The government will set out its roadmap to meeting its target of reducing net zero emissions to zero by 2050 next year, the business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has said.
Asked how the government planned to hit the 2050 target, Leadsom said the government wanted to come up with a “pathway that combines energy security, affordability for taxpayers and achieving net zero”.
Appearing before the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee last week, Leadsom said the UK had “various different ways” of meeting the target, which could include making use of carbon capture and storage technology, nuclear power and renewables. “Certainly, it is absolutely our intention to set out our pathway to net zero during the course of next year,” she said.
Leadsom also clarified that £30m of funding announced in the September Spending Round to support decarbonisation was only a portion of the funding the government planned to put towards the goal.
The announcement of £30m to “help to move the UK towards its Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050” attracted fierce criticism. Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said at the time that the announcement represented amounted to a “few financial crumbs” and “completely undermines” the government’s commitment climate plans.
The cash would fund salaries, she said. “It is looking at the people costs of producing the policy work to be able to meet that challenge.”
The business secretary was responding to a comment by committee member Stephen Kerr, who said of the announcement: “It seems extraordinary, given the scale of the ambition that you are so well articulating, that it would only be £30m.”
Leadsom clarified that the money was “specifically for the resourcing aspect of looking at the choices” that could enable the UK to meet the net-zero emissions target. She also pointed to several other tranches of funding to support the ambition, including £400m for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
“I totally accept the question about the spending review, but that was very specifically tackling one aspect of what we are doing,” she said.
Leadsom said the government’s energy white paper, which was expected to be published earlier this year but will now be published in the first quarter of 2020, would “inform the choices that we want to propose”.
Asked to give a “flavour” of what will be in the white paper, she said it could include policy moves on power generation, transport decarbonisation and heating decarbonisation.
She also said nuclear fusion – for which she announced £200m of funding earlier this month – could also contribute to the UK’s decarbonisation efforts. However, she noted that the “deployment time for that is potentially too late” to help with meeting the 2050 target.
Committee chair Rachel Reeves, who noted that the white paper had been described as “imminent” for nearly two years, noted that the delay could derail the government’s decarbonisation plans. “The more time that elapses, the harder it is going to be to achieve the target of net zero by 2050, let alone at an earlier date, which perhaps some of us might like to see,” she said.
Leadsom replied: “I totally accept that you have been looking for this energy white paper, but what has changed is that we have now legislated for net zero. It is a huge ambition for the government, and you should feel reassured.”
She also confirmed that government’s forthcoming national infrastructure strategy trailed will be published “within the next few months”. Javid has said in his Spending Round speech that the strategy would be published in the autumn.
She said Javid would give further details of the strategy in the Budget on 6 November.
Preparing for Brexit
Leadsom also answered a series of questions about her department's preparations for the UK’s impending exit from the European Union
She said that “one of the biggest challenges that we have had [in preparing for a potential no-deal Brexit] has been businesses’ expectations”. She said there was “quite a lot of evidence that the willingness of businesses to take action has reduced significantly” since the passing of the Benn Act, which required the prime minister to request an extension of Article 50 if the UK was on course to leave the EU without a Brexit deal.
She said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had so far awarded around £5m of grants through its Business Readiness Fund, to help companies prepare for Brexit. A further £3.5m was due to be paid out, and £5m more in grant funding was “undergoing assessment”, she said.
Sixty-five businesses will receive grants, out of around 250 that applied for funding.
Appearing alongside Leadsom, Sam Beckett, the department’s director general for EU exit and analysis, said a number of projects by government departments had “had a significant benefit on our projections of flow through ports, and particularly the short straits”, in the event of a no-deal outcome on 31 October.
These included the “transitional simplified procedures” introduced by HM Revenue and customs to delay tax payments on imports and conduct customs checks away from ports, she said.