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ClientEarth Communications

21 October 2021

UK Net Zero Strategy – why it won’t work

What is net zero?

When the volume of emissions released into the atmosphere by a country, company or specific activity is equivalent to the volume of emissions removed from the atmosphere by that country, company or activity.

UK Government Net Zero Strategy: what do we think?

This week, the UK Government net zero strategy was unveiled. It claimed to have centred plans on a principle to 'leave the environment in a better state for the next generation' and release them of the financial burden of adapting to a warming planet.

It claims to be prioritising immediate action to reduce emissions over reliance on technologies to remove greenhouse gases.

However, on closer inspection, none of that is true.

In reality, the UK net zero strategy fails to deliver a number of critical near-term actions recommended by the government’s advisors, the Climate Change Committee.  Instead, it kicks the can down the road, with today’s young people and future generations left to pick up the pieces, and the bill.

Unproven technologies

The Government’s strategy falls short when it comes to near-term solutions that would have immediate impact.

On heat and buildings, for example, new plans to roll-out low carbon heating and home insulation are well below the levels advised by the Climate Change Committee.

The same applies to the Government’s targets for tree-planting and peatland restoration. Additionally, there remains huge gaps in policy to support sustainable transport, climate-friendly food and farming and the move to a low-waste economy, as well as managing aviation emissions.

Instead, the Government appears to have doubled down on highly expensive and uncertain technologies, which it admits it does not know the country can rely on to work.

The plan relies on saving up to 50% more emissions from unproven carbon capture storage solutions than its own advisors deem feasible.

Burden on future generations

Not only does this failure to prioritise ‘no regrets’ immediate actions make the net zero strategy misleading and contradictory, it pushes the burden of addressing climate change onto today’s young people, who take the overwhelming share of the risk whilst also ultimately paying the environmental and financial cost for inaction.

This is on top of the severe risks and costs they will face from living in a world that is significantly hotter, with those risks only increasing if action is not taken today.

The Government claims to support the principle that those who produce the pollution should bear the costs of managing it. But as it stands, it is future generations that are being set up to pay the price.

Unequal measures

Furthermore, the Government’s approach ignores the advantages of near-term measures that will provide a more immediate benefit for people and local communities.

Insulating homes and introducing low-carbon heating have some of the highest co-benefits – particularly for those on low incomes currently struggling with soaring energy prices.

The Government’s  failure to manage aviation emissions also gives the small number of frequent fliers a free pass to continue raiding the carbon budget at everyone else’s expense.

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