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  • Andrew Byrne

MPs tell the government that it "lacks a plan" on how to achieve net zero

A report which is critical of the UK government's progress towards its legally-binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 has been published by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). PAC is a cross-party group of MPs which examines the value for money of government projects and holds government officials accountable for the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending.

PAC – consisting of five Labour MPs, nine Conservative MPs and one each from the Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats – concludes that the government “lacks a plan [on] how it will achieve net zero” nearly two years on from being the first major economy to make the 2050 commitment.

The report, released on March 5th, points out that “a plethora of strategies” are scheduled for publication in 2021 but that there are significant disconnects on green policies across the government. The report references the Treasury changing “guidance on policy appraisal to ensure departments place greater emphasis on the environmental impacts but hasn’t set out how this will work in practice”.

The timing of this comment is poignant given its issuance only days after chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled his 2021 budget which although lauded for some green initiatives was described by the Environmental Audit Committee – another committee of cross-party MPs – as having “missed opportunities”.

Other criticisms mentioned in the report include:

  • The government have not engaged sufficiently with the public even though as much as 62% of the future reduction in emissions is contingent on individual choices and behaviours such as everyday lifestyle choices or one-off purchases like replacing a boiler or buying an electric vehicle.

  • There has been no attempt to mitigate global environmental damage caused by reducing the UK’s carbon footprint through transferring emissions overseas.

  • Local authorities, despite having a crucial part to play in meeting net zero, have not been brought into policy discussions or provided with the necessary resources to do so.

In mentioning the part local authorities should play, the report references the much-maligned Green Homes Grant. On its inception, it was hailed as a good example of how the government would help achieve net zero through engaging both local authorities and the public.

Now it is held up as evidence of how the government’s outsourcing of work to private sector companies with no interest in the task beyond pure financial gain has fallen short of achieving the original intention.

Cross-party groups of MPs have become a regular source of advice – and criticism – to the government about their environmental policies and achievements. They act as auditors from within and deliver impressively impartial reports.

In the PAC’s report, as is often the case at the moment, the imminence of the UN climate summit (COP26) which the UK will host is used as the means of focusing minds within Downing Street. The chair of PAC, Meg Hillier MP, said: “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”.



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