The immediate actions our new Prime Minister should take to showcase their commitment to net zero while they’re busy with Brexit

We find out tomorrow who our new Prime Minster will be followed by Cabinet appointments on Wednesday and Thursday. While Brexit is dominating the debate, Michael Gove the current environment Secretary, said on Thursday evening that the next Prime Minister's 'single greatest responsibility' will be addressing the climate and environment emergency. The environment community would certainly agree with him. Earlier this month, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published two new reports assessing the UK’s progress on meeting its carbon targets and climate resilience goals. The conclusions were damning, with the committee criticising the government’s progress to date and warning that the UK is now badly lagging in its efforts to cut its carbon emissions and boost its climate resilience.

The reports reiterate calls for the Government to step up its action on climate change: the UK may have been the first G7 economy to legislate for a net zero emission target, but that’s just the start. The government must now show how it will meet the target.

I’ve outlined some immediate actions the new leader can take get the UK back on track to meeting its climate change pledges.

Appoint the best ministers

It sounds simple but appointing the best ministers really is a crucial first step. Political will is the only way we will meet the net zero targets. The Conservative Party is full of talent and ambition for tackling climate change. Many have campaigned on it by pushing the current Prime Minster to legislate for net zero and engaging with their constituents on climate and environment issues. There’s a very promising pool of candidates for Johnson or Hunt to pick from when they appoint new ministers.

Alongside this, the Prime Minster should create a Sub-Cabinet Committee on Net Zero. This would not only showcase political will but ensure cross-Whitehall engagement. As the CCC said, the most coordinated we are, the cheaper the transition.

Immediately strengthening policy

1. Bring forward the phase out of petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to 2030, or 2035 at the latest. To achieve this, investing in the charging infrastructure required to support this will be especially important. The 2020s will be a vital decade for accelerating the take up of EVs as well as other technologies and the government must help this market develop.

According to Green Alliance’s recent report on acting on net zero, bringing forward the ban to 2030 would account for 33% of the emissions reductions needed for the UK to reach net zero by 2050.

2. Scrap the onshore wind ban. Polling commissioned by the Conservative Environment Network has shown that onshore wind farms are hugely popular, with 74% of 15,000 conservative voters in favour of them. Onshore wind is significantly cheaper than other sources of energy, but it is currently excluded in the government’s contracts for difference scheme, which has prevented further investment in the technology. New onshore wind and solar energy could account for 12% of the emissions reductions needed for the UK to reach net zero by 2050.

3. Bring forward the Future Homes Standard – in this year’s spring statement, the chancellor announced that from 2025, all new homes must be fitted with low carbon heat systems and meet world leading levels of efficiency. The Zero Carbon Homes initiative, initially introduced in 2006, would have required new-build homes to have a net zero release of any carbon emissions from 2016. The initiative was scrapped in 2015. We can’t afford to wait another 6 years. 

An ambitious new home energy efficiency programme could account for 31% of the emissions reductions needed for the UK to reach net zero by 2050. It could also save nearly six million low income homes £408 a year on energy bills.

Engage the public

There has been very little push back from Parliament or the public in legislating for net zero but that really is the easy part. It would be completely understandable for the push back to begin once we start asking the public to make changes to their daily lives. If the environmental community and business sector don’t take the public with them, we will struggle to get the necessary policies through to meet our net zero targets. That’s why I think the Government needs to set up a GOV.UK Net Zero portal for the public to understand what national and local government are doing to deliver net zero and how communities and businesses are also contributing.

The UK’s emissions may only count for one per cent of global emissions but we have the ability to influence considerably more: from putting the appropriate policies in place that can help markets develop and low-carbon technologies to grow globally, to pushing and persuading other governments to step up and act, to providing and mobilising the climate finance to support action elsewhere.

We now wait in anticipation to see what the new Prime Minister will do to pave the way for net zero emissions and whether they will show true leadership on climate action at both this year’s climate conference (COP25) and next year’s landmark climate conference (COP26), likely to be hosted by the UK.

Seahorse’s MD, Isabella Gornall, presented these recommendations on a panel hosted by Green Alliance and IPPR alongside Ed Miliband (Labour MP for Doncaster North and Co-chair of the IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission), Scarlett Westbrook (school climate striker) and Leah Davis (Senior Advisor to Shirley Rodrigues Deputy Mayor of Environment and Energy).

IG Ed panel.png