Ministers ‘failing to match words with deeds’ on climate change

Committee says government has been “too slow” to follow historic pledges with delivery
Lord Deben Credit: Alister Thorpe

By Jim Dunton

24 Jun 2021

The government is running out of time to deliver on its net zero ambitions and action required to help the UK cope with climate change, its independent adviser has warned.

With barely four months to go until the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, the Committee on Climate Change said that what should be “a defining year” for the UK’s climate credentials has been “marred by uncertainty and delay” to a host of new strategies.

The committee – which is chaired by former Conservative environment secretary Baron Deben,  better known as John Gummer – said the government was “taking a high-stakes gamble” to focus everything on a new Net Zero Strategy in the autumn to demonstrate leadership at home and to a global audience.

The committee said prime minister Boris Johnson’s November 2020 10Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution had been “an important statement of ambition but was ”yet to be backed with firm policies”.

Members said it was “absolutely critical” that the new Net Zero Strategy was published before the COP26 summit, which starts on 31 October, and that it featured clear policy plans that were fully backed by the treasury.

They added that the strategy must also be accompanied by a commitment to prepare the country for the serious climate risks it faces as the next cycle of adaptation planning begins.

Deben said the current decade was the “decisive” one for tackling climate change and that the government had to “get real” on delivery.

“Global Britain has to prove that it can lead a global change in how we treat our planet,” he said.

“Get it right and UK action will echo widely. Continue to be slow and timid and the opportunity will slip from our hands. Between now and COP26 the world will look for delivery, not promises.”

Philip Dunne, who chairs parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, said the Climate Change Committee's progress reports, published today, underscored that while the UK had made headway in creating a cleaner electricity system over the last decade there was “a long way to go” to clean up transport, industry, homes and other buildings.

“Worryingly, it appears that the government is not yet prepared for the honest debate with the public about the changes that we must all consider starting to make within the lifetime of this parliament,” he said.

“From our own work on the committee, it is clear that consumption of fast fashion and single-use plastics must reduce, that practical low carbon home heating options must be made available at reasonable cost, and that we must be more mindful about reusing and recycling our electrical items.

“The climate emergency requires straight talking, strategic vision and decisive policy action. I urge the government to up their game.”

A government spokesperson said any suggestion ministers had been slow to deliver climate action was “widely off the mark”.

“Over the past three decades, we have driven down emissions by 44% – the fastest reduction of any G7 country – and set some of the most ambitious targets in the world for the future, whilst driving forward net zero globally through our COP26 presidency,” they said.

“In recent months, we’ve made clear, tangible progress, with record investment in wind power, a new UK Emissions Trading Scheme, £5.2bn investment in flood and sea defences, clear plans to decarbonise heavy industry and North Sea oil, and businesses pledging to become net zero by 2050 or earlier.

“Our forthcoming strategies on Heat & Buildings, Hydrogen, Transport and comprehensive Net Zero Strategy this year will set out more of the very policies the Climate Change Committee is calling for as we redouble our efforts to end the UK’s contribution to climate change.”

The spokesperson said the Net Zero Strategy would bring together the Heat & Buildings Strategy, the Hydrogen Strategy and the Transport Decarbonisation Plan “and show our plan to meet net zero by 2050, our Carbon Budgets and Nationally Determined Contribution”.

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