Local action is the key to net zero – review of the Skidmore report
How do we achieve more jobs, more income and more security?
By speeding up the net zero transition – and we need local communities and local authorities to lead the way.
These were among the findings of the government’s review of net zero, led by Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, which was published last week.
Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero says that local action, public engagement and planning reforms could help create half a million new jobs and add 2% to GDP. But first the UK has to stop delaying action.
The review reflects a huge number of inputs: 1,800 consultation responses (including one from PeCAN supporters), notes from meetings with 1,000 organisations, and dozens of roundtables.
The result is a slightly sprawling 340-page report with more than 100 recommendations for government, local authorities, communities, businesses and others, including a big push for solar and onshore wind.
The authors chide the government for its lack of speed, warning that delays will push up costs and lead to opportunities going elsewhere. But the report itself was also criticised for not making bold enough recommendations.
Chris Skidmore’s team lists some sensible recommendations that could benefit our community. In other areas it is surprisingly weak, for example supporting drilling for new oil and gas in the North Sea, or failing to suggest any new retrofit grants for middle income households.
It's worth recalling that the global carbon budget to stay within 1.5C degrees of warming will be exhausted in only six and a half years at today’s rates of emissions. This means that speed and ambition are of the essence.
(Click the top right corner to see the time remaining under the 1.5 C scenario. Source and explanation here)
We have summarised the recommendations that are of interest to our community, with their corresponding numbers in brackets:
- Dramatically increase solar and onshore wind in communities that want it (turbines on the South Downs?). Provide low-cost financing for households and SMEs to install solar panels. Invest in the grid. Quadruple the UK’s solar power to 70GW by 2035. Rebalance electricity and gas prices in favour of electricity (22-27).
- Support community energy schemes by enacting the Local Electricity Bill, which would allow local community energy companies such as Energise South Downs to supply residents directly with electricity (100).
- Create a stable investment environment and use government-owned investment banks (1-3).
Retrofit and buildings
The report shows that people living in homes with EPC rating D to G pay thousands of pounds more a year than people in energy efficient homes:
- All homes sold should be EPC rated C by 2033. Landlords should display the energy cost when renting out a building. No gas boilers or appliances should be fitted after 2033 (113). The Future Homes Standard should come in by 2025 and there should be a new Net Zero Homes Standard (108).
- Low-income households and those on benefits should get more money to pay for retrofitting (118). The Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which is a £5k grant that all homeowners can get towards the cost of a heat pump, should be extended to 2028 and increased with inflation (118). There should be more retrofit advice hubs, where installers can meet householders (111).
- SMEs should be given vouchers and mentoring to help them “grow green” and cut their energy use in rented premises (65-67).
- Non-domestic buildings should be EPC rated B by 2030 – this would save businesses £6bn in energy costs a year.
- Public procurement should favour sustainable building materials to build the supply chain (62-63).
- The UK should build two heat pump factories and train more heat pumps installers (116 and 59).
- The government should encourage the public to change behaviour, as other countries are doing (here is a nice example from Germany) (101).
- There should be more ecolabelling and a competition to build a Carbon Calculator app to help consumers make sustainable choices when shopping (102-3).
- The VAT on electricity to charge EV’s should be the same wherever you charge; currently it is 5% if you charge at home and 20% if you charge from a public charger (106).
- Reforms of the packaging market should move faster, including making producers pay for the disposal of packaging and creating a deposit scheme for drinks containers (74).
Local authorities and planning
- Local authorities should have a statutory duty to act on climate change. It should be easier for local authorities to obtain government funding, as the current process for bidding for a competitive grant is so complex it costs them on average £30,000 each time! (91).
- The National Planning Policy Framework should require all developments to be net zero compliant and allow local authorities to exceed national standards. Local authorities should create Net Zero Neighbourhood plans, which would roll up current plans for water, habitats and nature, farming support, air quality in one place; and Local Area Energy Plans to set out where solar farms and other energy infrastructure should be built. Planning officers should be able to approve small and community-scale energy projects more quickly (98).
- The government should publish its overdue strategy on land use and management, explaining to farmers how it wants them to balance food production with climate and biodiversity goals (84).
The report is weaker in several areas, often where there is a strong industry lobby.
- Supporting new oil and gas extraction in the North Sea, contrary to the recommendations of the IPCC, IEA and CCC; asking fossil fuel companies to reduce carbon ‘intensity’ instead of requiring the companies to reduce absolute emissions; ignoring evidence that importing gas via pipeline from Norway produces lower emissions than UK domestic production (para 175) (44-52).
- Asking the finance sector to fund more renewables but not asking it to finance less fossil fuel extraction (68-69).
- Failing to limit aviation or airport expansion and focusing only on promoting Sustainable Aviation Fuels (80).
- Mentioning the need for hydrogen to replace coking coal in the production of steel (para 309) but failing to mention last month’s decision to license a new coking coal mine in Cumbria or its predicted 17,500 tonnes of annual methane emissions (equivalent to nearly all of East Hampshire’s direct emissions).
- Enthusiastically promoting voluntary carbon and ecosystem offset markets, which will make it easier for harmful activities to continue (88, 125-127).
- Promising taxpayer funds for nuclear power, instead of allocating that investment to renewables and energy storage, even though nuclear power creates nuclear waste, cannot be scaled up for peak demand, and costs three times as much as renewables (more than £100 per MWh for the Hinkley Point C versus £37 for offshore wind) (32-37).
- Promoting the use of hydrogen for domestic heating – a favourite demand of the gas industry - despite evidence that hydrogen is not viable for domestic heating (although there are good proposals to develop green hydrogen for industry and transport) (42).
- A relatively uncritical promotion of biomass that does not mention the carbon accounting and timing problems, i.e. cut and burn trees now, wait decades for them to grow back (43).
- No additional retrofit funding for middle income families, who would have to rely on private finance (i.e. bank loans) to pay for the bulk of retrofit costs (115).
- Little mention of regenerative agriculture or soil management, despite warnings that the UK’s plans for decarbonising agriculture are missing or inadequate (para 654).
Overall, the report gives a useful summary of where the net zero debate is now. We hope that the many good recommendations will become government policy soon and that a future review can address the remaining areas, lifting the ambition to meet Paris targets. As the introduction says:
This is too important to get wrong. Delivering net zero is the industrial revolution of our time – and climate change the greatest threat.