With ‘events’ in recent months (as a previous PM might have put it) pushing climate change to the forefront of the political and media, the Government’s pledge to meet a net-zero target by 2050 is a pivotal moment - and not a moment too soon with the urgency of climate change becoming ever more evident.
The Government must be commended for this bold commitment, echoing how the Climate Change Act gave the UK a world-leading role in tackling the issue that endangers the whole planet.
Our sector has played a central role so far – one that will continue through the huge challenges ahead. The UK’s carbon emissions are at their lowest since the 1890s, which owes much to us reaching the point where, as National Grid highlighted last week, more of our electricity comes from zero carbon sources than fossil fuels. We recently went over a fortnight without generating any power from coal. This was scarcely conceivable a few years ago.
This is what a clear commitment can do but - as we highlighted in our Future of Energy report and as the CBI recognises - only when backed up by policies and the long-term certainty that unleashes investment and innovation. With net-zero now enshrined in legislation, there are now even more expectations of the forthcoming White Paper to do precisely that.
A transformation of this scale means we will need to use everything at our disposal. We must enable the continuing decarbonisation of power and trigger the same transformation in transport and heating, where progress has been limited. We will need investment in all types of low-carbon technologies combined with the full deployment of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS). CCUS pilot projects are thankfully getting the go ahead (as announced today) – but large-scale trials to find the best way to heat our homes with zero emissions are essential before we undertake that challenge. We also need the infrastructure – whether it be charging points for electric vehicles or smart meters – that will support the future energy system.
And this needs to be a concerted and consistent drive across policies and across all departments. We will be undermining all our other efforts if we don’t get serious about making our housing energy efficient through a national programme - or if we continue excluding onshore wind and solar.
We must also look at funding this at the least cost to consumers. We must bring them with us on this transformation. It’s been a quiet revolution so far but one which will impact our daily lives from now on.
Net-zero will benefit us economically and environmentally. As the tumbling cost of offshore wind shows, getting to this point has been far cheaper than predicted – and with 400,000 jobs employed in low carbon jobs, being a world leader in the technology that other countries will need is something that can help define the UK’s role in the coming decades.
If it looks like a steep challenge, that’s because it is. But we’ve already seen what we can achieve as a country when ambition is backed up by policy. Right now, every month without clear policy is a month lost. We hope the White Paper can set us on the way.