The UK's former Energy Minister, Chris Skidmore MP, has conducted an independent review of the UK government's Net Zero Strategy. The strategy seeks to ensure that the UK reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by 100% from 1990 levels by 2050. In conducting this review, more than 50 roundtables were held with key stakeholders and more than 1,800 responses were received following a call for evidence. The result of this comprehensive review is a 340-page document titled, Mission Zero – Independent Review of Net Zero (the "Review") published on January 13, 2023.
The Review sets out 129 recommendations on how the UK can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 whilst maximizing economic investment, opportunities, and jobs. The far-ranging recommendations carry a common theme of seeking to provide businesses and investors with greater certainty and clarity.
Some of the Review's key recommendations include:
- By spring 2023, a new Office for Net Zero Delivery should be established to take overall ownership of the delivery of the strategy and advise on best delivery practice. (Interestingly, we note that the UK government appears to have already acted on this recommendation with the creation of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero in February 2023. One of the top priorities for this new department is ensuring the UK is on track to meet its legally binding Net Zero commitments.)
- A clear and coherent UK Green Taxonomy, designed to identify environmentally sustainable economic activities, should be implemented at the earliest opportunity. Additionally, the government should consider whether a "transition taxonomy", which is interoperable and harmonized with other international approaches, should be put in place. While investment in green assets is important, the transition, and financing of that transition, needs to happen across the entire economy, including the decarbonization of economic activities that have a high-carbon footprint to begin with.
- A Net Zero Charter Mark should be established as a gold standard for sustainability and to acknowledge "best in class" among companies in their role in the transition to net zero. To be eligible, companies would have to demonstrate that they have a clear transition plan and publish climate-related financial disclosures.
- The planning system should be reformed so as to streamline the consenting process for energy projects in order to achieve current ambitions of reaching a fully decarbonized power sector by 2035. The requirement for planning permission to install domestic or commercial rooftop solar should also be removed.
- In 2023, the UK government should implement a clear carbon capture and storage plan. The carbon capture, utilization, and storage ("CCUS") industry presents a unique economic opportunity in the UK in light of the storage capacity under the North and Celtic Seas, and the Climate Change Committee has made clear that CCUS is a necessity to achieve net zero.
- The UK's energy efficiency standards should be reviewed
- All homes sold by 2033 should have an Energy Performance Certificate ("EPC") rating of C or above (with some exceptions);
- All non-domestic buildings (whether rented or owned) should have an EPC rating of B or above by 2030; and
- All new non-domestic buildings should have an EPC rating of B or above by 2025.
- The UK government should endorse international Voluntary Carbon Markets ("VCM") standards as soon as possible and: (i) consult on adopting regulated standards for VCMs; and (ii) set up a regulator for carbon credits and offsets by 2024. This would help provide businesses with the assurance they need of the integrity of carbon offsets and greenhouse gas removal investments.
The Review is, in many respects, a call to seize the opportunities available from creating a green economy. The UK government has already created the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero; however, it will remain to be seen whether the UK government implements the other various recommendations highlighted.
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