UKERC sets out policy priorities for next government

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has warned that the demand for SUVs is putting attempts to decarbonise the transport sector at risk.

On 9 December, it published its latest annual review of energy policy, warning that new SUV sales were outnumbering electric vehicles (EVs) by a rate of 37:1, while risk providing an extra 8.2mn tons of cumulative CO2 emissions – assuming the majority are on the road for at least a decade. It urged the next government to take immediate action to counter the rapid increase in SUVs, while calling for the phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles to be brought forward to 2030 – one of several key recommendations to ensure the UK is on the right path to achieving its net zero target.

UKERC went on to warn that the continuing uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the European Union (EU) is impacting decarbonisation plans. A loss of time and policy momentum have already led to casualties such as the Energy White Paper. It stressed that moving forwards, close cooperation with the EU will likely make it far easier to achieve net zero.

It also found that while decarbonisation of industry has been receiving more attention, policy initiatives are not joined up. The next government should ensure funding for specific projects and industrial clusters is complemented by market creation policies. This includes for carbon capture and storage. Elsewhere, it called for more ambitious policies to support renewable electricity generation; all decisions taken by Ofgem and government departments to be compatible with net zero; the net zero transition both maximises environmental co-benefits and does not compromise energy security; and that a clear plan on upgrading the UK’s housing stock is needed, adding that any heat and energy efficiency White Paper should include policies for widespread deployment of low carbon heat.

UKERC also highlighted the importance of local energy systems, stating they have the potential to play a significant role in achieving net zero, especially with regards to the integration of electricity, heat and transport. However, while many local authorities were noted as having ambitious plans, investment has varied and projects have been prone to stalling. Due to this, UKERC recommended the next government delivers more resources and greater powers for local authorities, helping to ensure the potential for local action is realised.

Professor Jim Watson, UKERC Director, said: “The recent political debate has focused too much on the target year for achieving net zero. Whilst it may be possible to achieve net-zero before 2050, this risks distracting attention from what the next government will do to reduce emissions over the next five years. This year’s UKERC Review focuses on some of actions that could be taken across government to ensure the UK is on the right path.”