UK “well off track” to meeting net zero, must be central to COVID recovery

A green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will only happen if net zero is a core part of the government’s thinking and economic policy, a report has said.

Back in September, the Institute for Government warned the UK is yet to confront the scale of the task at hand to meeting its 2050 net zero target, a year after its adoption. It will call for the transformations of every sector of the UK economy, sustained investment over three decades and substantial changes to everyone’s lives, but a lack of coordinated policies, engineering expertise and delivery capability, along with constant changes of direction and a failure to gain public consent for measures has left the UK “well off track”.

It published a report, outlining seven requirements for the UK to achieve net zero, beginning with the need for a comprehensive, coherent plan that sets out how the UK will achieve the necessary emissions reductions, sector by sector. It also called for consistent policy and regulatory frameworks in each sector; the capacity to coordinate action across the whole of government and beyond; and an approach that minimises the costs of the transition and allocates them fairly, while maintaining business competitiveness.

The capability to make key decisions on net zero, develop policies and implement them was highlighted as another requirement, with the report drawing on how a number of schemes, while well intentioned, have faced implementation problems.

It found that often, policies have been poorly designed without understanding of delivery, with those that involved encouraging the public to make changes proving the most difficult. This is due to incentives being either too weak to overcome barriers to action or overgenerous, ensuring skyrocketing costs.  Government was told to assess gaps in delivery capability and potentially create a net zero equivalent of the Olympic Delivery Authority to tackle infrastructure challenges. It should also consider new ways it can support local authorities which have a key role, though lack capability and resources.

Elsewhere, the report called for a process that can build public and political consent for measures before they are introduced – and maintains consent while the transition is underway. It stressed the importance of politicians communicating the choices that lie ahead, noting the public are unaware of the scale of change required from them, recommending that the government’s net zero strategy includes a plan for public engagement. It also highlighted the need for effective scrutiny by parliament and other bodies to hold government to account and minimise the temptation to backtrack.