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On the road to a green recovery

The Government’s plan to end net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is nothing if not ambitious. Mike Reid reports.

The Covid crisis seemed to spring from nowhere yet has presented a huge challenge to the UK population and economy.

The pandemic is said to have led to more than 120,000 UK deaths, bringing pain, sadness and distress to many.

The much-delayed Energy White Paper, finally published in December after repeated political change at the top, stresses the need for a ‘clean, green’ recovery from Covid.

It also shows the Government is getting serious about the challenge of achieving ‘net zero’ by 2050 – that is, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and offsetting any remaining, neutralising environmental impact and slowing climate change.

The paper builds on the prime minister’s ’10-point plan’, the national infrastructure strategy, the Climate Change Committee's sixth carbon budget, and the ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’, the UK’s new commitment to cut emissions by 78% from 1990 levels by 2030.

It’s a vitally important document as it sets out the legislative intentions of a Government with a large majority, while addressing the net zero plan the UK will present in November to COP26 – the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, taking place in Glasgow.

The plan is to transform energy generation and distribution to (a) build a cleaner, greener future, (b) support a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic – creating 220,000 jobs in new industries as well as export opportunities, and (c) ensure a good deal for consumers.

The scope and ambition of the 170-page document is huge, as it should be, considering the scale of investment likely to be required, nagging scepticism as to whether the net zero target is achievable in the 29-year timeframe or at all, and the countless ways in which things could go wrong.

Amid all this is the key requirement to keep consumer bills affordable, especially for vulnerable and low-income households.

No element of energy will remain unaffected and most industries can expect major change, whether as customers or suppliers. The Government wants Britain to be a showcase for a new global economy based on innovation and turning concern for the environment into action.

Through a so-called Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, ministers will launch a competition to hasten commercialisation of ‘first-of-a-kind’, longer-duration energy storage, part of a £100m Government spend of storage and flexibility innovation.

Environmental concerns are close to home for Boris Johnson and the ‘Prime Minister’s 10-point Plan’, much cited in the white paper, encompasses offshore wind – enough to power every home, quadrupling production to 40GW by 2030.

The PM’s generation plans call for 5GW of lowcarbon hydrogen for industry, transport, power and homes. Nuclear, including from small reactors, will help plug the gaps left by intermittent renewables.

On transport, the Government backs electric vehicle manufacture plus a national charging infrastructure, as well as better public transport and making cycling and walking more attractive. It wants to transform hard-to-decarbonise sea and air transport through research for zeroemission planes and ships.

Homes, schools and hospitals will be greener,warmer and more energy-efficient, with a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.

Underlining the need to revitalise regions, ministers will push carbon capture, usage and storage (‘CCUS’) technology, again targeting industries that are difficult to decarbonise. The strategy calls for planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year, like other initiatives, bringing thousands of jobs.

The white paper stresses the need for innovation and finance to find and advance the cutting-edge technologies needed to reach the net-zero deadline while making the City the global centre of green finance.

It’s an ambitious plan but as Daniel Burnham, a founding father of modern Chicago, said: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood … Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”