Ministers publish long-delayed blueprint for hitting target of cutting emissions by 57% in next 15 years
October 12, 2017 — Millions of draughty homes in England and Wales will be insulated and overhauled by 2035 to save families as much as £300 a year on their energy bills, under the government’s climate change plans.
The long-delayed blueprint for how the UK will hit its binding target of cutting emissions by 57% by 2032 includes about 50 policies supporting everything from low-carbon power and energy savings to electric vehicles and keeping food waste out of landfill.
Big winners in the 164-page Clean Growth Strategy include offshore windfarm developers, which will be guaranteed a further £550m of subsidies. Experts believe that could more than double the UK’s existing offshore wind capacity.
Energy efficiency for businesses and householders is at the heart of the plan, which the government was required to publish under the Climate Change Act.
There is an aspiration that all houses will be brought up to the minimum of energy band C by 2035, but how that will be achieved is not spelled out. Existing schemes to improve insulation will be extended until 2028.
New nuclear power stations are encouraged, but they will only go ahead if developers can do so at competitive prices. Solar power was given tentative support, while onshore windfarms won partial backing.
The business secretary, Greg Clark, compared the changes under way in energy today to the big changes wrought by the UK’s first coal power station in 1882.
“This government has put clean growth at the heart of its industrial strategy to increase productivity, boost people’s earning power and ensure Britain continues to lead the world in efforts to tackle climate change,” he said, launching the plan at the Olympic Park in east London.
Green campaigners, industry groups and businesses mostly welcomed the plan but said it needed more ambition and lacked detail in some areas.
Robert Gross, the director of the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College London, said the politics of the strategy were key, and showed the greener wings of the Tory party had won out.
“In 2015 the government started hacking and slashing at all manner of green policies. This has stopped, and that’s very welcome,” he said.
Richard Black, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit thinktank, echoed that view. He said the strategy showed a “sea change” in “top-line thinking about the low carbon economy”, with Theresa May’s government seeing it as an opportunity rather than a cost as it was viewed under David Cameron.
Claire Perry, the climate minister, said May’s foreword to the plan was important and showed how seriously the government was taking it.
Asked if the strategy showed green-minded Tories were winning out after a slew of climate programmes were axed by the Conservatives in 2015, she said: “This isn’t about factions winning, it’s about getting on with capturing the opportunity [for business].”
She told the Guardian: “This is doubling down on the green ambition, actually saying we see the economic benefit from doing this.”
The minister said there would be a new “triple test” for whether the government backed clean technologies. They would have to maximise the amount emissions come down; show they can become cheaper in the future; and be an area in which the UK could lead the world.
She said a proposed £1.3bn tidal lagoon at Swansea – which an independent government review backed in January but on which government has yet to signal its view – would have to pass that test.
New policies included a green light for onshore windfarms on remote Scottish islands being allowed to compete for subsidies. The move was welcomed by Orkney and companies including SSE, which plans a windfarm on Shetland, jointly owned with the community.
There is also £100m of funding for research on carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, that is a fraction of the £1bn government competition on the technology that was cut two years ago.
The plan is also scant on any detail of how the UK will cut emissions from heating, talking instead of simply exploring the best options. Low-carbon alternatives to gas include electrification via heat pumps, or using greener gases such as hydrogen.
Many of the ideas in the strategy have already been announced, such as phasing out petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and £246m to develop batteries for cars and energy systems.
Despite the wide-ranging policies, the strategy concedes that the UK is still not on track to meet its legally binding carbon targets for the late 2020s and early 2030s. The government noted it had ‘flexibilities’ on meeting the targets under the Climate Change Act, but might not need to use them.
The Committee on Climate Change, the UK’s statutory climate advisers, welcomed the strategy but warned ministers against using the law’s flexibilities in meeting its carbon targets. “This should not be the plan,” said Lord Deben, the group’s chairman. The authority will pass its verdict in January after analysing the plan.
Campaign group ClientEarth said it was weighing its options, given the legal requirement for government to close the gap.
Jonathan Church, a lawyer at the group, said: “The UK government is still in breach of the Climate Change Act. The UK is on course to miss its 2023-27 emissions reductions targets by 116MtCO2e – equivalent to more than the Philippines’ emissions in a whole year – and the clean growth strategy does not fix this.”
The Green party said the strategy was a missed opportunity. Caroline Lucas, the party’s co-leader, said: “Government has blown this enormous opportunity to put Britain on track to meet its climate target.”
Other observers, including the London School of Economics, said the broad thrust of the strategy was good, but it was too vague. The union Prospect said there were “still too many unanswered questions”.