climate change politics

The UK’s climate report card

This week the UK government’s official climate advisors delivered their annual progress report to Parliament. For those following climate developments, it’s always worth reading. Since the next international climate talks, COP26, will take place in Glasgow later this year, it’s all the more important that the government match its climate action and its rhetoric.

Activists such as myself are sometimes accused of never being satisfied with anything, while politicians are quick to claim global leadership and unprecedented ambition. So the Climate Change Committee are a usefully balanced voice, straddling science and politics.

Perhaps the most important point in this most recent report is that despite the high rhetoric, the government isn’t doing enough yet. The authors list a series of priority areas and compare stated ambition with their own recommendations.

As the chart shows, the government is falling colourfully short in its climate ambitions. The green exceptions at the top include offshore wind power, where the stated aim for 40 GW matches the scientists’ advice. Also in green is the phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 – two years ahead of the advice and the only example I can see of the government moving faster than suggested. However, this is ambition and not policy. The policies that will successfully deliver that phase out aren’t yet apparent.

In other sectors, progress is slow. Ambitions are too low on renewable heat, with targets for heat pumps just two-thirds of what is needed. With the collapse of the Green Homes Grant just months into its implementation, the obvious win of energy efficiency is still waiting for its moment.

The two most striking failures are on diets and on aviation demand. Here, it’s not just a matter of inadequate targets, but of total silence. “There has been no stated ambition on the role of diet change in meeting climate targets” says the CCC. On aviation, there has been “no recognition that demand needs to be managed and several policies are encouraging growth in the sector.”

I’m not surprised by this. Boris Johnson’s government appears to be more motivated by green growth than by preventing disastrous climate change. If a policy doesn’t lead to economic growth, it isn’t really on the table. Opportunities to reduce emissions by doing less of something – eating less meat, taking fewer flights – are invisible.

As always with the CCC’s reports, they are there to raise ambitions and offer a balanced view of what needs to be done. Let’s hope the government are listening, and that a more robust and far-reaching zero carbon strategy lands before COP26.

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