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Clean Growth Plan 'blueprint' for low-carbon future?

smart gridWill the Clean Growth Plan deliver the low-carbon future demanded by the UK's Climate Change Act?

The government's long-awaited strategy for meeting its future carbon emissions targets is expected to be published this autumn. Newly appointed climate change minister Claire Perry told the House of Commons in June that she wants the Clean Growth Plan 'to be as ambitious, robust and clear a blueprint as it can be...and I intend to publish the plan when Parliament sits again after the summer recess'.

Investor confidence hit

The plan was originally scheduled for publication in mid-2016, but the minister cited Brexit, the general election and withdrawal of the USA from the Paris climate treaty as reasons for the delay. Uncertainty caused by the delay is said to have hit investor confidence in the low-carbon sector. Expectations are certainly high, since the Plan will have far-reaching consequences for delivery of a wide range of green policies, including energy standards for new homes, home energy efficiency schemes, and approaches to tackling fuel poverty.

Ambitions urged

The Plan has had a long gestation, during which government policy on many of these issues has been noticeable by its absence. But interested parties have been lobbying intensively to try to influence the outcome. The Energy Saving Trust has published 'white papers' arguing for an ambitious approach on three fronts, one that will pave the way for the 80% cuts in carbon emissions by 2050 that are required under the Climate Change Act.:

  • Fuel poverty - need to double spending on combating fuel poverty, funded through general taxation rather than by levies on energy bills; improve targeting of help to reach those worst affected.
  • New-build homes - these should be highly energy efficient and near zero-carbon, i.e. '2050-ready'. Such homes would be fitted with renewable energy generation technology to achieve net zero carbon emissions over a 12-month period; alternatively the householder would pay to save carbon elsewhere as a carbon offset. It is estimated that this would add around £7000 (2.5%) to the cost of a detached house, typically priced at nearly £300,000.
  • Energy efficiency - new programmes should cover ALL households, not just those in extreme fuel poverty. Even those able to pay need to be incentivised to make additional improvements, which can play a significant part in reducing national energy demand. Incentives could include zero-interest loans, VAT discounts, cashback schemes, or equity release, coupled with tighter regulation.

'Urgent need'

The Committee on Climate Change emphasises the need for swift action in its 2017 report to Parliament: 'Recent reductions in emissions should not detract from the urgent need for new policies to bring confidence to investors and to enable future targets to be met. ... Climate change will not wait while other priorities are addressed; plans must be published without delay.'