LCA VIEW: Spring Budget March 23
A great deal has been written about the government’s Spring Budget and its disappointing failure to address the climate emergency we face with enough resources, strategy, detail and commitment.
What little was said was like a scattergun approach, when what was needed is laser-like focus on options that already exist and with government support, could be making dramatic strides toward net zero goals today.
Among the budget’s few references to clean energy was support for growth in nuclear power. Nuclear certainly has a role to play in a blend of solutions, but it is not a silver bullet. For one thing, the government is still talking about ‘viability.’ We have less than 30 years to completely decarbonise [so] we don’t have time for research into viability; we need to invest in the proven technologies and low-hanging fruit that are available today.
Efficient Energy Plan
First among our concerns should be maximising the energy efficiency of every home and building.
One of the biggest challenges we face on the road to net zero is the decarbonisation of our heating. Why hasn’t it happened? Forgive the pun, but it boils down to gas is cheaper than electric heating. If we want to convert the country to cleaner electric heating, then, to balance out the cost, we need our buildings to be more efficient so they reduce our heating demands.
There have been promises made and schemes devised with the intent to help make our built environment function better, and slowly progress is being made. But it’s not at scale necessary to meet our net zero challenges.
The billions that will soon go into nuclear power could serve a far greater purpose if instead they were invested in retrofitting homes and buildings – making sure they are all warm, insulated and fit for purpose.
Renewable Energy Plan
The budget also missed the opportunity to turbocharge renewables by allocating revenue from a windfall tax on energy produced from fossil fuels.
But what the budget demonstrated most clearly is the government’s unwillingness to acknowledge the seriousness of the environmental crisis we face and the drastic steps needed to address it.
Parliament is aware. And no one could argue it is ignoring the issue. But it is not leading the change in hearts and minds among the public that is so desperately needed.
For example, new studies show that sheep who graze on solar farms are healthier and less stressed. And as temporary structures, solar farms can give land the time it needs to recover and become more arable. It can be used for wildflowers, encouraging bees and other pollinators. Yet, because the government has not made the case that wind and solar are crucial to fighting climate change, it is still extremely difficult to get planning consent, even when there are no expert objections. NIMBYism is allowed precedence, which is a luxury we can no longer afford.
The Grid Plan
Lastly, the budget makes no mention of investing in the national grid. Without critically needed upgrades to the grid, important and beneficial renewable energy projects are slowing to a halt. As it is, we are currently seeing connection dates as far away as 2037. The value of grid connectivity cannot be overstated. If the government wants to advance net zero, it absolutely must invest in the grid and support every effort to ensure it is decarbonised.
While this budget was certainly disappointing, it is not too late for government to act. We urgently need:
A public campaign to change hearts and minds to gain public support for electric heating – centralised heating districts in cities and heat pumps for homes.
A strong focus and significant financial investment in energy efficiency schemes for the built environment.
A change in public perception regarding renewables to make it easier for solar and wind farms to gain planning consent.
A large investment in the national grid to make it fit for purpose in a net zero world
Simon Crowe, Managing Director of Low Carbon Alliance
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For further information, please contact:
Samantha Pratt, Low Carbon Alliance
+44 7796 133 324