‘Miles off’: UK government’s new net zero plan meets with intense criticism 

The UK government plans to achieve net zero through vast investments in carbon capture technology.
The UK government plans to achieve net zero through vast investments in carbon capture technology.   -  Copyright  canva
By Charlotte Elton

Carbon capture and electric cars: What’s in the UK government’s new net zero plan? 

The UK government’s revamped net zero strategy will miss its 2030 emission cuts target, it has conceded.

The new energy plan was released on Thursday to strong criticism from environmental groups.

It comes nine months after the High Court ruled that an earlier version breached legally-binding emissions targets.

The strategy lays out how the country will cut emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

However, the government has conceded that the new policies - outlined over 1,000 pages - will only achieve 92 per cent of the emissions cuts required to meet its 2030 target.

This is an optimistic reading that assumes the government makes every cut it has set out and that carbon capture technology works effectively.

The concession is very concerning, says Mike Childs, head of policy at environmental charity Friends of the Earth.

“It is deeply troubling that, by its own admission, the government’s quantified plans don’t fully meet legal targets for reducing UK emissions, let alone the deeper cuts that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised at international climate talks just four months ago,” he says.

Why is the UK government releasing a new net zero strategy?

Under a 2018 law, the UK government must reach net zero by 2050.

Net zero refers to the point when the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere does not exceed the amount that is being removed from the atmosphere.

In 2021, the government released its strategy to meet these targets. But Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and The Good Law Project legally challenged the plan, arguing that it failed to set out how the government would meet its ‘carbon budget’ targets in the 2030s.

The High Court ruled in their favour, determining that the lack of transparency in the plan was illegal.

The Court gave the government until 30 March 2023 to come up with a revised strategy.

Canva
Onshore wind farms are still banned in England, a prohibition campaigners have slammed.Canva

What is in the UK’s new net zero strategy?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised that the plan would bring down prices and decarbonise the UK economy.

“We are… stepping up to power Britain and ensure our energy security in the long term with more affordable, clean energy… so we can drive down energy prices and grow our economy,” he said.

The new strategy has several elements, including £20 billion (€22 billion) investment in carbon capture technology. Under the new plan, carbon dioxide that is pulled from the atmosphere will be stored deep under the North Sea floor.

The government hopes that this will allow the country to cut emissions while maintaining fossil fuel projects - a plan campaigners have derided.

£240 million (€273 million) has been earmarked for 20 new hydrogen projects. Hydrogen fuel is lower-emission than fossil gas and oil - but often relies upon fossil fuels to create.

By 2024, car manufacturers must ensure at least 22 per cent of their cars and 10 per cent of their vans are electric. This will be facilitated by £800m (€911m) in capital funding.

Other initiatives include the extension of a heat pump subsidy scheme and money for offshore wind farms - though a ban on onshore wind farms remains in place.

What have green groups said about the UK’s new net zero plans?

The policy has met with intense criticism.

A Good Law project spokesperson says that the government has failed a “moral and legal duty” to get the policy right.

“At a first glance, it is disappointing to see that a number of the policies announced today have either been recycled from previous pledges or are not backed up by proper investment,” they say.

Along with Friends of the Earth, the group says it would consider launching further legal action after properly scrutinising the policy detail.

The UK opposition party was also scathing.

“A target for less than seven years’ time, and they [the government] are miles off,” said Labour’s climate and net zero spokesperson, Ed Miliband.

“All of the policies, all of the hot air, don’t meet the target they promised on the world stage.”

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