11: Net Zero Strategy under fire
This week’s entry reports on various assaults on the government’s Net Zero Strategy.
House of Commons
On 2 March the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons published a report into the strategy that can be found here.
Coming from a financial perspective given its role, the committee opens with ‘the government has unveiled a plan without answers to the key questions of how it will fund the transition to net zero’. There is no estimate of what implementation of net zero will cost British consumers, households, businesses and the government itself.
Treasury civil servants opined that the Climate Change Committee’s estimates contained ‘heroic assumptions’ ie overoptimistic ones, on costs.
There are three more main points:
- the strategy is a series of disconnected initiatives that needs more coordination;
- consumers need to be engaged more to buy into net zero and the steps needed to achieve it; and
- international supply chains should be considered so emissions are being eliminated rather than shifted abroad.
House of Lords
The Industry and Regulators Committee of the House of Lords (with which I’m sure you are all familiar) has also published (on March 4 2022) a report on achieving net zero, which can be found here.
It is more specific: it wants a roadmap by the end of 2024 on delivering the energy mix that will achieve net zero, and a detailed call for evidence on fairness and affordability by the end of this year.
The committee wants the creation of an expert taskforce following the example of the Vaccine Taskforce for delivery of net zero. Coincidentally the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced that he wants a taskforce to fast track (yes, that is a verb) the delivery of nuclear power plants, according to the Financial Times. This one is also to replicate the Vaccine Taskforce – I suspect we’ll get that a lot.
There is quite a lot on the role of Ofgem but it misses what I think is an important point: that Ofgem currently won’t support network infrastructure until the generation facilities it is connecting to are more or less ready – this does not recognise the urgency of climate change and more overlap in time should be allowed, even if it means the odd ‘stranded asset’ (ie building a network where the thing it is connecting does not in the end come forward).
Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project have all been given permission to challenge the Net Zero Strategy in the High Court. The challenges will be heard together.
Although the grounds of challenge have not been published, from the surrounding material it is clear that they are challenging the strategy’s compliance with sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008. Section 13 obliges the government to prepare such proposals and policies it considers will enable the carbon budgets to be met, and section 14 obliges it to lay a report for meeting the carbon budgets up to and including any new one that is published.
The Net Zero Strategy is that report for the sixth carbon budget, covering the period 2033-2037. It is important to note that despite being called the ‘Net Zero Strategy’ it is only obliged to cover as far as 2037 rather than getting to net zero by 2050, despite its title.
Here is how each organisation greeted the news that they’ve been given permission.
- Friends of the Earth say the Net Zero Strategy is ‘riddled with holes and omissions’ and that there is no assessment of the impact of the proposed policies, ie whether they will work. FoE are concerned that there is no promise to end the use of fossil fuels, a lack of investment to fund measures (echoing the Commons and Lords) and overreliance on technology that has not been rolled out yet (also a Commons concern). FoE are also challenging the Heat and Buildings Strategy;
- ClientEarth calls the Net Zero Strategy ‘pie-in-the-sky’. It says the government’s own baseline projections show that the emissions will be more than double the sixth carbon budget under August 2019 policies (and presumably any new ones since then will not close the gap);
- The Good Law Project calls the Net Zero Strategy ‘dangerously threadbare’. According to its published pre-application protocol letter, its challenge does cover sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008. However that letter identifies one ground of claim whereas the permission refers to ‘both grounds’, so the grounds have evolved since then. I deduce that the Good Law Project case reference is CO/199/2022, the ClientEarth one is CO/163/2022 and the Friends of the Earth one is CO/126/2022.
The challenges are not unadjacent to one launched by Plan B Earth that was unsuccessful in December 2021 and can be found here. It concerned the same sections of the Climate Change Act 2008, however it was not directed at the Net Zero Strategy and was more nebulous as a result.
The challenges will be heard in the High Court on 8 and 9 June. The judgment will be a few months after that.
If Friends of the Earth et al aren’t keen on the Net Zero Strategy it will be interesting to see how they react to the government’s much anticipated Energy Security Strategy when it is published (next week Boris?), which is expected to provide support for the continued and new extraction of North Sea oil and gas in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. ‘Plan B appealed to the Court of Appeal but were turned down on 24 March, as set out here.