A week to bring together every part of the UK to celebrate progress so far in tackling the climate crisis and the UK’s leadership on net zero ambitions. But also, a week to highlight how much more needs to be done and how everyone can contribute to making change a reality. Unfortunately, well before the general election was announced, Green Great Britain Week was postponed until an unspecified 2020 date, to concentrate on EU Exit.
Green Great Britain Week could not be more relevant and needed right now. We are in a climate emergency, that emergency cannot be postponed or rescheduled. Every day, week, month we waste on inaction is to the detriment of not just the UK, but the entire planet. We have so much to do and just over 11 years to do it.
More good news on renewables
A recent report released by the International Energy Agency showed that global renewables are growing faster than expected and could expand by 50% in the next five years, led by a resurgence in cheaper solar power. This growth will bring the world’s renewable generated electricity up to 30%. Whilst this is fantastic news, if we have any hope of achieving climate, air quality and energy access goals, the deployment of renewables must accelerate ever further still.
In the third quarter of 2019, UK renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuels for the first time since the first ever power plant in 1882, providing 40% of our electricity needs. Helped by a string of new offshore wind farms built this year, wind power is the UK’s strongest source of renewable energy making up 20% of the mix. This signifies a crucial tipping point in our energy transition, and yet another milestone on our net zero journey.
“If government were to back a range of technologies – like onshore wind and marine renewables – in the same way as it is backing offshore wind, consumers and businesses would be able to fully reap the benefits of the transition to a low carbon economy” Luck Clarke of RenewableUK
Environment Bill and Office for Environmental Protection
In the Queen’s speech on 11 October, the government laid out its new Environmental Bill which will reportedly enshrine environmental principles into law for the first time. Several of the Bill’s proposals have been welcomed, such as those on restoring and protecting nature and tackling plastic pollution. However, few policy details have been released and very little was mentioned in relation to decarbonisation and curbing emissions in line with meeting net zero targets. In addition to the proposed bills, the government announced plans to establish the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), an independent watchdog, to hold the government to account and ensure compliance with environmental targets and laws.
This new watchdog provides an opportunity to put sustainability at the heart of the UK economy. However, we are concerned about its lack of power to discipline non-compliant organisations. Under EU rules, for example, the government has faced heavy fines for failing to meet EU air standards. It has also been forced to reduce nitrogen oxides pollution. The OEP however, will not have such powers which leads to worries that the new watchdog will be insufficient to punish those who breach new standards or fail to hit the UK’s green targets. With an election in the offing, the future is even more unclear.
Action and leadership now
Behind the announcements of government plans to protect and improve the environment through the Environment Bill and the new OEP, they have been slipping ever further from their legally binding targets on emissions that are directly contributing to global heating.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s advisory group on climate change and emissions targets, outlined changes which need to be made to reach net zero in their 2019 progress report. Changes such as supporting onshore wind and solar and improving home insulation. The new OEP is expected to provide some additional teeth to compliment the work of the CCC. However, it is difficult to have confidence in the OEP’s ability to police our environmental and climate action when so few of the CCC’s recommendations have so far been met.
Right now, we need environmental and climate leadership from government, but also from local authorities, industry, business and individual people. Green Great Britain Week would have been a great opportunity to bring all those different corners of the UK economy and society together to develop and harness that leadership to create real change.
Next year the UK will be hosting COP26 in Glasgow, shining a spotlight on the government’s actions on the climate emergency. If we want to be seen as a world leader on that stage, the work needs to start now, and it needs to start with clear policy and tangible action. We need to create a viable route to market for onshore renewables, the cheapest sources of new energy generation. We need to change the planning regulations to protect the UK’s current portfolio of renewable energy projects from shrinking as they approach the end of their planning consent. We need to support the repowering of older renewable energy projects, making use of more advanced and efficient technology.
The road to net zero is clear. It has been laid out in front of us by scientists and the government’s own CCC, National infrastructure Committee and BEIS to name a few. Now we must choose to take it. We need the new government, when it is elected, to step up and move quickly in the right direction. It should be Green Great Britain Week every week for business, individuals, communities and beyond.