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Government has “no plan” for achieving Net Zero, two years after setting target in law

5 March 2021

As it gears up to host the international climate summit COP26 a few months from now the UK Government "lacks a plan for how it will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050" despite setting the target - in law - almost two years ago.

Government "intends to publish a plethora of strategies this year" setting out how it will reduce emissions in different sectors ranging from transport to the heating of buildings, but "at present, there is no coordinated plan" with clear milestones towards achieving the target, the Public Accounts Committee says in a report today.

Departments across Government are not yet sufficiently considering the impact on net zero when taking forward projects and programmes. The Treasury has changed the guidance on policy appraisal to ensure departments place greater emphasis on the environmental impacts, but also hasn’t set out how this will work in practice.

Government is not yet ensuring its activities to reduce UK emissions are not simply transferring emissions overseas, which would undermine global efforts to tackle climate change.

As much as 62% of the future reduction in emissions will rely on individual choices and behaviours, from day to day lifestyle choices to one off purchases such as replacing boilers that use fossil fuels or buying an electric vehicle. 

Government has not yet engaged with the public on the substantial, individual behaviour – as well as structural economic - changes that achieving net zero will require. In 2020 a group of Parliamentary select committees hosted Climate Assembly UK in an attempt to begin that conversation with the public.

Local authorities will also play a major role in the move to net zero, and Government will need to engage more with local authorities on their role in reaching net zero, including ensuring they have the necessary resources. 

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

"Government has set itself a huge test in committing the UK to a net zero economy by 2050 - but there is little sign that it understands how to get there and almost two years later it still has no plan.

Our response to climate change must be as joined up and integrated as the ecosystems we are trying to protect. We must see a clear path plotted, with interim goals set and reached - it will not do to dump our emissions on poorer countries to hit UK targets. Our new international trade deals, the levelling up agenda - all must fit in the plan to reach net zero.

COP26 is a few months away; the eyes of the world, its scientists and policymakers are on the UK - big promises full of fine words won’t stand up."

Further information

Image: PA David-Jones