UK warned net zero delay will impact country’s global goals

Academics at a leading UK university have responded to a wave of announcements from the country’s prime minister on its net zero strategy, warning the steps will throw Britain’s competitive edge in doubt .

Last week Rishi Sunak announced a range of policy commitments delaying previous UK net zero targets. He stated that he was not slowing down the UK’s ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and said that the country had overdelivered on previous commitments. He noted that the U.K. has reduced emissions faster than any other country in the G7.

However the teams from Imperial College London have warned the decision to slow the speed of change will have wide-ranging implications.

Imperial’s vice-provost for Research and Enterprise, professor Mary Ryan CBE FREng said: “The government’s own independent review into the economic benefits of net zero described it as the ‘growth opportunity of the 21st century’ and that the UK’s leadership on tackling change had not only ‘delivered real change at home [but] led to a global transformation in how countries and companies now view the importance of taking action on net zero.’ Rather than slowing down progress towards net zero, the government should be doubling down on climate action to ensure the UK can capitalise on the benefits that the net zero transition can bring to businesses and communities across the country. The government’s decision to delay our some of our key net zero goals risks destabilizing a growing green tech innovation ecosystem. At Imperial, we remain committed to working with our communities and partners to innovate in response to the climate challenge.”

Imperial released a statement in which set out its position on the prime minister’s announcement.

“It is vital that the UK continues to commit to net zero policy and a clear pathway towards achieving net zero carbon emissions on an ambitious timescale,” it stated. “This represents a tremendous opportunity for innovation and investment, as well as an essential contribution to tackling global climate change. Previous ambitious plans enabled the country to develop a competitive advantage across a range of industries crucial to achieving net zero, due in no small part to clear, consistent policy signals from government.

“Consistent frameworks allow businesses to make the infrastructure and R&D investments that will lead to the innovation needed and build eco-systems to grow the climate start-ups with the solutions needed to achieve out net zero goals. Innovation needs to be complemented by stable long-term policies if we are to continue to attract key investment and talent.

“The cost of delay risks losing this competitive edge to global competitors, and the UK’s credibility as a leader on climate change action. To realise a sustainable, zero pollution future, we need to continue to translate science into evidence-based policymaking. Imperial College London will continue to play its part, working with academia, business, investors and policymakers to create solutions for a sustainable future.”

The university’s head of department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, professor Washington Yotto Ochieng FREng, said there was simply no time for delay.

“The rate at which changes are occurring to the planet is alarming, and we are already not responding quickly enough to deal with the main drivers responsible for these changes,” he added. “A key challenge requires heating our built environment from non-polluting sources, a challenge which requires sustained action to retrofit and upgrade many millions of buildings in the UK with a range of customised solutions. Further delays to the actions that would contribute to mitigating climate change will only exacerbate the long-term challenges and economic consequences that we will face in future.

“We need to accelerate progress to net zero, not slow down – the government’s recent announcements risk creating insufficient investment, limited scaling up of market capacity, and ultimately an inability to achieve net zero pollution.”

“This announcement comes at a time when we should be accelerating our research and development programmes,” added head of department of Materials, professor Sandrine Heutz. “Research in materials provides a route to achieving net zero goals – be it in the underpinning routes for renewable energies, new batteries in electric cars, or decarbonisation of industries.  What we need now is sustained investments in these sectors.”

Director of Innovation of the Grantham Institute, Alyssa Gilbert warned the strategy had the potential to backfire and imperil the UK’s current competitive advantage.

“In recent years, innovators and investors have put their roots down and invested in the UK because strong and consistent policy signals to rapidly reduce emissions from buildings, transport and the power sector gave them confidence in the market opportunity here,” she continued. “Business entrepreneurs and investors we work with all demand stronger and more consistent policies and investors, jobs and money crowd into these innovative spaces. At a time when the US and other European countries are putting forward ambitious policy and investments to attract climate innovations and provide a supportive environment for industries of the future to flourish, it is mind-boggling that our government is destabilising the UK’s biggest competitive advantage – our no-cost, stable policy environment.”