Why we need a clean growth plan...now

Paul McNamee investigates the repercussions of the UK’s failure to come up with a policy to meet the fourth, let alone the fifth, carbon budget

While the UK government has set ambitious targets and taken a prominent role in international climate leadership, by ratifying the Paris Agreement and announcing the phase out of coal-fired power, at home there has been a notable lack of policy to match these aspirations. 

Most significant is the absence of policy outlining how we will meet the fifth carbon budget (setting targets for 2028-32), which was set more than a year ago. In fact, a report earlier this year from the government’s own Committee on Climate Change says we won’t even meet the fourth carbon budget for 2023-27. 
This doesn’t just affect the nation’s ability to reduce its emissions – it is also creating uncertainty for business and investors. At a time when the UK is establishing itself as a world leader in the low-carbon industry, this is worrying. Certainty is needed for such sectors, which are creating jobs in areas that have traditionally suffered from high unemployment, as well as growing expertise and services that can be exported worldwide. 

The clean growth plan, overdue by more than a year, will be responsible for addressing the effects already being felt by certain industries as a result of this lack of clarity.
Green Alliance’s recent report, published with CAFOD, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF, highlighted that, without intervention, investment in renewables is projected to drop 95% by 2021. Energy saved by government housing efficiency schemes dropped by almost 90% in 2012-13, with no improvement since then. 

And while we might think we’re doing quite well in the electric vehicle market, these made up only 1.4% of UK new vehicle sales in 2016, with 181 charging points per million people, whereas electric vehicles represent 29% of all new sales in Norway, which has 1,571 charging points per million people. 

Easy wins
The government clean growth plan needs to be ambitious enough to address these issues and set a strong framework. Some initial ‘easy wins’ will be to follow through on its previous investment in renewables and continue support with an additional £1.7 billion between 2020 and 2025. Renewable energy sources are now cheaper than fossil fuels and the Treasury should give manufacturers in the renewable industry the certainty to invest in supply chains for the long term. 

Another aim should be to reintroduce a standard for zero-carbon homes by 2020 and improve the energy efficiency of existing stock to EPC C by 2035. 
As far as electric vehicles go, the government could go further. To be world leaders in this area, the UK’s 2040 target should be brought forward a decade to 2030 and should sit alongside vehicle efficiency targets. A plan for charging infrastructure is needed to give investors and consumers confidence. 

If after over a year of waiting, the clean growth plan doesn’t start to address these issues with an ambitious framework, strong policies, and immediate action on energy, housing and transport, it will be a disappointment. The plan needs to be more than just words; government needs to start setting out its actions. 

Paul McNamee joined Green Alliance in June 2016 as the head of politics, leading Green Alliance’s Political Leadership theme. He manages the Climate Leadership Programme for MPs and joint advocacy work with the major green NGOs.

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