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20 October 2021

Does the UK government’s newly published net-zero strategy go far enough?

The bigger problem may come with the yawning silence around people’s personal lifestyles.

By Stephen Bush

Is the British government’s newly published net-zero strategy up to scratch? On the one hand, it’s undeniably true that the UK’s approach to net zero is, to use that fraught phrase, “world-leading” – both in terms of its ambition and its detail. But it’s also undeniably true to say that Britain’s plan as it stands falls short in a number of areas. 

The big bet the government is making is that, just as government backing for renewables – particularly wind power – has seen the price of renewable energy fall to record lows, a relatively modest level of government expenditure will see the cost of heat pumps, electric cars and other green technologies plummet as well, and that consumer choice will power most, but not all, of the UK’s transition to net zero. 

That gamble might not be wrong. Across industry, manufacturers of everything from heat pumps to electric cars believe that costs will continue to fall. But don’t forget that the fall in the cost of renewables was in part kicked off by Ed Davey opting to spend an eyewatering amount of money on British wind, something he was widely criticised for at the time. Is the government spending enough to deliver the same results? Maybe yes, but maybe no. 

The bigger problem may come with the yawning silence around people’s personal lifestyles: there is, as a result, very little about how to cut emissions from meat and dairy. 

Part of the reason for some of the gaps in the government’s strategy is the gap between the caution of the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the ambition of the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng. But a bigger and probably more significant one is the reluctance to put too many commitments on households, whether that is a change of diet or a firm date for the end of the gas boiler era.

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[See also: Is the government’s heat pump plan a load of hot air?]

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