I had grown tired of asking Ministers when the Clean Growth Strategy was going to turn up, and have had a variety of responses as to when it would. We journeyed along a year-plus road that led from the passing of the fifth carbon budget, past the date by which the plan should have emerged in response to the budget, and eventually – hooray – to last Thursday, when it finally emerged. So is it any good and does it do what it is supposed to do?
In thinking about that, we’ve got to remember that this is not any old plan devised by government to puff its position on something. It is THE plan that is supposed to follow, by law, the adoption of a climate budget – in this case the fifth carbon budget – agreed by Parliament last year. And it is also supposed to, by law, set out how the government intends to meet the terms of the budget – and in particular what additional policies over and above what is in place now they intend to adopt to keep us on track for the level of emissions reduction that the budget requires, in this case by 2032. And we know also that on present policies we are on track to miss the targets set by both the fourth and fifth carbon budgets by quite an amount of emissions.
So the answer to the first question is, yes, in many ways it is a good plan, with a range of policy directions set out in it that tick many boxes in terms of good intention on the key issues now with decarbonisation.
It endorses a strong further push on renewables over the next period, it sets out just what an ambitious programme of energy efficiency in buildings would look like to reduce and harness power use, and particularly heat so that targets can be met.
It commits to reviving the bruised programme of carbon capture and storage, which we know will be so vital in keeping energy intensive industries, and not only power stations, afloat.
All good commitments, and to many a welcome relief from what had been seen as a series of retrograde steps on carbon reduction following the cancellation of carbon capture projects, the banning of onshore wind and the attack on solar deployment under the last Conservative-led government.
Quite how this enhanced commitment is actually going to happen is, however, a big question as far as the report is concerned. Extending the Energy Company Obligation by a few years and maintaining the status quo on funding for the Renewable Heat Incentive is, frankly, not going to get us very far with the monumental challenge of energy efficiency in buildings, and nor will the allocation of £100m to assist the development of CCS get us anywhere we need to be, especially since £1bn was taken out of CCS development just two years ago. We need much more clarity on how the support for these aspirations now turned into more solid policy will actually be executed – but that may be a question of consideration and clarification.
What can’t easily be considered and clarified in the report, though, is the bottom line of it all – and that is as the report candidly sets out (on page 41 to be precise) that, well, even with all these new policy instruments placed in the bag and assumed actually to work as well as one hopes, we’re still short of our targets for both the fourth and the fifth carbon budgets: on the fourth up to 2028 over emitting by six per cent and on the fifth by nine per cent.
That may not sound an enormous overhang for many but it does mean that on present policies, we will be leaving out in the atmosphere huge amounts of carbon which will have to be abated far more steeply in future budgets. And as a legal instrument, the plan has simply failed to discharge its responsibility of showing not how the government might go some way towards meeting the terms of carbon budgets, but how it will actually meet the budgets.
A report that shows that can then be judged in terms of its progress towards its goals, and corrections can be made en route where elements may fail to live up to expectations.
Here, we cannot correct our course to the budgets even if everything does swimmingly, because we remain fundamentally off target. The government really has to go away and come back, if necessary, with further policy instruments that show us if all goes well that we can keep our country on track with its climate targets for 2050.