The UK government has published its Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP), and, in response to last year’s High Court ruling, it provides much greater transparency on its Net Zero plans. However, despite there being over 3000 pages of new detail, the Climate Change Committee (the UK’s independent adviser to government on tackling climate change) has expressed a lack of confidence in the UK’s ability to meet its goals from 2030 onwards, which it says is markedly less than it was in its previous assessment a year ago. A key opportunity to push a faster pace of progress has been missed, it says.

UK greenhouse gas emissions have so far fallen 46% from 1990 levels. At COP26, a commitment was made to reduce them by 68% by 2030. Therefore the recent rate of annual emissions reduction outside the electricity supply sector must quadruple in only seven years.

Time is now very short to achieve this change of pace, says the CCC. Glimpses of the Net Zero transition can be seen in growing sales of new electric cars and the continued deployment of renewable capacity, but the scale-up of action overall is worryingly slow. The government continues to place its reliance on technological solutions that have not been deployed at scale, in preference to more straightforward encouragement of people to reduce high-carbon activities. The Committee has again flagged the risks of a policy programme that amongst other things is too slow to plant trees and roll out heat pumps. 

Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, said: “The lesson of my ten years at the Climate Change Committee is that early action benefits the people of this country and helps us to meet the challenges of the coming decades more cheaply and more easily. Yet, even in these times of extraordinary fossil fuel prices, government has been too slow to embrace cleaner, cheaper alternatives and too keen to support new production of coal, oil and gas. There is a worrying hesitancy by ministers to lead the country to the next stage of Net Zero commitments. “I urge the Government to regroup on Net Zero and commit to bolder delivery. This is a period when pace must be prioritised over perfection.”

The CCC comments that in a crucial period for delivering progress, key departments did not deliver on recommendations made by the Committee last year. The remit of the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has brought welcome focus to the programme, but progress has not been made on seven of the priority recommendations to BEIS in last year’s progress report (see notes to editors). Defra and DLUHC failed to achieve any of the priority recommendations made by the Committee in 2022. Moreover, the UK has sent confusing signals on its climate priorities to the global community. Support for new oil and gas, beyond the immediate increase in gas production demanded by the Ukraine invasion, and the decision to consent a new coal mine in Cumbria have raised global attention and undermined the careful language negotiated by the UK COP26 presidency in the Glasgow Climate Pact.