UK government reveals net zero plan it says will create up to 440,000 jobs

The UK government has set out its long-awaited strategy for reaching net zero emissions, with a plan ministers said would create up to 440,000 jobs and “unlock” £90bn in investment in the next decade, most of it from private sector companies.

But experts and campaigners said the proposals did not go far enough and were under-funded, while the government would continue to support fossil fuels.

The plan involves an expansion of electric vehicles, including increasing the network of charging points, and further growth of offshore wind, as well as investments in new technologies such as hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel and £120m towards at least one new nuclear power station.

Car charging units and spaces in Milton Keynes.
Car charging units and spaces in Milton Keynes. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian
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What is Cop26?

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For almost three decades, world governments have met nearly every year to forge a global response to the climate emergency. Under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), every country on Earth is treaty-bound to “avoid dangerous climate change”, and find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally in an equitable way.

Cop stands for conference of the parties under the UNFCCC. This year is the 26th iteration, postponed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to be hosted by the UK in Glasgow.

The conference will officially open on 31 October, and more than 120 world leaders will gather in the first few days. They will then depart, leaving the complex negotiations to their representatives, mainly environment ministers or similarly senior officials. About 25,000 people are expected to attend the conference in total. The talks are scheduled to end at 6pm on Friday 12 November.

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

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Against a background of high energy prices and rising consumer bills, the government said the investment would provide the UK with energy security and stable prices in years to come.

Households will benefit from grants to install low-carbon heat pumps as part of a £3.9bn plan for decarbonising heat and buildings, including a £450m three-year boiler upgrade scheme.

An air source heat pump unit being installed in a house in Folkestone
An air source heat pump unit being installed in a house in Folkestone. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures/Getty Images

Ministers were under pressure to publish the strategy ahead of the Cop26 climate summit, which begins in Glasgow in less than two weeks.

Boris Johnson said: “The UK’s path to ending our contribution to climate change will be paved with well-paid jobs, billions in investment and thriving green industries – powering our green industrial revolution across the country. By moving first and taking bold action, we will build a defining competitive edge in electric vehicles, offshore wind, carbon capture technology and more, whilst supporting people and businesses along the way.”

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What is net zero?

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Net zero is the commitment to reducing emissions by 100% so that the UK is producing no more carbon than it removes from the atmosphere. This will have to be achieved by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases created by activities such as industrial processes, power generation, transport and intensive agriculture, while removing emissions at the same time by capturing carbon or planting more trees.

It is considered the minimum necessary to stop dangerous climate breakdown increasing the world’s temperature by more than 1.5 degrees celsius. However, there is a debate about how to get there, and how quickly, and how the costs will be spread. The current UK government wants to meet net zero by 2050, which will necessarily involve replacing gas boilers, moving to electric cars, improving insulation and lowering high-carbon consumption such as flights and meat-eating.

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The prime minister added: “With the major climate summit Cop26 just around the corner, our strategy sets the example for other countries to build back greener too as we lead the charge towards global net zero.”

There were also proposals to boost nature, including a £124m plan to restore 280,000 hectares of peatland and treble woodland creation in England.

Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, said the plans fell far short of what was required: “The failure to invest does not just affect whether this transition is fair for consumers but also workers in existing industries. Take steel. it will cost £6bn for the steel industry to get to net zero in the next 15 years … but there is nothing for steel in this document.”

A woodland Creation Officer plants a tree as community volunteers and Thames 21 employees plant a range of oak, holly, birch, ferns, willow, and more at Botany Bay Farm in London.
Tree planting at Botany Bay farm in London. Photograph: Getty Images

Green campaigners cast doubt on the speed, extent and funding of the plans, and pointed to the government’s continued efforts to expand fossil fuel industries, including through new oil and gas licences, which they said ran counter to Johnson’s green promises.

Rebecca Newsom, the head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “This document is more like a pick and mix than the substantial meal that we need to reach net zero. Extra cash for tree planting and progress on electric vehicles doesn’t make up for the lack of concrete plans to deliver renewables at scale, extra investment in public transport, or a firm commitment to end new oil and gas licences.

“There are only half-hearted policies and funding commitments to decarbonise our draughty homes at the speed necessary, and it fundamentally fails to grapple with the need to reduce our meat and dairy consumption to stop global deforestation.”

Myles Allen, a professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford, said: “We have to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming before the world stops using fossil fuels. Finally, the government seems to be acknowledging this obvious fact and belatedly investing in safe and permanent disposal of carbon dioxide so we can stop dumping it into the atmosphere.

“Depressingly, however, they still assume it can be done by subsidising carbon capture and a reformed emission trading system. It won’t: taxpayers’ money won’t last forever and by the time emission permits become expensive enough to make carbon capture worthwhile, it’ll be too little, too late. We have to make safe carbon dioxide disposal a licensing requirement for the continued extraction and import of fossil fuels. Outsiders with as diverse views as the Onward thinktank and the all-party parliamentary group on net zero understand this: it’s a shame the civil service just don’t want to know.”

The Guardian

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