The UK government’s commitment to hit net zero has been criticised by its statutory body for climate change.
The 2023 progress report submitted to Parliament by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) says that the backing of new oil and gas projects, the use of coal and the slow progress in the uptake of heat pumps indicates that the UK has “lost the leadership” on climate issues.
Lord Deben, the outgoing chair of CCC, has called the greenlighting of the Cumbria coal mine and permits for new oil and gas fields in the North Sea “utterly unacceptable”. The Rosebank oil field approval will come through within the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the Cumbria colliery has been subject to criticism since January this year, for it is expected to release 17,500 tonnes of methane each year, breaking UK’s climate pledge.
After the COP26 conference in 2021, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to cut emissions by 68% from 1990 levels by 2030. Deben, however, adds that “we’ve slipped behind”. “This is not a report that suggests satisfactory progress.”
The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions were at 450 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2022, including international aviation and shipping. It records an increase of 0.8% from 2021; however, it is 9% below pre-pandemic levels. Nonetheless, the report suggests that the UK’s emissions cuts will have to significantly increase to reach what was committed to at COP26.
The report agrees that one of the signs of progress towards net zero can be seen in the growing sales of electric cars. However, public charging for electric vehicles is still costly.
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The number of homes receiving benefits from the government’s Energy Company Obligation scheme more than halved from 383,700 in 2021 to 159,600 in 2022. The report notes that this number should at least be 1–2 million homes upgraded each year to meet the targets.
The UK’s uptake of heat pumps is one of the worst in Europe, with Finland, Norway and Estonia leading the top three positions. The committee says the heat pump installations are “well below” its forecasted levels to reach net-zero commitments. The UK installed 72,000 new heat pumps in 2022, 69,000 of which were installed in homes (approximately 40,000 retrofits and 29,000 new homes). The CCC’s projected numbers, however, indicate that the heat pump installations should have reached 130,000 in 2022, reaching 145,000 by 2023.
The committee highlighted a “worrying hesitancy” by the ministers to pursue climate goals, Deben told the reporters. “What I am looking for is the leadership which is essential when we are at a moment not just of national emergency, but of global emergency,” he said.