But what – and it’s a big but – does ‘getting it right’ look like?
There is much to welcome in the government’s response. It reaffirms the government’s commitment to the Climate Change Act and the carbon budgets set under it.
It describes how the creation of the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should enable emissions reduction policies to be better integrated across government to take maximum advantage of the opportunities of a low carbon economy.
Fresh commitment is expressed to tackling the sectors of the economy where progress has been too slow, and it is encouraging that government acknowledges the importance of “engaging across businesses, industry and other stakeholders on the shared challenge of moving to a low carbon economy.”
Most importantly, government reasserts that “[w]e want to invest the time now to undertake critical preparatory work to ensure we get [the emissions reduction plan] right.”
As we described in our report published earlier this week, we too want to see an emissions reduction plan that is truly fit for purpose, that is: “credible, sustainable and deliverable.” We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of earlier years.
However, the government’s response suggests that its current intentions may fall short of what we believe is needed.
So we want to re-iterate, as government develops its new plan, what considerations must inform this process:
1. The new emissions reduction plan must set out a single, intended policy path to meet the fifth carbon budget. This is required by section 14 of the Act. This means not the development of “options” (as the response says) akin to the “illustrative scenarios” set out in the 2011 Carbon Plan, but a single intended path. This path must extend to the end of the fifth carbon budget in 2032 – not merely “over the 2020s.”
2. Some of the language in the response suggests a lack of appetite to ensure that this plan (unlike the 2011 plan) remains relevant in future years. The new plan is described as “a once in a Parliament opportunity for the government to set out how the UK intends to decarbonise”. But what happens when policy plans inevitably evolve in the coming years? If the plan is not updated it will become out of date. If a single, intended policy path was not described at the outset, the plan would never even be in date. Government and the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee have previously stated that annual updates to the plan should be carried out, and the new government should commit afresh to doing so.
3. Finally, there is no mention yet from the government of its intention to reinvigorate the governance processes that drive progress under the Act. We need transparent and accountable policy milestones, a cross-departmental body ensuring progress across government, and active and transparent carbon budget management. Each of these has fallen by the wayside in recent years and without them, any new plan will be hamstrung from the start.