UK net zero strategy must answer key questions

With the net zero strategy likely to be the “most important single document” the government releases in 2021, there are key questions it must answer, a paper has set out.

On 5 February, Tim Lord, Senior Fellow at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, highlighted 11 questions for the strategy, outlining how net zero can be central to the UK’s international role post-Brexit. No country has yet produced a comprehensive net zero strategy and the UK, considering its track record, targets and need for a roadmap for future growth, is perfectly placed to do so. It also can help to set a template for other countries to produce similar plans, drive climate action and build and strengthen international alliances.

As well as looking at things from an international perspective, businesses and the public are demanding action, while rapid and sustained cost reductions mean in many areas the low carbon solution is now the low cost solution, further strengthening the case for a net zero strategy. With the UK economy also now at an inflection point and net zero set to define the 21st century economy, the opportunities of getting ahead of the curve are significant, with the paper warning the risks of not doing so are “profound”.

Looking ahead to the strategy itself, the paper set out 11 questions that will define it, beginning with whether it sets out clear principles, with cross-party consensus, on how net zero will be achieved. These would include speed trumping perfection as while the strategy should focus on the pathway with the lowest costs and greenest benefits, it should not be ant the expense of immediate and sustained action considering the challenge. It also needs to set targets, with transparency on timings and what is included and excluded, as well as setting out a pathway to delivery of five-yearly targets to 2035, including the role of different sectors of the economy and society, the role of government and the market, and targets for technology deployment.

The strategy should identify the technologies needed for net zero, targets of when they will be deployed and how innovation will reduce costs and deliver growth, set out in detail how the substantial investment required will be mobilised and adapted to each sector of the economy, while also addressing what is expected of consumers and businesses, how they will be engaged and supported to invest in new technology and change behaviours.

It is also key for the strategy to identify the fiscal impacts of net zero, as well as when they will arise, setting out how levers will be used to enable net zero delivery, with the paper citing the future of carbon pricing and fuel taxes as crucial here.

Elsewhere, it should give a detailed plan on where the UK can secure economic benefit from the transition and how it will be secured, both on a national and regional basis; set out where costs and benefits will fall and how those most at risk from the transition will be supported; provide clarity on the roles of national, local and regional actors in delivering net zero; and provide a clear roadmap for implementation, including key decision points, milestones, data and governance to ensure delivery.