Professor Chris Skidmore OBE MP is the Conservative MP for Kingswood in Bristol and South Gloucestershireand the author of the Independent Government Review of Net Zero. He has recently joined the University as a Professor of Practice, focussing on Net Zero Policy.
In June 2019, the UK became the first G7 country to sign our commitment to net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 into law. This landmark commitment built on the UK’s international climate leadership in passing the pioneering Climate Change Act in 2008— becoming the first major country to establish a clear governance framework on how to achieve emissions reductions.
I was fortunate to have been the UK’s Energy Minister at the time, responsible for signing our net zero commitment into law. The impact was immediate: within weeks, I had also helped secure the UK’s successful candidacy to host COP26 in Glasgow. The UK was considered a global climate leader, the leading nation in the G20 that had managed to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions over the past twenty years by nearly 50% compared to 1990 levels. Two years later, at COP26, the Glasgow Climate Pact demonstrated the UK’s ability to bring nations together to deliver on emissions reduction targets by 2030. As a result, over 90% of the world’s GDP, represented by 80% of all nations, pledged to a net zero target in some form.
The reality is that we are now in a global net zero race. The rest of the world, along with the international investment community, has woken up to the fact that the energy transition is a new economic reality. 2022 marked a watershed moment for global investment in net zero— not least from the US’ Inflation Reduction Act,with its commitment of placing clean technologies at the heart of future economic strategy. The global reality of the energy security crisis and rising gas and fossil fuel prices in 2022 also demonstrated the importance of delivering future energy security through the greater use of domestically generated renewable and clean sources of power, while seeking to better reduce energy demand.
Net Zero has become not merely the essential policy framework for meeting our climate commitments set out in the Paris Agreement, but also, as the Net Zero Review set out, the economic opportunity of our generation.
The Net Zero Review I chaired sought to ask how the UK can deliver on its net zero commitments by demonstrating how to deliver and implement most effectively and efficiently a plan for our future energy transition. Climate commitments and net zero targets remain just words on a page without a clear, consistent, and stable transition plan.
The Review sought to establish how best to create a delivery ecosystem to achieve the best possible decisions for the future. This requires not merely government to play its role, but importantly to empower the agency of regions, local communities and individuals to play a greater role in their own net zero journey. How we create a ‘big bang’ moment for net zero, enabling and unleashing the potential of the whole of the UK to seize the opportunities that net zero presents, was a key focus.
Across the review, I sought to make recommendations for government, for each sector and industry, for local regions and authorities, and even for individual households. Net zero decision making requires action not just from government, but from all stakeholders involved. Not all these recommendations will be able to be implemented immediately: indeed, the overriding message of the review is that we must deliver greater certainty, consistency and clarity across net zero policy making, with a stability of approach that requires long term planning.
The impact of the Net Zero Review and the Mission Zero report has been far wider than I could have expected. The government officially responded to the review’s recommendations in detail at the end of March 2023, accepting around 70 recommendations both in terms of the policy and the timeframe, with an agreement to take up another 30 recommendations without committing to a timeframe. Of the 29 recommendations that the government did not accept, some, such as a net zero duty on Ofgem have subsequently been adopted during the passage of the Energy Bill through Parliament.
The Net Zero Review was intended, however, to be truly independent and cross-party. I met with all political parties during the course of the review’s engagement and consultation period, and I hope that its recommendations, set across a long-term period and calling for long-term strategic and stable policy frameworks, can be reconsidered and adopted by whichever political party forms the next administration after the General Election in 2024. Net Zero by 2050 will only be achieved if all political parties can agree consensus on climate action, given that there will likely be several administrations of different political persuasion on the road to net zero.
But we also need to recognise that net zero is not merely about a distant target. It is also about halving global emissions by 2030. Nearly every country has set ambitious targets for decarbonisation in their National Determined Contributions as part of the UNCCC process established under the Paris Agreement. Now many countries need to step up and deliver real emissions reductions in the next seven years and beyond. At the same time, there are increasing calls for a global commitment to trebling renewable power generation by 2030 and doubling energy efficiency measures by the same date.
To achieve this and more, I believe many countries can learn from the process undertaken in the UK’s Net Zero Review. Bringing all sectors, regions and organisations together, to map out effectively not only what needs to be achieved, but how it can best be delivered and implemented on the ground, identifying the challenges and barriers currently in the way of effective decarbonisation- what I term the ‘debris on the tracks’- was an invaluable process that helped to bring both the climate and business community together to talk openly about shared challenges and opportunities.
Ultimately, net zero will not be achieved without taking the whole of society with it: like any other transition, its success depends on ensuring that citizens and people are active participants, and authors of their own net zero stories. I hope that Mission Zero can help not only the UK to continue to deliver on its net zero commitments, but in turn ensure that other countries can also follow its lead in recognising that net zero is an opportunity not a cost, that can deliver greater prosperity and economic growth, health and happiness in communities across the world.
Rt Hon Chris Skidmore OBE
Chair, The Net Zero Review and former UK Energy Minister
Mission Zero is published by Biteback Publishing and can be purchased here.
All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of the IPR, nor of the University of Bath.