climate change politics

Britain’s looming net zero gap

Governments are often more keen on announcing things than delivering them, and climate change stands out as an area of policy that has a particularly large gap between rhetoric and reality. I see it locally here in Luton, where the council has a stated target of reaching net zero carbon by 2040, but remains committed to growing the airport. At the larger end of the scale, President Biden undermines his climate plans by opening up new oil fields on federal lands. And somewhere in between those scales there’s Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government.

The Green Alliance publishes regular updates on the ‘net zero gap’: the distance between stated climate targets and policy announcements that will get us there. The latest one was released last week, and here is the headline graph:

On this chart, green shows the carbon emissions that the government already has a plan for. Yellow is where there are ideas kicking around that haven’t become law yet. Orange is where the government has said it’s going to do something but hasn’t said what, and the striped areas are where there’s no plan at all.

If you’ve been watching climate progress in the UK, it won’t come as any surprise that the power sector is the most advanced. The last decade has seen striking steps forward in renewable energy and the end of coal. Transport is a shocking laggard. Considering it is the largest source of emissions, it’s embarassing that only 7% of emissions are accounted for properly. This is due, I suspect, to the political reluctance to challenge car culture.

Agriculture jumps out as a sector that hasn’t had enough attention, with more candy-stripes than we like to see there. Heat and buildings has high ambition with little progress, and there needs to be much more robust support for efficiency and renewable heat.

Put it all together, and there are government announcements covering 87% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions and just 13% that hasn’t been accounted for. But in terms of real action, just 28% of our emissions are covered by actual policy. Everything else is hovering in consultation or under some vague pledge to act, which can easily be reversed or ignored. If you have a Conservative MP in your area, drop them a line to tell them you expect more policy action on climate.


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