In which areas is the UK currently failing to meet its net zero ambitions?
While transport and power generation are well on the way to net zero, the same isn’t true of other sectors. The CCC split the areas which are currently at risk of missing the target into three separate groups, each of which was progressively less likely to fully decarbonise.
Around a quarter of targets could reach net zero, but the risks associated with them make it a possibility that they may miss their target. The development of zero-emission heavy goods vehicles, for instance, is underway but is likely to need ongoing investment and attention to ensure that it comes to pass.
The remaining targets are those that are currently at significant risk of missing their target, or where plans have not been developed at all.
One of the most significant omissions was agriculture, which is responsible for around 12% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions. The CCC noted that while emission cuts of a third are suggested in the government’s net zero strategy, there had been little progress on the issue in the past decade.
The committee criticised the lack of detail on the issue, with many key policies and details still under development or having unclear goals.
There were also concerns about how the demands of agriculture would be balanced with targets to plant 500 square kilometres of trees a year and restore 80% of the UK’s peatland by 2050. The release of farmland for these purposes may be possible with increases in productivity, but the current reliance on this was described as ‘highly optimistic and not yet backed by credible policies’.
Similar concerns were raised over optimistic outlooks on technologies that are still in the early stages of development, such as carbon storage and sustainable aviation fuels, which may not be able to deliver the emissions cuts needed to hit net zero.
Conversely, the CCC said there was a ‘shocking gap’ in making existing UK homes more energy efficient despite it being very achievable. Insulation retrofitting has been limited throughout the UK since the 2010s when cuts to funding were made.
While a Green Homes Grant was launched in 2020, it was scrapped after six months after reaching just 7% of its 600,000 household target. At the time, the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee put its failure down to the scheme being ‘poorly implemented’.
The CCC called on the government to develop and implement new policies on how existing buildings can be made more efficient, suggesting that mortgages could be made dependent on houses reaching a certain level of efficiency.