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James Holliday

Senior Technical Director

In the race to combat climate change and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the UK has been seen as a global leader in adopting ambitious environmental policies.

The UK government’s recent policy changes, some of the most substantial during its recent tenure, have the potential to undo years of advancement. These changes have incited strong opposition from both the automotive and energy sectors, prompting many to question the level of commitment exhibited by the UK government in addressing the global challenge of climate change.

Could the recent announcements be seen as the hors d'oeuvre for a shift in policy direction? I certainly hope not, but I am concerned that political short-term thinking has exerted a considerable influence, constituting an ongoing and substantial hazard to the UK's net-zero aspirations.

The most recent policy choices appear to favour the government’s immediate concerns, potentially reflecting an urgent effort to resonate with certain UK population demographics, especially considering the Conservatives' performance in the polls, rather than focusing on long-term environmental objectives.

To achieve its ambitious net-zero target by 2050, the UK must prioritise consistent and impactful sustainable policies that transcend political cycles, while also engaging the public and fostering cross-party consensus on climate action. Not doing so brings about a multitude of consequences, such as:

  • Environmental harm: Delaying or weakening environmental policies could lead to increased pollution, habitat destruction, and other forms of environmental deterioration. These outcomes not only inflict harm on ecosystems but also impede advancements toward achieving net zero by intensifying the difficulties associated with emissions reduction, whilst also making us less resilient to climate change impacts that are already ‘baked in’.
  • Missed opportunities: Diluting decarbonisation strategies will result in missed opportunities for innovation and job creation in the green sector. Investing in clean technologies and green infrastructure has the potential to stimulate economic growth and create sustainable jobs, but these opportunities may be overlooked in favour of perceived short-term benefits.
  • Uncertainty for investors: Policy stability is vital for drawing investments into green technologies and infrastructure. Frequent policy shifts create investor uncertainty, diminishing private sector engagement in sustainable projects and impeding the shift to a low-carbon economy.
  • Economic consequences: As the global economy shifts towards clean energy and sustainable practices, countries that fail to adapt may face economic repercussions, including decreased competitiveness in the global marketplace and higher prices for consumers.
  • Global reputation: While the UK has been a key player in global climate negotiations, recent policy shifts erode its international standing and trustworthiness. This may raise doubts among other nations regarding the UK's dedication to climate action, potentially diminishing its ability to shape global climate policies.
  • Costs: It is important to highlight the current costs associated with wildfires, floods, and extreme weather events caused by climate change. The financial toll of these disasters goes beyond the immediate response and recovery efforts, including infrastructure damage, property loss, agriculture setbacks, and rising healthcare costs. Acknowledging and tackling these costs underlines the urgency of proactive climate mitigation and adaptation. In addition, the costs of addressing climate change tend to increase the longer action is delayed. Therefore, delaying green policies could exacerbate the problems described above and result in significantly higher costs down the line, both financially and environmentally.

What can we do?

Set against this backdrop of policy moving in the wrong direction it will be interesting to see how COP 28 unfolds and what commitments are made.

It’s imperative that we as individuals, organisations and communities take the lead in the fight against climate change. We possess the collective power to make sustainable choices, reduce our carbon footprints, and advocate for environmental reforms. Our resilience and determination can surmount any setback, as history has shown. Together, we can rise to the climate change challenge and demonstrate that real progress begins with us, the champions of a greener future.