

Here, it called for the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change should ensure the net zero target is translated into all areas of government responsibility, noting this as “essential” to guide the development of specific actions needed in the coming years to achieve the 2050 net zero target. It further recommended that the Cabinet Secretary establishes a multidisciplinary operational group to support the development of strategy and drive delivery across government, while government should also develop a stronger, better integrated analytical hub which can offer a broader understanding of systems and the interactions between technical, economic, environmental and social factors relevant to achieving net zero.

The CST’s second area of focus related to developing the analytical capability, flow of information and reporting needed to inform decisions. It recommended that government requires all regulators to develop an explicit first-order objective to support the transition to net zero by 2050, noting that this must be designed to support innovation and its implementation, as well as calling for government to undertake and publish carbon emissions assessments for all public sector policies. This, it explained, would enable transparency and accountability across government and should include major infrastructure projects or investments.

Its final set of recommendations related to maximising the contribution of technology, mobilising financial systems and galvanising international collaboration.

This would involve the government bringing together public sector funders to develop a bold, coherent, mission-driven programme of public sector research and innovation investment to achieve net zero. To support deployment of decarbonisation technology and infrastructure, it could also include the establishment of a natural infrastructure investment bank that has an explicit mandate to support the transition to net zero. It also called on government to announce a clear, credible domestic plan for achieving net zero, one that could set an example and inspire international action and commitment under the COP26 presidency.

Looking to the future, the report also stressed the importance of planning for the possibility of a 2 degree rise in global temperatures by 2050 – regardless of how successful the UK is in its ambitions to reach net zero. It called for an “urgent review” of the country’s strategy for adaptation and resilience to climate change.

In response, the Prime Minister said he agreed with “much” of what was said and that taking a whole systems approach to delivering net zero will be “particularly vital”. The PM added that the Energy White Paper will be an opportunity to set out how the government’s thinking has progressed in this area.

CST