‘International leadership’: UK review sets out roadmap to achieving net zero

By on 17/01/2023 | Updated on 21/02/2023
An illustration of trees and windmills on islands of land
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A major review has set out the key steps that the UK government must take to both reach net zero and unlock the economic benefits of green growth, with recommendations including the creation of a new cross-government office to make sure the target is hit by 2050.

Former prime minister Liz Truss commissioned Conservative MP Chris Skidmore – who as a minister signed the UK’s net zero commitments into law – to look at what the UK government needs to do to make sure the country benefits from the transition.

The report set out proposed actions in eight areas: using infrastructure to unlock net zero; creating sustainable governance structures for net zero; backing businesses to go green; catalysing local action; increasing transparency and engaging people; delivering cleaner, cheaper, greener homes; capitalising on international leadership; and how to set the country up for 2050 and beyond.

Setting out his findings, Skidmore said that 42 months had passed since the UK signed net zero into law, and there are now just 324 months until 2050. “Planning effectively for that net zero future must be our priority,” he said.

To oversee this priority, Skidmore recommends that the UK government establish an Office for Net Zero Delivery by this spring. The office would be responsible for placing net zero delivery at the heart of government thinking, recognising that many of the largest decarbonisation challenges are shared across different parts of government.

The office should have joint ministerial oversight from the UK’s business department and the Cabinet Office, the government’s central coordinating ministry, and should “take overall ownership of the delivery of net zero – including holding individual departments to account for their delivery, and manage cross-cutting risks to delivery and share best practice and common insights across different government delivery activity”.

Individual programmes – whether cutting across departments or the responsibility of one individual authority – should also have separate delivery agencies to deliver long-term decarbonisation programmes.

Upcoming webinar: Getting to net zero: how international aid can drive a sustainable transition

How governments can unlock green growth

Net zero is already a driver of economic growth, the report concluded, with around 430,000 jobs already existing in low carbon businesses and their supply chains across the country, with turnover estimated at £41.2bn in 2020.

Recommendations in the report intended to support further progress include developing a cross-sector strategy for the development of green energy systems, such as hydrogen, and reviewing incentives for business investment in decarbonisation. There is also a call for government to support the development of green skills through training pathways and building capacity in local areas where the jobs of the future will be created.

Skidmore also called on the government to legislate for the Future Homes Standard which, accompanied by a 10-year mission to make heat pumps a widespread technology, would mean no new homes with a gas boiler from 2025, and an end of new and replacement gas boilers by 2033 at the latest.

In order to measure progress, Skidmore said government must expand its public reporting on net zero progress across both emissions and elements like skills, even if these measures are imperfect. Public information programmes should be expanded through a new engagement plan, which should include a new carbon calculator on the carbon cost of choices, and a standardised approach to ecolabelling on products. A Net Zero Charter mark for companies should also be established, acknowledging ‘best in class’ among firms for their work in reaching net zero.

The review also called for reforms to the planning system to support moves to lower carbon emissions. In particular, the government should back at least one Trailblazer Net Zero City to be an early adopter of these changes, with the aim of it reaching net zero by 2030.

Read more: US climate envoy John Kerry admits to being ‘rattled’ over finance challenge of net zero transition

Net zero roadmap provides ‘international leadership’

Although Skidmore said that the UK was in a “global race” to seize the opportunities presented by net zero – highlighting the work of countries including the US and its Inflation Reduction Act and France’s 2030 investment plan, he also said that he hoped that his review “can provide additional clarity and certainty on how the UK can not only meet its net zero commitments but can once again demonstrate international leadership in setting out a comprehensive roadmap towards a net zero future”.

He said: “We should be proud of the lead the UK has taken in tackling climate change, having exceeded expectations so far in our race to net zero emissions by 2050. As essential as that is environmentally, it also puts us at an economic advantage globally.

“My recommendations are designed to make the most of this historic opportunity, covering the length and breadth of our economy, so that people in every part of the country can reap the benefits of this both in their communities, and in their pockets.”

A full government response to the review is expected in due course. The review comes after elements of the UK’s net zero strategy were ruled ‘unlawful’ by the high court.

Last July, the court ruled the government did not sufficiently detail how it would meet its emissions targets and that as such it had contravened the Climate Change Act. Under the ruling, ministers must now publish a revised draft of the strategy by the end of March 2023.

Commenting alongside the publication of the Skidmore review, business secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was “well placed to ensure that tackling climate change also brings new jobs and investment for businesses and communities”, and said that Skidmore’s report “offers a range of ideas and innovations for us to consider as we work to grasp the opportunities from green growth”.

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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