UK’s net zero strategy: what are the key policies?

UK’s net zero strategy: what are the key policies?

Plans include replacing gas boilers with heat pumps and but no proposals for insulation

Air source heat pump installers from Solaris Energy installing a Vaillant Arotherm plus 7kw air source heat pump unit in Folkestone.

Chief political correspondent

Last modified on Tue 19 Oct 2021 15.58 EDT

Ministers have published the UK’s net zero strategy, a 400-page document detailing the future of tackling climate change and carbon emissions in the UK. What are the key policies – and what’s missing?

Ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030

Not only will consumers be unable to buy petrol and diesel cars, the strategy also says that by 2035 all cars must be fully zero emissions capable. There’s new cash for the transition to electric vehicles – further funding of GBP620m for zero emission vehicle grants and electric charging infrastructure.

That is likely to focus on residential streets – charging points that can be used by the average consumer. But there is little in the plan – beyond market forces – that directly helps people afford new electric cars.

By 2035 the UK will be powered entirely by clean electricity

This energy transition will involve at least one new large nuclear plant by 2024 and a new GBP120m fund will also develop technology for possible future reaction. Wylfa, in north Wales, is named as one such site.

But renewables will be a key factor, with the aim of 40GW of offshore wind power by 2030 and the creation of more onshore wind and solar energy supplies. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Ofgem are consulting on and introducing changes designed to boost investment in wind, but there are fears that it will come too late to meet the target without other interventions.

Investment in hydrogen production

The strategy aims to deliver 5GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2030, while halving emissions from oil and gas. It emphasises the need to “manage the transition in a way that protects jobs and investment, uses existing infrastructure, maintains security of supply, and minimises environmental impacts”.

10% sustainable aviation fuel by 2030

One of the more eye-catching policies was an ambition for the UK to become “a world-leader in zero emission flight” and saying the UK aimed to kickstart the commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel “so people can fly, and connect without guilt”.

By 2030, however, the percentages are still small. The ambition is to ensure 10% of fuel used by airlines is sustainable, as well as GBP180m in funding for the development of sustainable aviation fuel plants.

Cash to upgrade home heating systems from gas boilers to heat pumps

There will be GBP5,000 grants to help 90,000 households install home heat pumps, and other low-carbon heating systems, over the next three years. Heat pumps cost much more than replacement gas boilers.

The government hopes the grants should bring the costs to similar levels until prices rapidly decrease, a gamble that the market will take care of the millions more homes in Britain that are powered by gas boilers.

Downing Street has declined to say whether the government will ban gas boilers in the future, after international trade secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said “there will be a point” when the voluntary approach would no longer be sufficient.

But Johnson wrote in the Sun newspaper that he was determined to protect consumer choice saying “the Greenshirts of the Boiler Police are not going to kick in your door with their sandal-clad feet and seize, at carrot-point, your trusty old combi”.

Triple the rate of woodland creation in England

The strategy includes many commitments to improving nature and commits to at least 30,000 hectares a year of new woodland.

Farmers will be incentivised to implement a range of low-carbon farming practices, including guidance on the tax treatment of trees and woodlands, to provide greater clarity to landowners on how new and existing trees on their land affect tax liabilities.

What’s missing?

  • Ambitious plans for insulation

There are 19m homes below EPC band C that need upgrading, in order to be energy efficient but there is little help for more than a tiny fraction of those homes.

  • Gaps in commitments on fossil fuel

The government has committed to phasing out coal power completely by 2024 to cut carbon emissions, but it is still used when it is better value than gas and was used only recently during the pricing chaos. There is no commitment to end new licences for oil and gas exploration, and to phase out production.

  • Alternatives to car and air travel

The government still invests GBP27bn in new roads and airport expansions have been given the go-ahead. The transport aspect of the strategy is very car-focused, though there is a commitment to increase the share of journeys taken by public transport, investing in cycling and walking and electrifying more railway lines.

  • Meat and dairy farming

A controversial topic that the government has shied away from completely is whether to make any recommendations around meat and dairy consumption. Last year, UK’s health experts called for a climate tax to be imposed on food with a heavy environmental impact by 2025.

  • Future of fuel duty

New forms of taxation are only hinted at in the strategy but the Treasury warns of a significant loss of revenue to the public purse as income from fuel duty drops when people switch to electric.

Road pricing is seen as a fairer possible system to raise revenue than fuel duty and motoring taxes and the Treasury’s accompanying document says it will “consider changes to existing taxes and new sources of revenue throughout the transition in order to deliver net zero sustainably”.

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