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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”