New UK net zero strategy won't meet climate targets or cut energy bills, critics say

The plan to 'power Up' Britain is the government's latest promise to be greener, less reliant on foreign energy and cut bills - but it has come in for criticism

The government has unveiled a new net zero plan which has been criticised by campaigners for not going far enough to reach Britain’s climate goals or significantly cut household energy bills in the short-term.

Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said the plan, which confirms measures aimed at making it cheaper to buy and run a heat pump rather than a traditional gas boiler, will help homes move from gas to cleaner energy “over the next decade or two”.

The proposals see the government stress its £20 billion investment in carbon capture technology and backing for new projects, as well as £160 million for port infrastructure to help expand offshore wind.

The carbon capture process stops most of the CO2 produced from burning fossil fuels - like oil, gas and coal - being released, and either re-uses it or stores it underground.

New green hydrogen production projects also feature prominently alongside plans for the establishment of Great British Nuclear.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt with Energy Secretary Grant Shapps. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

However, environmental groups said the plans – which are important to the government’s strategy to meet its net zero goals – may fail to meet legally binding climate targets.

Critics have suggested that ministers had missed the chance to pursue a more radical green industrial strategy, with Friends of the Earth (FoE) labelling some of the announcements “lacklustre”.

Mike Childs, head of policy at FoE, warned: “Friends of the Earth successfully took legal action against the government’s previous net-zero strategy because it failed to show how legally binding climate targets would be met.

“With these policies looking dangerously lacklustre and lacking on climate action, we will be combing through the detail of the amended strategy and are poised to act if ministers have fallen short once again.”

While some experts welcomed the focus on UK renewable energy projects, the package has been criticised by some as offering little more than re-announcements of existing plans.

Professor Nick Eyre, of the University of Oxford, said the government has "missed an open goal", adding: “The most effective and lowest cost measures to address energy security concerns are investment in renewable energy and energy demand reduction.

“These are precisely the same measures that the latest IPCC report shows are central to achieving net zero. Yet the prime minister, chancellor and secretary of state all fail even to mention the key role of energy saving.”

In its proposals, the government also points to efforts to cut household bills – including offering £5,000 grants towards heat pump insulation and extending the scheme to 2028.

More than £380 million will go towards improving the number of electric vehicle charge points, while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will reveal an update to the green finance strategy to attract billions of investment for “net zero and nature recovery”.

But campaigners have expressed frustration that it appears there is no significant boost in funding for home insulation, which is seen as an effective way to reduce wasteful heat loss, thereby potentially saving money on bills.

"The government has highlighted some important steps forward in existing policies and schemes, but we need much more than a “business as usual” approach to kickstart investment on the level we need to boost energy security, cut consumer bills and reach net zero," Ana Musat, Executive Director of Policy at RenewableUK said.

"Without that, we won’t land the UK-wide economic benefits of building up new clean energy supply chains, as they will go elsewhere where the investment environment is more conducive and attractive”.

Labour also hit out at Rishi Sunak’s administration over the strategy, highlighting the “glaring omissions” in the government’s announcement.

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate and net-zero secretary, said there is no removal of the onshore wind ban, no new investment for energy efficiency, and no response to the Inflation Reduction Act that could "help Britain win the global race for clean energy jobs".

“What was billed with huge hype as the government’s green day turns out to be a weak and feeble groundhog day of reannouncements, reheated policy, and no new investment,” he added.

The government is set to publish its response to Tory MP Chris Skidmore’s review into how the UK can reach net zero by 2050.

It said it is acting partly or fully upon 23 of the 25 recommendations made by Mr Skidmore in his January report.

A country reaches net zero when the amount of greenhouse gases emitted is the same as that taken out from the atmosphere, a process also known as "carbon neutrality".

Environmental campaigners from Friends of the Earth protesting outside the UK Government building in Edinburgh. Credit: PA

Last year, FoE, along with ClientEarth and the Good Law Project, took the government to the High Court over its net-zero strategy which was found to be unlawful.

The court said it was lacking policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to meet legally-binding carbon budgets.

A revised version was published on Thursday morning following a set of repackaged ideas for funding which environmental analysts and business leaders had hoped would kick start the UK’s green industrial revolution.

Mr Sunak said investment in renewables, nuclear energy and other sectors would boost jobs and create opportunities for British businesses.

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