UK told it must double low carbon investment to meet net zero targets

Complexity also a problem across 115 funding streams, watchdog says

Great Britain needs to at least double its low carbon investment if it is to reach the ambition of achieving net zero by 2050.

According to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO), the government estimates that new low carbon investment in 2022 in the UK was £23 billion. But this will need to swell two to three times by the late 2020s and 2030s, the public spending watchdog said.

The government expects most of this increase will need to come from the private sector but it is currently not able to estimate what the present level of private capital investment in net zero is, although it has commissioned an external project to look into it, the NAO said.

"While the government is beginning to ask the right questions on how best to support innovation needed to achieve net zero, the lack of clarity regarding government responsibility for overseeing end-to-end progress is concerning," said Gareth Davies, head of the NAO.

Where government help is available, it might be hard to understand. A mapping exercise found 115 funding programs supporting net zero research and innovation activities across eight public bodies, ranging £0.35 million to £685 million. The total support amounted to £4.5 billion between 2022 to 2025, the study found.

Davies said: "The complexity of funding routes makes it tough to track spending and assess its efficacy. Moreover, the lack of clear definition of what success will look like and by when will make it difficult to assess whether the investment is on track."

The NAO said the government needed to progress with the Net Zero Research and Innovation Framework by rapidly strengthening its delivery plans. If not, it could "risk of jeopardising its carbon and economic objectives, as well as value for money from its £4.2 billion investment," Davies said.

The government expects research and innovation to play a crucial part in the UK achieving net zero. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) had responsibility for net zero policy until it was transferred to the new Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) on February 7. BEIS identified that net zero would require "a step change" in the rate of new technologies and processes being developed and deployed into the market and being adopted by businesses and consumers.

Energy Security Secretary and minister for the Net Zero department Grant Shapps last month set out "multibillion" plans to slash carbon from the energy supply chain. Projects included £160 million to support port infrastructure projects, £240 million for a Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, and £205 million to encourage investment in renewable electricity.

"Access to cheap, abundant and reliable energy provide the foundation stone of a thriving economy with our homes and businesses relying on it to deliver our future prosperity," Shapps said at the time.

The Climate Change Act 2008 sets the UK's legally binding targets to reduce emissions. In June 2019, Parliament passed an amendment to the Act, committing the UK to achieve "net zero" emissions by 2050.

The government was forced to revise its Net Zero Strategy following a legal challenge by campaign groups Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth, and Good Law Project.

In March, Friends of the Earth head of policy Mike Childs said: "Legally binding climate budgets are essential stepping-stones to ensure that the UK’s net zero target is actually met. Net zero isn't just good news for our climate, it will also create new jobs and opportunities, and wean the nation off the fossil fuels that are driving the cost-of-living crisis.

"Ministers must now rise to the challenge with a Net Zero Strategy that is lawful, boosts the UK's international credibility and helps secure the huge economic benefits that building a greener, cleaner future will bring. We will be scrutinizing the new plan closely to ensure it is credible and will consider legal action again if it falls short of what is legally required." ®

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