Net zero: Climate action delay will hurt economy, Tory MP’s review says

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The report by Chris Skidmore says the government's climate policies need to be more consistent and ambitious. The UK is "falling behind" on some targets and needs a "new approach", the report says.

It calls for 25 actions within two years, including food eco-labelling, and phasing out gas boilers by 2033. Mr Skidmore - the Tory MP who wrote the report - was commissioned by former prime minister Liz Truss to review the government's delivery of net zero, to ensure it was "pro-growth and pro-business".

Some green campaign groups praised the report for focusing on the economic opportunities of net zero and urged the government to heed its recommendations. Labour's shadow climate secretary, Ed Miliband, said the government's lack of "urgency and consistency" was "depriving our country of the economic opportunities climate action offers".

And Green MP Caroline Lucas said the review itself shied away from calling for "truly transformative measures to end our dependence on dirty, dangerous fossil fuels". The government said the UK was leading the world on tackling climate change and developing green jobs for the future.

Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. The UK has set a legally binding target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as part of the global effort to avert the worst effects of climate change.

Mr Skidmore is one of the greenest Tory MPs and signed the 2050 emissions target into law in 2019 when he was an energy minister. He spent months meeting politicians, business leaders and energy experts across the country as part of his evidence-gathering process.

Calling net zero "the growth opportunity of the 21st century", Mr Skidmore says the UK "must move quickly" and decisively to reap the economic benefits of achieving the target. "We have heard from businesses that economic opportunities are being missed today because of weaknesses in the UK's investment environment - whether that be skills shortages or inconsistent policy commitment," Mr Skidmore writes.

"Moving quickly must include spending money. We know that investing in net zero today will be cheaper than delaying, as well as increasing the economic and climate benefits."

He added: "The review recognises we have fallen behind, but it sets out how we can be world-leading in these areas once again. We need to remove the barriers that are in place at the moment."

The review - a leaked copy of which was seen by the BBC ahead of its publication on Friday - said a key demand from across the country was "the need for clarity, certainty, consistency, and continuity from government".

In his conclusion, Mr Skidmore said the UK was in a "net-zero race" and delaying decisions risked losing jobs, infrastructure and investments to other countries.

The UK, he said, had "reached a tipping point" where the "risks of 'not zero' are now greater than the associated risks of taking decisive action on net zero now". "This is why we need a new approach to our net zero strategy," Mr Skidmore writes. "One which identifies stable 10-year missions that can be established across sectors, providing the vision and security for stakeholders and investors."

Sources in the renewable energy sector told the BBC it was vital for the review's recommendations to be "taken forward immediately", adding: "The government needs to take the same kind of agile and empowered approach as was used for developing the coronavirus vaccine."

The government's independent adviser on climate change said Mr Skidmore had gone "further than anything we've published before by highlighting the fact that there's a risk if we don't go fast enough" on net zero. "To have that from a Conservative MP is very significant indeed," Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, told the BBC.

But Tanya Steele, chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), said she was concerned by the government's "stop-start" policies on net zero.

The WWF was urging the government to "deliver on its promise to meet the net zero target with a clear strategy", Ms Steele said.

A government spokesperson said Mr Skidmore's report "recognises the government progress that has been made to date in working towards legally-binding net zero targets".

"The UK is leading the world on tackling climate change while also developing green jobs for the future - in fact we've cut emissions by over 44% since 1990 while growing our economy by 76%, and our policies have supported 68,000 green jobs since late 2020," the spokesperson said.

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