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UK's net-zero strategy being 'underfunded'

2021-10-21

Nation's plan called 'ambitious' but criticized for private-sector reliance

The United Kingdom government's newly-published strategy to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 has received mixed reviews from climate experts, with several saying it relies too heavily on the promise of private-sector investment.

The Net Zero Strategy, released in tandem with the Heat and Buildings Strategy on Tuesday, sets out how the UK plans to deliver on its commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The wide-ranging strategy includes plans to decrease fossil fuel imports, proliferate renewable energy infrastructure, take more combustion engines off the road, and improve energy efficiency in homes and buildings.

As part of the strategy, the government announced around 6 billion pounds ($8.3 billion) in fresh funding, taking the total pledged investment into sustainable projects to 26 billion since November last year, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

But the figure is dwarfed by the 90 billion pounds in private-sector funds the government said must be leveraged by 2030 in order to keep its net-zero objective on course.

Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, said the government's strategy is ambitious, but "the sums of investments on offer are modest".

"If additional investments are not forthcoming, what is government's plan B? Or is this all that can ever be on offer from the government?" Siegert said. "The government has certainly set its stall out clearly, and obviously can be judged on delivering on the strategy. If it doesn't work out, our pathway to net zero will be ever more difficult to reach by 2050."

Experts also pointed out that the government could have done more to exercise its regulatory powers in order to promote sustainable practices.

Gavin Killip, a senior researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, said the heat and buildings strategy, which was designed to decarbonize homes and buildings, came as a "big disappointment".

"The level of financial support is too small, and too many important elements have been ignored: no tighter regulations for building energy efficiency; no long-term support for the industry expected to do the installation and maintenance work," Killip said. "The whole strategy is based on urging the private sector to invest and innovate but without enough of a regulatory framework from the government."

Released just ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, or COP26, the Net Zero Strategy was commended by some for its ambition and detail.

Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero at the University of Cambridge, said it "lays out a blueprint to transform all aspects of our society over the coming decade".

"In the run-up to COP26, it is exciting to see the UK leading the way in developing a strategy that will determine all our futures," Shuckburgh said.

Tim Chapman, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said he was "delighted" to see the government take steps to end "our addiction to fossil fuels".

"Headline-grabbing policies of subsidies for heat pumps are balanced by well-thought-through remedies, such as future low-carbon electricity being made much more competitive with gas prices," Chapman said.


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