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Rob Banes

Sustainability Advisory Director, UK & Ireland

With COP 28 fast approaching, energy transition and slashing emissions by 2030 are high on the agenda. How can the UK meet these important targets, which are at risk of being derailed by shifting focus towards energy security?

A High Court ruling last year found that the government’s Net Zero Strategy was not meeting its own obligations under the Climate Change Act. In response, the government set out detailed plans in its Carbon Budget Delivery Plan. However, the Climate Change Committee, an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008, noted that even with these new plans, confidence in the UK meeting its medium-term targets has decreased since last year.

One cause for concern is the government’s strategy on climate policy has derailed due to a shifting focus towards energy security. On the face of it, energy security and net zero should work in tandem. The government's new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has been formed to drive this change.

Powering up Britain

The release of the government's Energy Security Strategy, ‘Powering Up Britain’ in March 2023 was meant to ensure that the dual objectives of energy security and net zero were delivered together. This strategy includes measures to minimise the impact of energy security issues and rising energy prices, caused by geo-political factors such as the global pandemic. However, some policy decisions seem contradictory to net zero ambitions. For example, while increased focus on carbon capture, usage and storage is important, it also sends the message that continued fossil fuel generation can continue unabated.

So how can the government drive its objectives forward and get back on track? Firstly, the government needs to double down on energy efficiency to reduce demand. Whilst there is a goal for 15% reduction in energy demand by 2030, core policies such as the Great British Insulation Scheme are limited and need to go further to support the 29 million homes and non-domestic buildings that need to decarbonise. Innovative, bold, and joined-up solutions are needed to decarbonise the built environment.

Play to our strengths

Information and data are key to support households, businesses, and communities to make informed decisions to support the reduction in energy consumption. We also need to play to our strengths. The UK is blessed with natural resources for renewable energy generation. Development of renewable energy is required for both energy security and net zero.

Is the increased focus on energy security putting its net zero target in jeopardy? Powering up Britain was meant to provide the clarity and policies to drive the UK forward and reclaim our 'green crown' on the global stage. However, there will be no climate coronation at this year's COP. The UK has been at the forefront on climate action – COP 28 can provide a great opportunity to refresh our approach and show renewed focus on the 2050 target.

Government cannot be expected to tackle the major challenges alone, and private investment needs to be harnessed across sectors to help deliver carbon objectives. Green finance will play a major role in delivering the 2050 target, with a transformation of climate finance which must deliver on old promises, urgently needed.

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