Wednesday 18 September 2019 6:19 am

There is a disconnect between government rhetoric and reality on climate change

Will Argent is manager of the VT Gravis Clean Energy Fund.

The noise around climate change and the risk it poses to the planet has reached fever-pitch, and pressure on the UK government to take action is increasing by the day. 

The Extinction Rebellion movement has repeatedly taken to the streets of London to demand action from policy-makers, while Swedish activist Greta Thunberg inspired schoolchildren to skip lessons in order to voice their concerns.

Public demand for action to tackle climate change is high, and while the government has been vocal in its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, actual progress has fallen way behind what is needed. 

One of the most recent pledges from politicians has been to make the UK the first major economy to legislate to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to net-zero by 2050, yet the government’s own projections demonstrate that its policies and plans are insufficient to meet the fourth or fifth carbon budgets (covering 2023 to 2027, and 2028 to 2032). 

The independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) laid bare the lack of action in its latest Progress Report, published this month, which found that just one of the 25 policy actions it recommended in 2018 had been delivered one year on, while 10 did not show even partial progress. 

In addition, only seven of the 24 indicators which show underlying progress on tackling and preparing for climate change were found to be on track. 

The mismatch between government rhetoric and action is clear, with the CCC saying that there is “limited evidence” that the current administration is taking the emissions issue “sufficiently seriously”. 

In some areas, there has been progress. The transition to renewable energy means that work to reduce emissions from power generation is producing solid results.

While it still falls short of what is needed to hit the government’s net-zero commitment by 2050, it has meant that Britain went for two consecutive weeks in May without burning coal for power. 

However, on issues such as transport, heating and energy efficiency, the UK is still falling woefully behind.  

Plans for developing carbon capture and storage are still too slow, and there is a distinct lack of government support to deploy onshore wind and solar power following the removal of incentives in recent years.

The ambition to see at least half of new car sales being ultra-low emission by 2030 and to end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040 has been branded as too late. It has not helped that the government cut the grant for battery electric vehicles to £3,500 in 2018, and scrapped grants for hybrid vehicles entirely.

The success of offshore wind – which is set to deliver at least a third of UK electricity requirements by 2030 – is evidence of what can be achieved when good policy is enacted.

Yet, 10 years since the passing of the Climate Change Act, there is still no serious plan for decarbonising UK heating systems, or improving energy efficiency in residential properties.

Much more support is needed if the country is to make any realistic progress towards its climate change goals. 

Investors are willing to provide capital to the sector, and the investment opportunities are huge, yet some form of government support mechanism across a broad range of renewable energy technologies would be beneficial to speed up the process. 

Average temperatures could rise by 4 degrees or more by 2100 if current trends continue, the CCC says.

The UK government needs to step up and take greater action, and quickly, to incentivise innovation and investment into the sector in order to bring about actual changes.

Tougher targets do not themselves reduce emissions, and while the aim of “carbon neutral” is laudable, real action needs to be taken for it to become a reality in our lifetime.