Boris Johnson’s much-vaunted ‘green revolution’ will need power and money to be devolved to a local level for any measure of success, writes Grace Newcombe, clean growth researcher, for Localis.
The 10-point plan is without a doubt, a milestone, demonstrating significant Government intent to reach its Paris Agreement commitments by 2050.
We have finally moved on from afterthought additive green policies to recognising the need for a national green industrial revolution. This is Boris Johnson’s first serious attempt at meeting the UK’s legally binding climate commitments while setting a benchmark for the rest of the world before COP26.
Transport is a key part of the plan, particularly the promise to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, which will put the UK at the forefront of electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. But the cost of EV’s and charging infrastructure is a huge factor. The industry will require extensive additional support outlining funding, regulations and retraining for a smooth transition.
Renewable energy was also a focal point, as one of the UK’s developing strengths. Offshore wind power ambitions are a safe but challenging option requiring the right system of regulations to encourage private investment to realise its full potential. While offshore wind is an important part of the energy mix, from the perspective of energy security, the UK cannot be solely reliant on wind power
The Green Homes Grant extension along with a financial pledge to make homes and buildings more energy efficient is welcome but the Government will need to go much further in installing heat pumps and insulating the 29 million draughty and energy inefficient homes in the UK to have big emissions reductions.
As expected, there are aspects of the plan that are less favourable such as the pledge to increase nuclear power and fossil fuel produced hydrogen, both of which are both unlikely to allow for zero emissions in the near future. Many see these power sources as key elements of the UK’s strategy for achieving net-zero.
However, both industries leave much to be desired. The UK nuclear industry is stalling due to enormous costs and a lack of subsidies while the green hydrogen industry is incipient, with significant carbon challenges.
There are two major issues with the plan as a whole.
Firstly, the £12bn allocated to the plan does not instil hope for a green revolution. The total amount allocated to the plan is predominantly recycled and small in scope, particularly in comparison to Europe.
The investment provided is not enough to provide a green revolution across all UK regions and at all levels of government. And unfortunately, this means that yet again, local authorities are faced with bearing the brunt of financing national government ambitions.
The second issue is the troubling omission of local authorities from the plan.
Local authorities have been completely overlooked and yet are in fact key to the transition to net-zero – for who else is better situated to know the unique societal nuances within a place to shape it for a future that is both zero carbon and meets the needs of the community?
Local councils will have to adapt and realign existing medium and long-term economic plans to redesign towns and cities post-Covid-19. They will have to bring their residents with them.
For this a renewed focus on localism is required, whether through Citizen’s Assemblies or mechanisms such as Localis’ ‘Community Value Charter’ model to give communities a stronger sense of ownership and a greater say in their community planning.
Leadership and place leaders need to be valued and recognised as fundamental to the success of achieving net-zero. Place leaders are partners and place-shapers, not just operators of buildings and services; they need the resources to be able to act as such and make the necessary seismic changes to redesign greener, more sustainable and healthier cities that provide the best outcomes for their people.
Which brings me onto a final challenge of the plan – the absence of a detailed roadmap for coherent implementation of strategies that encompasses all elements of society.
Combined policy interventions to change behaviour and execute strategies such as increased greenery, people-focussed transport policies and reimagined civic spaces can begin to redefine and redesign towns and cities through a community lens.
But a comprehensive plan to invest at speed in a coherent, joined-up and equitable way through regulatory interventions, economic incentives and upskilling to ensure resilient, greener, healthier places.
While we acknowledge that the plan shows the UK government has the environmental will, it is lacking in financial cohesive strength and currently, is merely a framework. And one which needs power and money to be devolved to a local level for any measure of green revolution success.
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