Local weather watchdog says Britain lacks a technique to satisfy its objectives.


An influential watchdog group said Thursday the UK government is doing far too little to deliver on ambitious commitments to tackle climate change.

Although the government has promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, it has failed to take preliminary steps – such as tax incentives to reduce emissions – that a report by the group, the Climate Change Committee, said is essential to that goal to achieve change.

“The problem is the action, the delivery just wasn’t there,” said John Gummer, chairman of the committee funded by the UK government to advise lawmakers on environmental policy.

The criticism could prove uncomfortable for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson has made leadership in climate diplomacy an important pillar for the post-Brexit UK that he is trying to shape.

Britain’s ambitions to be influential in this area will be seen later this year in Glasgow, Scotland, where Johnson is expected to chair a major international gathering called COP26 which leaders like President Biden hope will provide a forum for promoting the global climate agenda.

In 2019, Mr Johnson outlined a vision for a “green industrial revolution” in the UK, pledging to ban sales of most new gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2030, and the prospect of creating around 250,000 jobs in areas such as offshore Wind in prospect, hydrogen and battery production. The ideas followed the laws passed in 2019 before Mr Johnson took office that set the net-zero promise for 2050.

On Thursday, however, the committee said that while such pledges were “historic”, the government was far behind in delivering on those pledges.

“What we’ve seen since then is almost nothing,” said Chris Stark, the committee chairman, in an interview.

The committee and environmentalists have warned that a persistent lack of implementation could make it difficult for Mr Johnson to convince other governments to take potentially painful steps to reduce emissions at the climate summit.

“Everyone is looking for deeds and deliveries, not promises,” said Gummer, a former cabinet minister who, like Mr Johnson, is a member of the Conservative Party.

Unless the government develops credible plans, he said, “the whole concept of Britain’s global leadership will indeed be undermined”.

In a report released Thursday, the committee wrote that reaching net zero, as well as interim milestones, requires a significant change in government action. In addition to tax incentives to cut emissions, the committee called for targeted government spending to reduce emissions from industry, buildings and agriculture, as well as greater efforts to draw attention to the opportunities that fighting climate change offers people and businesses.

So far, the report’s authors have said, “It’s hard to see a comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we’ve seen over the past 12 months.”

Analysts say the criticism may push the government to do more, especially with the upcoming climate summit.

Doug Parr, senior scientist for Greenpeace UK environmental group, said the committee’s criticism would be “inconvenient” to the government. “It will play a role this year of all times,” he added.

The committee has influence because it is part of the legal framework to which the UK’s past achievements in the climate field are ascribed. For the past few decades, the UK has been a global leader in tackling climate change according to some metrics, reducing emissions by 40 percent from 1990 to 2019.

Many observers attribute the UK’s performance to 2008 legislation that set legally binding emissions targets and set up a committee to monitor progress and advise the government.

At the same time, many say, it is not surprising that the government is dragging its feet at this point, as the UK previously picked the low-hanging fruits of climate change and is now facing more difficult hurdles to making further progress.

Much of the past profits come from the electricity sector. Britain has replaced most of its heavily polluting coal generators – first with natural gas-powered power plants and more recently with renewable energy sources that covered the shallows of the North Sea with wind turbines.

Analysts say that reducing CO2 emissions in electricity is relatively easy, as the consumer does not see any real change when they flip a light switch. Future advances may require more intrusive and expensive measures, such as replacing natural gas heating with so-called heat pumps and retrofitting houses with insulation, which is widespread.

“All politicians are deeply afraid of having to get in touch with consumers and citizens because of political sensitivity,” said Nick Mabey, chairman of the board of E3G, an environmental group.