2021 Climate Change Progress Report the impetus needed for action

1 July 2021
The Climate Change Committee’s report to parliament on progress in reducing emissions and adapting to climate change highlights a pattern of delayed policies and launched policies falling short on ambition and delivery. With the assessment offering more than 200 policy recommendations, we discuss some of the report’s key findings that need to act as the impetus for action.
Walthamstow Wetlands. Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve

Walthamstow Wetlands. Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve

Philippa Spence

Managing Director, UK
T: +44 20 7631 5291

Bram Miller

Technical Director, Strategic Sustainability Consulting
M: +44 7436 545 408
Sarah Winne. Ramboll

Sarah Winne

Managing Consultant, Strategic Sustainability
T: +44 07966 261 200

There has been an increase in the scale of Government efforts, notably the ten-point plan and progress from BEIS to deliver on their mandate. However, as pointed out by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), almost across the board, progress is too slow and lacks the required ambition. This must be addressed ahead of COP26 to ensure we deliver a credible climate conference and meet our legislated targets. 

Better signposting and policy levers needed now

“In the built environment, despite BEIS’s overall progress being one of the strongest of all government departments, it has yet to deliver the Heat and Building Strategy. This key piece of strategy work is a year overdue. As a result, we are missing the policy that signposts to the sector on how to build for the future and make the right investments to enable that” comments Philippa Spence, Ramboll’s UK Managing Director. She adds, “Looking at performance, there has been almost none of the necessary progress in upgrading the building stock, highlighting the need to ensure these policies drive action”. 

Furthermore, the failure of the Green Homes Grant has been a serious blow and provides lessons on the challenges of practical implementation and the need for well-designed, well planned and well-executed schemes”. 

There are also gaps emerging between the Government’s stated commitments and what is needed. Heat pumps provide a good example. The Government has committed to achieving 600,000 heat pump installations in homes a year by 2028 when the Committee on Climate Change has advised that 900,000 heat pump installations a year by 2028 and 1.1 million installations a year by 2030 are required. No credible plan has been put in place to encourage and fund these installations. Additionally, deployment in non-domestic buildings also remains very limited”.

A lot of the delivery required for Net Zero is inherently local in nature, but local actors including local authorities, sectoral bodies and business groups are frequently not properly empowered and supported to deliver the actions required. Three quarters of local authorities have declared a climate emergency, but hampering progress is the uncertainty on the actions they should take to address this, funding shortfalls and competing needs to deliver on their statutory obligations. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) plays a critical role in resolving this”. 

Bram Miller, Technical Director in Ramboll’s Strategic Sustainability Consulting division, welcomed the CCC’s focus on the Electric Vehicle (EV) transition, but is concerned about equity, he said “There are equity concerns with the fairly rapid switch to EVs, unless prices fall a lot (including the need for a growing second hand market) there is a risk that many people will be priced out of access to cars. Whilst on one hand this might help drive a switch to mass transit, it does raise issues of equity, particularly in more rural areas where public transport provision will always be a challenge". 

Furthermore, it’s great to see the CCC’s focus on public engagement, we need to help people make informed decisions to encourage necessary changes in behaviour, for example according to UK Energy Research Centre SUV sales over the past decade (now accounting for over 20% of sales) has led to a rise in total CO2 emissions from the global car fleet, this is despite the growth in battery-electric vehicles. Public information that explains the impact of decisions that minimise demand will help ensure the decarbonised grid can meet the UK’s needs”. 

There also remains important work to fully electrify the rail network, Network Rail’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy states that 42% of the network has already been electrified. This leaves 58% still to go. However, travelling via public transport has become financially less attractive contributing to a 4% increase in traffic levels in 2017, highlighting the need for comprehensive policy packages”

Climate resilience and reducing emissions need equal attention

To create a climate resilient Britain, the Environment Bill, Planning Bill and Net Zero Strategy are critical. Advice from the CCC over the past 10 years on resilience has not progressed at the same pace as net zero. Sarah Winne, a climate adaptation specialist in Ramboll’s Strategic Sustainability Consulting division comments “We need climate resilience to be given equal weight to reducing emissions and adapting to climate change. In their Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk, the CCC clearly spells out how the UK’s ability to meet their Net Zero target depends on adapting to climate change and mitigating the identified risks. Many critical risks have been identified, including risks to the power system, noting that electricity infrastructure is impacted by all major climate risks and is also a central requirement for a functioning net-zero society and economy”. 

One of the most alarming findings of the report is that of the 61 risks and opportunities identified, 54 have been scored as requiring urgent action. This is a marked increase from the CCC’s report five years ago, and really demonstrates that good adaptation principles have not been fully integrated into Government policies”. 

Philippa adds “The forthcoming Planning Bill must take advantage of the critical opportunity to ensure that developments and infrastructure are compliant with Net Zero but are also appropriately resilient to climate change. In addition to effective consideration of adaptation requirements we need to see a net zero and resilience test applied as a key part of the Planning Bill – at the heart of every planning decision must be the question, does this contribute to our commitment to Net Zero and does it improve resilience to climate change?"

The record number of heat related deaths in 2020 serves as a stark warning about the importance of designing in resilience measures for a hotter future, but we have only just had a consultation on building regulation changes and no changes have yet occurred. We need to increase pace to protect citizens’ health, prevent stranded assets and expensive retrofits”.

What’s next

The CCC’s report provides the stark reality that we are not where we need to be and essential elements to our transition need coherence and acceleration. Philippa, comments “There is lots of work going on by government departments in parallel, but their coherence when put together is unclear – the Net Zero Strategy plays a key role in making sure that all these individual components ultimately drive a successful net zero transition”

We need complete and coherent policy signals to encourage supply chains to invest and upskill as necessary and to future-proof themselves for the anticipated changes”

Policy packages need to be comprehensive to ensure low-carbon choices are financially attractive, accessible to all and that standards are ultimately enshrined in law. Pricing reforms will be needed to support the transition across the construction, energy and transport market to favour new technologies”.

And essentially, the public must be brought along with the transition and understand the changes they must make and be supported to make them”. 

We welcome the comprehensive CCC progress report, and hope it provides the stimulus to rapidly shift the UK’s trajectory of progress.

 

For further information on how Ramboll can support your net zero, climate resilient transition, visit our climate action pages.

 

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