The United Kingdom’s reputation as a leader on climate change legislation has taken a fresh hit after a major government advisory body judged that current policies will not achieve key emissions targets.
The Climate Change Committee, or CCC, 2022 Progress Report found “major failures in delivery “on the decarbonization progress across numerous industries, and said that “current programs will not deliver” on the UK’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The report, which came out this week, follows several recent announcements from the government that raised eyebrows among climate experts, including new fossil fuel projects in the North Sea and a review of a moratorium on fracking.
“The UK is a champion in setting new climate goals, now we must be world-beaters in delivering them,” said CCC chairman John Gummer.
In 2019 the UK became the first major economy to commit to net-zero emissions by mid-century, and last November it hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow, where British officials were outspoken on the need to set more ambitious climate targets.
Some COP26 delegates said creating ever-more hopeful goals in the absence of solid plans for implementation would risk undermining climate efforts. Zhao Yingmin, China’s vice-minister of ecology and environment, said leaders should avoid “empty slogans”, and China’s Climate Envoy Xie Zhenhua said that “only actions are the true measures as to whether a country takes this issue seriously”.
Responding to the new report, Imperial College London climate scientist Robin Lamboll said that “current plans are not detailed or robust enough to meet our net-zero target.
“In the year of COP26, when we were supposed to lead the world, we have kept walking but not set a good pace,” Lamboll said.
The CCC in particular criticized slow progress on decarbonizing buildings, which are responsible for 20 percent of UK emissions, the second largest contributor behind surface transport (22 percent).
Around three-quarters of UK homes are heated using gas boilers, and in 2018 the CCC recommended these boilers should be replaced with low-carbon heat pumps at a rate of 600,000 a year through 2028, and up to 1.9 million each year by 2035. The CCC found the UK is still far from this goal, having replaced just 55,000 in 2021.
The CCC also estimates that 17 million homes will need new insulation by 2050, or around 600,000 annually, in order to increase energy efficiency. In its progress report, the committee noted that insulation installations reached 150,000 in 2021, and fell well below 100,000 in each of the three previous years.
“There is a shocking gap in policy for better insulated homes,” the CCC said. “Government promised significant public spending in 2019 and committed to new policies last year, neither has yet occurred.”
Ajay Gambhir, who is a senior research fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, said the UK will “find itself irretrievably off-track from net-zero” without the introduction of “solid policies” on home energy demand.
The insulation installation rate peaked at around 2.3 million in 2012, but collapsed the following year when the government removed energy efficiency subsidies. Richard Green, a professor of sustainable energy business at Imperial College London, noted that the removal of public funding has exacerbated the current energy crisis, which has sent gas and electric bills soaring for millions of customers.
“The committee’s calculations show that households’ energy bills could have been 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) lower this year if the government had not cut spending on energy efficiency after 2012-the energy you don’t have to use is the cheapest and the most secure source of all,” said Green.