The Clean Growth Strategy – a turn in the right direction for a low carbon future

Downing Street Sign City of Westminster London, UK

Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute, mulls over the government’s Clean Growth Strategy and looks ahead to the next steps.

Good things come to those who wait. After nearly a year of anticipation, the UK Government finally launched its Clean Growth Strategy on 12 October. Was it worth the wait? It certainly shows commitment to green growth, embedding climate change action into economic development – something that would have been unlikely under the previous UK leadership.

Since the UK government slashed environmental policies in 2015 – scrapping plans for zero-carbon homes, cutting solar panel subsidies, and cancelling a £1 billion carbon capture and storage competition – there has been no clear direction from policymakers on green issues. This new strategy should reassure UK businesses and external investors, as it clearly recognises the strong positive links between low-carbon development, economic growth, innovation and opportunity.

Notably, the strategy references the Government’s existing commitments to funding research, development and innovation, including Mission Innovation and The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The strategy also proposes reviving the Clean Growth Inter-Ministerial group. This joined-up approach is important, showing that both Greg Clark MP and Claire Perry MP are committed to working constructively with many different government departments to deliver this agenda. My colleague Dr Robert Gross says that, “Beis has worked hard to get cross departmental support for the Strategy, and it’s got high level political support. This is hugely important given that in 2015 the government was sending quite mixed signals on low carbon”.

It is refreshing to see some money to back all this up. Up to £557 million has been allocated for the next Contract for Difference pot 2 auctions, which will support less established technologies such as offshore wind. There is also £255 million available for energy efficiency support, accessible to the public sector, who will be key players in achieving energy efficiency ambitions.

The commitment to Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS) is also promising, after its dramatic fall from favour two years ago. The strategy has earmarked £162 million for CCUS, heavily weighted towards research, development and demonstration, and a new CCUS Council will be convened. However, while it is encouraging that this key technology is back in the public discourse, it is vital that we see UK-based deployment at a commercial scale as soon as possible. As Dr Niall Mac Dowell highlights – “the broad ambition to have the option to deploy CCS at scale in the UK should be contrasted with reports from the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA), who estimate that a relatively modest deployment of CCS in the UK would result in a net benefit of £129 billion”.

And what about the detail? I guess a full suite of detailed policies was too much to hope for. Certain challenges, like low carbon heating, are called out but, understandably, not fully solved in this strategy. Similarly, we’ll have to wait for the Autumn Budget for policy on carbon pricing, and we won’t hear anything about energy efficiency policy until 2018.  Yet despite the lack of detail on policy levers, the strategy does interrogate the key areas for change, making pragmatic decisions about where to focus. The strategy does include some new ideas – one that particularly interested me was the introduction of an emissions intensity ratio, mooted to measure the government’s progress on genuinely green growth. This is a great idea – a metric can send a clear signal and get government departments to channel their efforts into the right direction.

It is clear that Clean Growth Strategy will support the UK’s economic growth, but will it actually ensure we meet our climate change commitments? The document is honest about its weaknesses – existing and new policies might miss the mark, with current projections that we will exceed our carbon budget targets in the fifth budget period. If so, by 2030 the UK will need to use flexibilities in the Climate change Act to share emissions reductions with future generations, or different parts of the world. Reactions from NGOs indicate that such a decision would be widely criticised – the government will need to use every possible tool in the strategy to avoid missing key targets before resorting to these ‘flexibilities’.

No doubt about it, this strategy isn’t revolutionary. But it does offer a pragmatic, reasoned commitment to tackling climate change that fits with broader government policy. The next steps: meat on the bones for the policies and a bit of flair. Let’s all take this opportunity and work with the Government to build an ambitious, clean, green economy.

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