The UK’s net zero ambitions are stalling under the Conservative Party’s leadership, reports David Hencke

The Government has been lambasted in two separate reports for failing to properly plan for meeting its net zero targets.

A report by the House of Lords Industry Committee found that the Government does not have the proper Whitehall structure in place to implement its energy targets and instead plans to load the bill on gas and electricity consumers.

Labour’s Lord Clive Hollick, chair of the committee, said: “There is no point planning a carbon-free energy future if you haven’t got a clue how you will get there or how it will be paid for.”

Another report from the independent spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), found that the Government’s “landmark” tree-planting programme is falling well short of its target, while there is no proper plan on how to implement it .

The Lords report – which took evidence from experts including Sir Dieter Helm, Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Oxford – states that the Government should create an expert taskforce to co-ordinate all its net zero policy initiatives, similar to the Vaccine Taskforce during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Lord Hollick said: “We now need urgent action from the Government to answer outstanding questions on issues such as how they will incentivise households to replace gas boilers with heat pumps – and what plans there are for the six million homes where heat pumps may be unsuitable – what funding mechanisms will be established to encourage investment in small modular nuclear reactors and how the upgrade of our infrastructure to allow the use of hydrogen for heating will be funded.

“These are basic questions that need to be answered before we will get the investment we need to get to net zero.”

Lord Hollick said that it was unfair to fund the reduction of carbon emissions through surcharges on fuel bills, which are already skyrocketing.

“Bills are regressive as the poor pay more of their income on energy costs; it is also unfair to the current generation as we are asking current bill-payers to cover the huge costs of something that is designed to mainly benefit future generations,” he said.

“The Government should look again at using greater public borrowing to fund what are huge and long-term infrastructure costs. That would give investors confidence to invest in new technologies and ensure the public aren’t hit immediately with higher bills at a time that many are already struggling with fuel poverty.”

The NAO report revealed that Whitehall was quick off the mark to start tree-planting, despite the pandemic, but has not planned how it is going to develop a programme to treble tree-planting in England by 2025 to 7,500 hectares a year.

In fact, only 809 hectares had been planted by January this year with the department expecting to reach 1,400 hectares by April against a target of 2,577.

It has still not worked out the funding for the scheme – which has alienated private landowners – and it does not have enough staff to organise and monitor the programme. It also does not know if enough trees are being produced by nurseries to fulfil the target. It takes two years to grow a tree before it can be planted in the countryside.

The Government’s dilemma has been exposed by Lord Zac Goldsmith, Minister of State for the Pacific and the International Environment, who issued an appeal to landowners to support the scheme despite not being able to tell them the funding details.

Labour’s Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “Working at pace meant some of the basics weren’t done. [The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] didn’t stop to think whether its tree-planting targets were realistic, and hasn’t worked out a way to properly measure its own performance. Sorting this out afterwards is akin to fixing the steering wheel of your car as you drive it out of the showroom.”

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