Time for action on net zero, say leading industry figures

Industry welcomes government Net Zero Strategy, but says now is time for action.

Leading industry figures have cautiously welcomed the UK government’s newly unveiled net zero strategy, but say it’s now time for urgent action to turn words into reality.

Described by National Infrastructure Commission chairman Sir John Armitt as “both hugely ambitious and has to be delivered,” other leading industry figures are still analysing the substantial strategy document, with some highlighting a lack of clarity in how some of the projected outcomes can be achieved, and also a potential lack of commitment on decarbonising rail.

Here’s a broad taster of industry reaction to the UK's Net Zero Strategy:

Matthew Farrow, director of policy at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, said: “The four net zero policy documents just published represent the largest amount of net zero policy ever published in a single day by the UK government and they contain a level of ambition that would have been unthinkable just three years ago. It is fair to say that both government and business activity on net zero is picking up speed, and the government’s approach of backing a range of technologies while seeking to bring down technology costs is broadly sensible. Likewise the attempt to balance maintaining public support while delivering regulatory clarity is clumsy but politically understandable.

“The next few years really are make or break however and the hard work is only just beginning. The challenge is to convert to the broad outlines we now have for technology choices and rollouts into actual physical deployment across millions of households and thousands of communities. Furthermore this must be done in a joined up way. The engineering and consultancy sector will be crucial in delivering this. Only we have the combination of engineering and design expertise, systems thinking, data insights and cross sectoral experience to make a net zero society a reality.”

National Infrastructure Commission chairman Sir John Armitt said: “The strategy sets out a range of commitments and timescales for action. It is both hugely ambitious and has to be delivered. The priority now is to get on with it. It is encouraging to see a commitment to developing a whole new industry to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which the commission has recommended needs to be put in place over the next decade if we are to meet our international climate obligations. The strategy indicates broad agreement with the commission’s proposals for how this market should be regulated and financed, and we look forward to seeing further details in due course.”

Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, said: “We didn’t have a plan before, now we do. This is a substantial step forward that lays out clearly the government’s ambitions to cut emissions across the economy over the coming 15 years and beyond. It provides much more clarity about what lies ahead for businesses and individuals and the key actions required in the coming decades to deliver a net zero nation. It also gives the UK a strong basis to be president of the forthcoming COP26 summit. The critical next step is turning words into deeds. We have begun to assess the strategy in more detail and the extent to which the policies proposed in this strategy deliver their ambition.”

Chris Ball, MD of nuclear and power at Atkins, said: “The scale of the challenge to achieve net zero is greater than any engineering programme ever delivered, from the build rate required to decarbonise power by 2035 to the scale and pace of the programme required to retrofit buildings and transform our transportation systems and infrastructure. We have long called for a whole system approach to delivering net zero and the need for an energy system architect to oversee such a complex overhaul of such critical infrastructure. 

“It is encouraging that government is aiming for a system approach to delivering net zero, but this must be practically implemented with nearer-term milestones to measure performance and gauge progress. Industry and government must continue to work together to achieve the momentous challenge ahead of us and achieve our decarbonisation goals at such an unprecedented scale and pace.”

Patricia Moore, managing director, UK at Turner & Townsend, said: "Achieving net zero relies on alignment between the global protocols agreed at COP, UK policy and business investment. While many businesses have already started to set out their commitments, these announcements today are critical for setting the parameters against which the decarbonisation strategies of industries and individual organisations will be judged.

"Construction has one of the most important journeys to achieving net zero, and also one of the most challenging. As the vehicle through which wider societal change will take place, but one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, we must urgently transform our own ways of working. Across the built environment, we need to adopt a programmatic approach to decarbonisation - one that identifies how milestones will be met through avoidance, offset and innovation. These plans also need to consider risk, especially as the effects of climate change start to be felt in our infrastructure and in our communities.”

Paul Tremble, chief strategy officer at WSP, said: “The stakes are high and cutting emissions across the UK economy over the coming 15 years and beyond can only be achieved through a partnership between government, industry and the public, backed up by an unambiguous implementation strategy, which is both bold and fully costed. There is a lot to digest in the document, but it is a positive step that a sector-by-sector breakdown with associated emissions reduction targets has been established.”

Chris Richards, director of policy at the Institution of Civil Engineers, said: "The strategy is a good first step, it confirmed the delivery pathways to 2037, set out the plan to decarbonise power and acknowledged that public behaviour change is essential. But it lacked insight into how these and other measures will help to reduce emissions. Outlining the tangible emissions savings from each sector would help the infrastructure sector work towards delivering on the ambitions set out in the strategy."

David Clarke, technical director at the Railway Industry Association, said: Although we welcome these positive plans, action is needed now if we are to reach net zero on our railways by 2050. As ORR statistics recently showed, we are electrifying at less than half the rate required to meet the 2050 target, and the UK is still yet to see any significant new electrification projects or major fleet orders of low carbon battery and hydrogen rolling stock. This lack of commitment puts at risk our existing electrification and rolling stock capability, which we know we will need to meet the 2050 target. As we approach COP26, now is an opportune moment for the UK to show international leadership and support green jobs and investment by committing to decarbonise rail.”

Tom Greatrex chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “It is very welcome to see the government commit new money to the development of nuclear projects and set out its intention to bring Sizewell C to a final investment decision. We need to invest quickly to clean up the grid by 2035 and ensure our energy security, so we look forward to seeing details of this new fund, money for SMR deployment and legislation for Regulated Asset Base financing coming forward soon.” 

Marie Claude Hemming, director of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “We welcome the UK government’s endorsement of new nuclear as a vital part of the UK’s energy future, but would caution that nuclear schemes have been subject to unnecessary delays in the past. Industry is primed to deliver new nuclear generation. We call on the government to ensure that nationally significant schemes of this kind are brought forward to market as rapidly as possible, so that our members can plan accordingly, get spades in the ground, and deliver the green energy future the UK needs.”

David Wright, chief engineer at National Grid, said: “In the lead up to COP26, the UK has certainly raised the bar on ambition to tackle climate change – and we now need to see what this means in practice. We’re at a critical stage in the journey where net zero is possible with the technologies and opportunities we have today and, in order to deliver on this, we have to accelerate and ramp up efforts to deploy long-term solutions at scale.

Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive at Energy UK said: “We will play a central role in the drive to reach Net Zero and, by committing to have a decarbonised power system in place in the 2030s, our sector will also be providing the clean power needed to transform other sectors like housing and transport. The energy industry has shown what is possible with the right policies in place and is ready to invest further helping create jobs and growth across the country.”

Click here to download the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy - Build Back Greener.

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