UK Net Zero Strategy

Published Date
Nov 1, 2021
The UK government has published its strategy to make the UK economy net zero by 2050. The “Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener” aims to set a standard for domestic net zero transition strategies ahead of the start of world leaders summit in Glasgow today.

The UK government was one of the first in the world to implement net zero by 2050 targets into domestic legislation via an amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008, the primary legislation for the UK’s response to climate change. The Net Zero Strategy follows from the “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” published last November which set out the key priorities for the UK’s decarbonisation pathway.  Together with the Greening Finance Roadmap, the Net Zero Strategy is the UK government’s version on the European Green Deal. We discuss some of the key features of the policy programme below.

Power – a caveated aim of full decarbonisation by 2035

The UK intends to fully decarbonise its power system by 2035, although this is noted to be subject to security of supply. The Strategy indicates that use of unabated gas will be reduced, “running only when the system needs it most for security of supply”. The government intends to publish a call for evidence this year on the future of the gas system which will inform future policy on the evolution of the gas market.

The 2035 goal will be underpinned by an increase in renewables, with a focus on offshore wind, onshore wind and solar, as well as new nuclear power stations, hydrogen and gas with carbon capture and storage. The government will seek to make the energy system more flexible and integrate digital and other technologies, as proposed in its Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan 2021.

The Strategy notes that not all sectors can be electrified. UK will aim to supply “cleaner” fuel via “significantly” reducing emissions from traditional oil and gas, and scaling up production of biofuels, hydrogen and other low carbon fuel sources.

Greening the built environment

The government has set an “ambition” for all new heating appliances in buildings to be low carbon by 2035 by encouraging a switch to heat pumps and hydrogen boilers. The Strategy emphasises that it will be a gradual transition, “work[ing] with the grain of consumer choice”. The government aims to facilitate this by a degree of domestic funding, as well as potential options to reduce the cost of electricity such as carbon pricing and a shift of current energy levies and obligations from electricity to gas. 

The government will support large scale trials of hydrogen for heating building, including the development of a “hydrogen village” by 2025. It is expected to make a decision on the strategic role of hydrogen heating by 2026. 

Whilst the retrofitting policy is not imperative for domestic buildings at this point, new homes will be required to be highly energy efficient and fitted with low carbon heat sources from 2025. 

For commercial buildings, new energy efficiency standards for rented premises will be implemented by 2030, with a consultation on new regulations for owner-occupied buildings expected in the coming months, and a decision on a potential new framework for rating the energy and carbon performance of large commercial and industrial buildings expected in 2022.

The Strategy also sets out an aim to increase use of sustainably-sourced timber in construction to reduce the embodied carbon footprint of the built environment.

Decarbonising industry

The UK plans to decarbonise industry by supporting a switch to cleaner fuels, resource and energy efficiency and through “fair” carbon pricing. The government will seek to grow low carbon hydrogen, carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) and renewable energy industries through its Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy. This will include investment in existing industrial regions to create decarbonised industrial “SuperPlaces”.

Zero emissions transport

The UK will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and require all new cars to be full zero emission “at the tailpipe” (e.g. emissions produced during the operation of the vehicle) by 2035. It will also introduce a zero emission vehicle mandate which will set an annual target for new car and van sales to be zero-emissions, starting from 2024. An electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure strategy will be published in 2021.

The government will announce their position on phasing-out of non-zero emission heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) by 2035 for vehicles under 26 tonnes and by 2040 for vehicles over that weight. It will “support and encourage” a shift from road freight to rail, cargo bike and inland waterway freight, with more support to sustainable last mile freight in urban regions.

Zero emission aviation will be a strategic priority. The government aims to enable delivery of 10% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2030, and to make the UK world leader in zero emissions flight.

The government will develop a strategy for decarbonising the domestic maritime sector, with a consultation expected mid-2022. The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation will be extended to the maritime sector and a consultation is expected this year on a potential mandate for uptake of shore power in the UK.

Greater investment will be made into public transport infrastructure, with the aim of a net zero rail network by 2050 and a “green bus revolution”. This will include expansion of the existing capacity of the rail network (including new high speed lines and reopening of lines closed during the Beeching Axe), regional city infrastructure investment, an “All Electric Bus City” and increased cycle infrastructure.

Low carbon agriculture and horticulture

The government is aiming for 75% of farmers to be using low carbon practices by 2030, rising to 85% by 2035. The Strategy includes a commitment to support low carbon farming practices and more efficient land use, such as the use of land management practices such as agroforestry, as well as investment in research and development on net zero solutions for agriculture and horticulture.

The government will consult on potential legislative measures to end non-commercial use of horticultural peat by the end of the current Parliament, which could include a ban on peat-based compost. The Lowlands Agriculture Peat Taskforce is also expected to report next summer on recommendations to improve the condition of lowland farmed peatlands.

Conspicuous by its absence were any targets on particular agricultural commodities. The UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 to advise the government on emissions targets, recommended a reduction of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030 with further reductions thereafter in its Sixth Carbon Budget report. However, the Strategy does not include any such targets, instead focusing on grants for interventions to reduce methane emissions and nitrate and ammonia pollution.

Circular economy and waste reduction

A circular economy is essentially one that reduces the introduction of virgin materials into the economy. The government has stated that it is committed to moving towards a “more” circular economy through resource efficiency and waste reduction. This will be implemented in part through the Waste Prevention Programme (WPP), the draft version of which focused on the construction, textile, furniture, electronics, vehicles, food and plastic packaging sectors. The WPP includes interventions on sustainable product design, an extension of producer responsibility and empowering consumers through information and default repair/reuse requirements.

The Strategy also includes an explicit commitment to halving food waste by 2030, which is one of the targets under UN Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. It aims to achieve this via redirecting municipal food waste to biogas and digestate production, as well as voluntary initiatives within the food and drink production sector.

More ambitious F-gas reductions?

The government has committed to continue to “phase-down” the use of fluorinated gases (also known as F-gases). This will include a review of the F-gas Regulation to determine whether the UK will go further than its commitments under the Kigali Amendment to the UN Montreal Protocol.

Carbon stores, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas removals

The Strategy sets an aim to treble woodland creation rates in England by the end of the current Parliament. This may include the introduction of a long-term statutory tree target, updated guidance on the tax treatment of trees and regulation to protect existing woodlands.

Peatlands are the largest carbon store in the UK. In good condition, they can sequester carbon, but their degradation can result in significant emissions. The Strategy includes potential new legislative protection of peatlands and bogs as well as investment for peatland restoration.

The government will also support the commercial development of a greenhouse gas removals (GGR) sector as well as considering potential regulatory oversight of GRRs.

Author: Kelly Sporn

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