UK should cut vehicle use to hit zero-carbon target, say MPs

Scathing report says Tory governments have held back progress on clean energy goals

The government should discourage personal vehicle use and reward energy-efficient homebuilding to meet its legally binding target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, MPs have said

In a scathing parliamentary report, the cross-party science and technology select committee said recent Conservative governments have promised more but done less on the climate crisis, which has left several gaping policy holes that need to be filled.

Among a list of 10 “clean growth” measures needed to make up lost ground, the MPs called for stamp duty incentives for energy-efficient homes, the ban on sales of petrol and diesel cars to be brought forward, a shift away from personal vehicles and greater use of technology to capture and store carbon.

“Government action is needed to reverse the current policy trend of cutbacks and slow progress,” said the paper, which highlights the growing gulf between words and actions.

This summer, the government claimed to be a global climate leader when it announced a long-term goal to go carbon neutral by the middle of the century. This followed parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency on 1 May.

But the committee said such bold pledges in the past have been contradicted by backward steps: over the past 10 years, the government has cut subsidies for onshore wind, solar power and low-emission cars. It has frozen fuel duty, dropped plans for zero-carbon homes and eradicated feed-in tariffs for low-carbon power generation.

Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat MP whose father founded the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said: “Targets are of no value if you don’t design the incentives and framework to deliver them and deploy the technologies that are already there to achieve them.”

Based on expert testimonies, the committee found most of the progress made so far by the UK was the result of the 2008 Climate Change Act, which was pushed through by the then climate and energy secretary, Ed Miliband, and enacted with cross-party support. Britain also benefited from adjustments at European level about how emissions are calculated.

Most of that early momentum came from the electricity generation sector, as a shift from coal to gas and renewables accounted for 75% of the UK’s emissions cuts. The committee said the government must now put greater priority on heating and transport.

The report said the ban on petrol and diesel car sales should be brought forward to 2035 or sooner, rather than the current goal of 2040 – and suggested even electric cars are not the answer because of the high emissions needed to make them.

“In the long term, widespread personal vehicle ownership therefore does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation. The government should not aim to achieve emissions reductions simply by replacing existing vehicles with lower-emissions versions,” it said.

Lamb said other countries and even vehicle manufacturers have been more ambitious than the UK in phasing out petrol and diesel cars.

The report also called for variable stamp duty pegged to the energy efficiency of homes. It proposed large-scale trials of heat pumps and hydrogen gas heating, more investment in carbon capture and storage technology, and a return of subsidies for onshore wind and solar power.

Lamb will present the report to parliament after it reconvenes in September and the government will later be obliged to respond.

“It’s a really interesting moment. We have a new prime minister. There is so much noise around Brexit, but this is the real challenge for Boris Johnson,” Lamb said. “There is nothing more serious than [the] climate. It will determine the future of our planet and communities. We have to act and make the case to the public to act.”

Myles Allen, a professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford, said: “It’s all too easy to lose the big picture in complicated to-do lists. Stopping climate change is astonishingly simple: we need to stop dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“So what the government really needs to do is get the CEOs of about 20 fossil fuel companies into a room and ask them to explain how they plan to make both their activities and the products they sell compliant with net-zero global carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century.

“If any company cannot or will not answer the question, then we need to ask whether they should have a license to operate in the UK or a listing on the London Stock Exchange.”


Jonathan Watts

The GuardianTramp

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