The essence of this view is that the government is merely its characteristic “business as usual” approach, which could see Britain falling behind and even losing its “leading” role in climate action. Environmental groups have also said that the plans risk the country falling short of meeting its legally binding climate targets, and that this in turn could trigger further court action against the government.
UK Energy and Net Zero Secretary, Grant Shapps, who announced the 1,000-page strategy, said that the government will support carbon capture projects, nuclear energy, offshore windfarms, electric vehicles, home heat pumps and hydrogen power. However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon capture is unproven at scale, although some experts believe it will be effective with enough support. The strategy also promotes nuclear energy, and the various criticisms of nuclear are of course well known.
“The UK government is right to signal its strong support for carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) in today’s launch of its Powering Up Britain strategy” said Alex Harrison, partner and co-head of Projects and Energy Transition, at Akin. “We need to abate fossil fuel emissions and we need to invest in technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That carbon synthesised with clean hydrogen can also play a major role in decarbonising our hard to abate sectors - heavy industry, maritime and aviation - through the production of sustainable fuels.”
Mr Harrison also said that Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) has the potential to deliver 65 percent of the emissions savings needed for “Jet Zero” and that early projects need government support to succeed given their higher costs of production. Harrison welcomed the announcements in the strategy supporting hydrogen, but said that they represent slow progress in the race to establish a clean hydrogen economy in the UK.
“The government’s proposed hydrogen support business models are complex and will take time to deliver” Mr Harrison added. “The EU and US are looking for simpler and quicker ways to deliver investment. Perfection can be the enemy of progress and the UK may need to rethink its approach to remain competitive. The UK is a world leader in offshore wind and has a fantastic opportunity to become a global leader in floating offshore wind. To do that it needs to signal a clear pipeline of opportunity and invest in the port and supporting infrastructure needed to bring costs down and attract developers to locate their supply chains in, or near, to the UK. Today’s announcement of £160 million of funding to build UK port infrastructure is a step in the right direction. Mandating an increasing percentage of new car and van sales to be zero emission is the logical next step in the decarbonisation of our road transport and our commitment to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Charging infrastructure is still lagging behind electric vehicle uptake with public charging experiences often unreliable. Further investment is also needed to secure and process the critical minerals needed to support this transition and to develop domestic battery gigafactories and reduce our dependence on exports.”
Dan Giemajner, also at Akin, said:
“The blueprint contains admirable plans to increase the percentage of zero emission vehicles sold from 2024 (and for this to ratchet up over time). The environmental rationale behind such policies is compelling. However, the Government plans contain no commitment to build-out the UK’s battery manufacturing capability or the critical mineral supply chain. With electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers continuing to look to co-locate or integrate the EV value chain, lack of support and investment risks the UK having its supply chain exported and jeopardises the associated job, skills and wealth creation. Put another way, the zero emission vehicles sold from 2024, including their component batteries, are increasingly likely to be manufactured abroad. It is difficult to reconcile that with stated desires for economic and energy security.”
Richard Smith, partner at Sandstone Law, said that the strategy looks impressive but that the government has had to publish this after the High Court, last year, said that its previous policies were unlawful, as they failed to meet the government’s own targets and more policies had to be presented by the end of March.
“Some well thought out plans have been promised for a long time, but this is still a poor effort” said Mr Smith. “It envisages years of more consultations and kicking the can down the road, yet again. There is an intention to move away from gas boilers and to electrify homes, but scant detail on how this will be achieved. They say they want 29 million heat pumps to be installed each year – eventually. There is a claim that hydrogen-ready boilers are on the cards, but it’s on a tiny scale. The biggest question is ‘who will pay for all this?’ Fitting new heating systems in houses retrospectively is much more expensive for homeowners than the government suggests. Will landlords spend the money for their tenants?”
Smith noted that the Prime Minister likes to focus on offshore wind farms, claiming that the UK has the biggest in world, but he added that this alone is not going to solve the problem.
“The government is still refusing to promote onshore wind development and is relying on large scale carbon capture technology which is decades away” Smith added. “The plan to achieve net zero has to be long term but we have been running behind other countries in renewable energy for decades. The current administration is still hoping that the private sector will step up to invest, but this will not come through quickly enough without government intervention. It will not occur without new prescriptive legislation, which this government is still trying to avoid, but that is what needs to happen. Why have building regulations not been changed to require all new homes to have low carbon heating systems? This Tory government wants a small central state, so it will never have the capacity and ability to manage and implement this. We still face heat waves, flooding, coastal erosion, habitat extinction and air pollution. The government needs to do more, much more, before it too late to reverse the effects of climate change.”
One of the most severe criticisms that most of the plans in the strategy are existing government commitments, which means there is little new money available, but, predictably, environmental groups have been even more direct in their criticism.
“These announcements will do little to boost energy security, lower bills or put us on track to meet climate goals” said Mike Childs, Head of Policy at Friends of the Earth, while Mark Maslin, a professor of climatology at University College London, said that “Yet again the UK government has missed the opportunity to radically change the UK energy production and market. This is the time that innovative business-led initiatives are needed.”
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