(c) Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Today’s blog is written by Melanie Coath, Principal Policy Officer – Climate Change, on the UK government climate and energy announcements.
Is the UK Government on track to deliver on its climate change commitments? Do we have a plan to reach net zero emissions and power our country in a cleaner greener way? Last week’s package saw some steps forward, some repackaging of existing commitments and still some significant gaps in the plan.
Just before Easter, the UK Government brought forward a huge raft of energy and climate announcements – totalling some 2200 pages and counting – on what was first dubbed “Green Day” and then rebranded to “Energy Security Day”.
Why now? Well, this was a mandatory response to the High Court’s ruling that the Government’s existing Net Zero Strategy did not meet the Government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. At the same time Government was responding to the Independent Net Zero Review conducted by Chris Skidmore MP into the economics of net zero which also found that the Government could be going further and faster with significant benefits to the economy.
We are facing a clear climate and nature emergency so here at the RSPB we have been examining the package for its ability to help us tackle the climate crisis while not exacerbating the nature crisis, and where possible deliver win-wins. In particular we have therefore been looking to see if the UK Government has finally put in place measures to tackle land-based emissions – a major gap in previous climate plans. We’ve also been looking for reassurance that the UK Government would be rolling out renewable energy in a nature positive way alongside ambitious energy efficiency measures.
Climate and land use
Unfortunately, we think the UK Government is missing a trick in in its climate proposals, with farmers and landowners once again left without a plan to reach net zero. Supporting farmers in a just transition to low-carbon farming is critical, not only for climate, but for wildlife and our own food security too. Protecting and restoring carbon and wildlife rich habitats such as woodland, peatland and saltmarsh should be at the heart of this transition. Yet Government plans today leave a glaring hole in the role this important sector can and must play. The pressure is now on the Government’s upcoming Land Use Framework to plug this critical gap.
A good chunk of new money to support electric vehicle charging and new proposals for a clean heat mechanism are welcome. Energy efficiency is such a low hanging fruit for government – it benefits homeowners when we’re all facing a cost of living crisis and a shortage in energy supplies, keeping low income households warm and lowering the emissions and therefore climate impact from our energy system. It can also be deployed entirely without harm to nature. It is therefore frustrating that Government still isn’t grasping the energy efficiency nettle with plans to upgrade 300,000 of the least energy efficient homes a step forward but not far enough.
On energy there were a large number of announcements covering various sectors. The only brand new funding announced was a £160m fund to Kickstart investment in floating offshore wind – a technology that like traditional fixed offshore wind has the potential to be damaging to nature especially seabirds if not deployed strategically.
Little substantive policy change was confirmed and finalised either, however important steps were taken across key facets of energy decarbonisation. Critically for the RSPB’s work, a new consultation was published on proposed changes to the National Policy Statements for energy infrastructure. The RSPB will be engaging closely to ensure the right balance is struck.
We welcome efforts to speeding up the planning process so that renewables can be deployed more rapidly but this must not be at the expense of nature. In addition, a new consultation on community benefits, including environmental, from grid infrastructure was launched. A second one focusing on onshore wind is fated to follow. We will engage with other announcements such as the Solar Task Force, Action Plan for grid updates and other consultations as needed, to ensure they are delivering for nature and climate.
The launch of an Offshore Wind Roadmap lays out the plan for investment into the acceleration of offshore wind, from targeting supply chains to port infrastructure is much needed. However, we are yet to see this same ambition for investing in nature protection and enhancement. Healthy ecosystems are our ally in the fight on climate change and we cannot tackle the challenges of one without the other. Offshore wind, both fixed base and floating, are an added pressure on an already degraded marine ecosystem. We need to see matched ambition for nature and climate, using the much-needed acceleration of offshore renewables to be the catalyst for change in marine ecosystem management and protection.
International climate and nature commitments
At the same time as its net zero policy packages, the UK Government also launched its 2030 Strategic Framework for International Climate and Nature Action. This is a positive step forward in recognising the need for cross departmental (DESNZ, FCDO, DEFRA) coordination to tackle global challenges. There is however nothing “new” in the framework, and it remains very high level and largely reiterating existing commitments and initiatives. However we welcome the presentation of this as a more integrated package and look forward to the Government playing a leadership role on the international stage in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises in tandem.
In conclusion, there were some welcome proposals in the recent climate and energy announcements but were they sufficient to meet our climate goals? No. More is needed – especially on the land sector where nature-based solutions such as peatland restoration and woodland creation have a critical role to play in delivering wins for climate and wildlife. And are we reassured that the roll out of renewable energy infrastructure will take place in a nature-positive way? Not yet. Much more is needed to ensure that wildlife is not an unintended casualty of our efforts to address climate change. As ever, we must solve both the climate and nature crises in tandem not silos and the UK Government needs to do more.
Our Powering Healthy Seas report sets out our vision for delivering offshore wind in harmony with nature. Look out for two future blogs – one on the international climate and nature commitments and one with more analysis and detail of our thinking on the energy aspect of the publications.
If you read "Silent Spring Revisited" you'll freak out that 'we' are still having the same 'debate' over saving the marshes, or lakes or grasslands or woodlands from plantation, fracking or mine spoil, etc., etc. Never mind farming, pesticides and herbicides. Oh, and an ex-RSPB staffer was the author of that timeline and catalogue of lies (government) and disasters.
Thank you for a very useful blog. It's pretty grim that the Government is forced to go back to it's policy because it is not meeting it's own legal obligations. But then that is the story of the last 13 years - the lost decade for the country and especially it's response to climate change. What struck me forcefully is it's all supply side - but the really big challenge is on the demand side - 50% of our emissions come from buildings. The Government has veered between doing very little to doing nothing. Insulate Britain are right - it's the big one, we could save 25% of our emissions whilst improving our poorest housing stock. Most of the savings would come direct from fossil fuels as electricity, which everyone seems obsessed with, is very much in the minority for household heating.