10-point plan will help to zero in on the UK’s carbon target

19th November 2020

The UK Government’s announcement of a 10-point plan to guide the nation to achieving its 2050 target on carbon emissions is both welcome and timely. Heralding a ‘green industrial revolution’, it comes at a crucial juncture in the journey to net zero.

by Nicola Lovett, CEO, ENGIE UK & Ireland

The plan brings together for the first time a package of measures which create the foundation for an overarching roadmap to meet the challenge ahead of us. The UK was the first major nation to sign up to a legally binding net zero target, but to date it has not put in place a strategic framework to deliver the goal.

All too often the more visible symbols of change, like wind turbines and EVs, take the headlines in such Government announcements. IEA figures tell us that to meet our climate goals we need to tackle the c.35% of emissions that come from the generation of power. Whilst these investments in renewable energy infrastructure are key to the future, equally as crucial is the impact that energy efficiency and retrofit of measures to our existing building stock will make in the race to net zero. Buildings, how we build them, operate them and heat them account for over a third of emissions.

The plan highlights the steps the UK will take to tackle the necessary decarbonisation of our society to build a net zero future - by greening energy supply, transforming the places we live and work to be zero carbon, and by harnessing technology and innovation to accelerate the pace of change. It contains a balance of elements in all of these areas. Collectively they will not only progress the nation towards the goal, but importantly act as a catalyst to simultaneously create thousands of green jobs and boost the post-Covid economy. 

Building a net zero society

The increased support for renewables will play a huge part in decarbonising our power system – especially for offshore wind where the UK already has the largest installed capacity in the world. Coupled with this will be the necessary role of large-scale pumped storage hydro to assist with grid integration and intermittency problems.

Innovation and investment in technology are key to the decarbonisation of heat. The Government has signalled its commitment to hydrogen. It has a potential role in heating existing homes, supporting heavy industry and long-distance transport as well as storing excess power from renewables. That said, the plan also acknowledges a hybrid approach is required including strong support for the use of heat pumps which along with district energy, can arguably make greater impact in the most cost-effective way.

The focus on energy efficiency and retrofit measures for homes and public buildings in the plan is necessary and particularly welcome. Extension of existing schemes and previously announced funding to bring buildings up towards zero carbon standards shows progress. To date on housing, perhaps too much attention has been on specifications for new builds, but 80% of the stock we'll have in 2050 already exists today. For business however, there is no additional support for energy efficiency, which would have had the dual effect of offering ways to lower operating costs at a critical time for many businesses, whilst also supporting their drive towards carbon-neutrality.

The plan also addresses all aspects of green mobility – specifically on EVs there is significant additional support to boost charging infrastructure and the bold announcement of the early phase out of petrol, diesel and hybrid sales by 2030. This is something we at ENGIE have called for along with many other large fleet operators for some time.  

The imperative for momentum

All of this is reassuring for a net zero future, but it is imperative for the UK to maintain its momentum and leadership by following-up on the plan in the coming months with meaningful policy detail, such as the long-awaited energy white paper and heat strategy to name but two.  These hopefully will also address the need for whole-systems thinking across sectors to maximise efficiency. The UK will then have shown it has a credible and integrated framework of how it will deliver on its target. It will also give the necessary clarity and policy direction for business to invest heavily in a greener future. 

ENGIE took the decision a while ago to reinvent its business model to address the challenges and opportunities of carbon neutrality, and we remain committed to our strategy to help our partners achieve their carbon aspirations. We continue to develop the services, technologies and infrastructure required to help UK businesses and communities decarbonise their operations as we all strive for a net zero carbon future.

I am convinced that climate change remains the biggest challenge of our time and, unlike the current pandemic, there is no vaccine.

UK as a leader in a shared global goal

In exactly one-year the eyes of the world will be on the UK as it plays host to key international discussions on climate change at the UN’s COP 26 conference. Demonstrating national stewardship on the topic is therefore more important than ever as world leaders look to inject urgency into global efforts to tackle emissions.  With a change of leadership comes an anticipated shift in environmental policy in the United States, it is likely that two thirds of the world's economy will be working towards the same goal.

The 10-point plan shows that the Government is serious about taking a leadership position on climate and has the ambition to deliver for the UK and to inspire other nations on their own journey.