Ten point plan for a green industrial revolution: PM fires the starting gun on the race to net zero?

Energy & Climate Change, Management & Regulation

Ten point plan for a green industrial revolution: PM fires the starting gun on the race to net zero?

The Prime Minister today announced a Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution for 250,000 jobs. Billed variously as a levelling-up instrument to a climate change-focused decarbonization drive, it has received mixed response. Alastair Chisholm and Heather Gardner summarise.

What does it say?

The headlines of the plan relate to expanding renewables, particularly offshore wind power which will be quadrupled by 2030, and nuclear through a new large powerstation (likely at Sizewell) and developments in small and advanced reactors. Elsewhere on energy, government aims to work with industry to see at least 5GW of hydrogen power made available across industry, homes and transport.

Transport is firmly in government’s sights, albeit through widely trailed and already pledged commitments to bring forward the deadline for ending sales of internal combustion-only vehicles to 2030, with an accompanied investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Alongside this, significant investment is pledged in clean public transport and new infrastructure for walking and cycling.

Energy performance in buildings receives attention, with the extension of the Green Homes Grant scheme beyond its current March 2021 deadline and a commitment to deliver significant increases in low-carbon heat uptake.

Carbon capture and storage remains a significant area of focus for building the UK as a world leader. £1bn is being invested into advancing the technology through clusters in the north, west and Scotland. And other technological development will be stimulated in cleaner aviation and shipping and through an energy innovation fund, alongside measures to make the City of London a global centre for green finance.

Timetables and plans for delivery will be worked up, regulatory change designed and a task force for net zero established, to finally start to put meat on the bones of the legally binding net zero target set last summer.

What’s good?

Having a Prime Minister announce a raft of expenditure and investment focused on tackling climate change and the contribution that the green agenda can make to job creation is hugely welcome at any time.

Irrespective of whether or not the detail of all of the plan is present at the moment, or the scale of investment is in proportion with what’s needed, the announcement changes the tone of the Conservative narrative on climate change. No longer is green seen as ‘crap’ that needs to be got rid of, or a burden that holds back growth. Now, it’s a job creator and leveler-upper.

Government is clearly looking for new priorities around job creation using the green agenda and the news that delivering against net zero will be cheaper than previously thought makes this an attractive prospect. After years of fighting against the tired narrative that tackling climate change and environmental decline have to be traded off against achieving prosperity, that has to be a massive win for all who work in our sector.

A gargantuan switch has been flicked. So for now, the detail can come later – though not much later! And now the PM has pinned his green revolution colours to the levelling-up mast he will need to demonstrate that progress against his plans has been achieved well in advance of the next general election. Building gigafactories and green hubs takes time and will need rapid action to be progressing tangibly before 2024.

In addition, this starts to solidify the tone for the year in which the UK hosts COP26, in 2021. Now out of Europe and as a nation looking to forge a strong, independent identity, being a bona fide green leader on the international stage is vital. This is a good step, but more will be needed.

What’s missing?

Much of the criticism of the announcements relate to whether this is new money or not – a manifestation of a green recovery from Covid-19 that will drive forward ambitious action on climate change at pace in advance of COP26.

The reality is, £4bn is new money, spread across six of the ten commitments. The rest (of the £12bn or so in total, which government hopes will leverage triple that in private sector investment) is re-packaged policies and existing spending commitments.

This has unleashed no little scorn that the scale or ambition doesn’t befit the need, and pales into insignificance compared to what has been committed (a) on tackling the coronavirus crisis, (b) in other countries on similar initiatives or (c) in comparison to building HS2.

Government said that “Other key parts of the plan will be driven forward by significant investment set out over the last year, including the £1 billion energy innovation fund…, £5 billion for alternative greener ways of travel including cycling, walking, and buses, and £5.2 billion for new flood and coastal defences in England by 2027.” On one hand then, as a green recovery lever this package offers limited new money. On the other, there had at least been some significant and welcome commitments already.

Energy efficiency is an area where progress is urgently required. The £1bn committed for next year to make new and existing homes and public buildings more efficient, through an extended Green Homes Grant and measures for schools and hospitals, looks rather unimpressive compared to the £9.2bn pledged to this end in the government’s pre-election manifesto.

If little more than a tenth of that sum is considered to be revolutionary, in an area considered to be one of the toughest decarbonization nuts to crack, you have to wonder about the likelihood of that manifesto pledge ever being realized.

Elsewhere however, there is some welcome ambition with a pledge to decarbonize heat through the installation of 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028. Though, the effectiveness of such measures are highly reliant on the buildings they’re installed in being highly energy efficient.

The detailed plans to deliver on these announcements need to be worked up, then. But elsewhere there needs to be similar commitment to progress against climate change ambitions.

Considering the government’s stated priorities for COP26:

1.Adaptation and resilience. ‘Helping people, economies and the environment adapt and prepare for the impacts of climate change.’

2.Nature. ‘Safeguarding ecosystems, protecting natural habitats and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.’

3.Energy transition. ‘Seizing the massive opportunities of cheaper renewables and storage.’

4.Accelerating the move to zero-carbon road transport. ‘By 2040, over half of new car sales worldwide are projected to be electric.’

5.Finance. ‘We need to unleash the finance which will make all of this possible and power the shift to a zero carbon economy.’

Today’s announcements only partially address them.

Sure, there is commitment to plant 30,000 trees a year by 2025 and rewild over 20,000ha of countryside. Adaptation and resilience may be being enhanced through the additional capital spending commitments of flood and coastal erosion risk management. But so much more is needed to increase the progress sorely lacking on this front. A similar 10-point plan has been called for just for adaptation and resilience, which would go a long way to delivering a more holistic climate change programme in advance of COP26.

Alastair Chisholm image

Statement by Alastair Chisholm, Director of Policy and Heather Gardner, Senior Policy Adviser - CIWEM

contact Alastair at Alastair.chisholm@ciwem.org

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