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20 Oct 2021

What will the government's Net Zero Strategy mean for you?

The government's new blueprint for a greener economy was released yesterday. Here are the key highlights for consumers.

The government's latest green strategy, published on 19 October, is a blueprint to end the UK's contribution to man-made climate change by 2050.

The Net Zero Strategy sets out policies and proposals to keep the country on track to meet its domestic carbon budgets and global commitments (Nationally Determined Contributions), and describes a vision for a decarbonised economy in 2050.

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Why do we need a Net Zero Strategy?

In 2019, the UK was the world's first major economy to commit in law to net zero by 2050. This strategy sets out an overarching plan to achieve that goal by transforming every sector of the economy over the next three decades.

It's a wide-ranging paper - stretching to 368 pages - outlining plans to decarbonise all sectors of the economy including fuel and power supplies, industry, transport, heat and buildings. It also outlines how spending will be prioritised to deliver green job growth and skills while reducing emissions.

The strategy details the government's spending plans for new offshore and onshore wind power, solar and other renewables, nuclear power, and investment in hydrogen production capacity. By 2035, the aim is for the UK to be powered entirely by clean electricity.

There is investment for carbon capture and storage to help decarbonise heavy industry, and for 'engineered greenhouse gas removals' - exploring ways to suck carbon out of the atmosphere in the future.

The government has also committed to boost spending on peat restoration, woodland creation and management, to protect nature and biodiversity.

Is there any good news for individuals and households?

While much of the strategy is focused on industry and government spending plans, people at home are not forgotten.

Funding was announced in the Heat and Buildings Strategy (also released on 19 October), which aims to help households replace fossil-fuel heating systems with low-carbon alternatives.

A government statement accompanying the strategy said that 'through energy efficiency measures, falling costs of renewables and more, the measures in the strategy mean people's energy bills will be lower by 2024 than if no action was taken, particularly as gas prices rise'.

The strategy includes a commitment to enhance the online Simple Energy Adviceservice to provide homeowners with personal, tailored advice on improving and decarbonising their homes, including tailored retrofit advice.

Extra funding has also been announced for electric vehicle grants and infrastructure, especially on-street residential charging. A zero-emission vehicle mandate will be introduced from 2024 requiring manufacturers to sell a specified proportion of zero-emission cars and vans.

There is also investment for cycling, walking and public transport.

How will Net Zero affect consumers?

There is a commitment from the government to empower the public to make greener choices. It says it will 'make green choices affordable and easy by working with businesses and industry to set strong regulatory signals and collaborating to reduce costs and provide better quality, longer lasting and lower environmental impact products, and services'.

Ministers have also acknowledged that, although the costs of inaction on climate are far greater, there will be costs attached to the investments needed to make this transition happen. To minimise the impact on consumers, the approach is based around four main principles:

  1. Respecting consumer choice, so no one will be made to rip out their existing boiler or scrap their current car;
  2. Ensuring the biggest polluters pay the most for the transition, through fair carbon pricing;
  3. Protecting the most vulnerable with Government support in the form of energy bill discounts, energy efficiency upgrades, and more;
  4. Working with businesses to deliver cost reductions in low carbon tech, bringing down costs for consumers.

There are some issues that are barely mentioned in the new strategy. Meat consumption and air travel must both fall if we are to reach net zero, but neither businesses nor consumers are given much help to reduce either. The question of how to replace the lost tax from petrol and diesel sales when we switch to electric cars is also avoided.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: 'The changes that consumers will have to make to their lives in order to achieve ambitious climate targets, from what they eat to how they travel and warm their homes, are fundamental. However, if they are to make these changes successfully, Which? research has found that more meaningful engagement, reliable information and support from government and businesses is required.

'This strategy marks an important step and now needs to be followed up with ambitious measures and joined up policy to ensure that consumers have the support and protections they need to make the necessary transition to lower carbon choices. Which? supports the direction that has been set out by the government in this strategy, and looks forward to working with ministers and businesses to help consumers make more informed and environmentally friendly decisions.'

Further announcements are likely to come when the government's spending review takes place on 27 October, four days before the COP26 climate conference begins in Glasgow.