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expert reaction to the UK’s Net Zero Strategy

Published today by the government, the Net Zero Strategy sets out how the UK will deliver on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.


Tim Chapman FREng, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Director at Arup, said:

“I am delighted with the highest level of government attention to resolving our addiction to fossil fuels and propelling the UK towards a Net Zero Carbon future – headline grabbing policies of subsidies for heat pumps are balanced by well thought through remedies such as future low carbon electricity being made much more competitive with gas prices.  Further leadership will be needed to paint a compelling picture of how a fully green society will be happier and healthier and so drive consumer behaviour to accept stronger compromises from how they live now.”


Professor Jim Hall FREng, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“The government’s net zero strategy is a very significant step because it sets out the timetable for emissions reduction across all of the main carbon-emitting sectors of the economy, as well as for negative emissions technologies. There are plenty of technical, social and financial challenges still to resolve, but the direction of travel towards net zero is now becoming clearer.”


Dr Emily Shuckburgh, Director of Cambridge Zero, University of Cambridge, said:

“Responding to climate change needs not just broad ambition, but a detailed plan. The government’s Net Zero Strategy lays out a blueprint to transform all aspects of our society over the coming decade – the way we live and work, our industry and infrastructure, our public services and institutions – in a joined-up way. Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, but also the greatest opportunity. In the run up to COP26, it is exciting to see the UK leading the way in developing a strategy that will determine all our futures.”


Prof Simon Hogg, Ørsted Professor in Renewable Energy & Head of the Department of Engineering, Durham University, said:

“The launch of the Government’s Net Zero Strategy ahead of COP 26 is an important milestone in the UK’s commitment to a low carbon future and the development of green jobs. For the North east, it is exciting to see Teesside and the Humber named as one of the industrial decarbonisation and hydrogen clusters. The cables from some of the world’s largest offshore wind farms at Hornsea and Dogger Bank will come ashore in this region. An even greater focus on energy storage is mandatory if these and further projects are going to deliver the Government’s ambition for 40GW of offshore wind capacity integrated into the UK energy system by 2030 and hydrogen potentially has a huge roll to play in this respect. Looking further forward the ambition for 1GW of floating offshore wind by 2030 is a welcome addition to the strategy. Floating wind is still some way off large scale commercial deployment and there remains time for the UK to establish ourselves as a technology leader in this area. Success in this respect will allow us to exploit the wind resource on our western sea boarders away from the relatively shallow North Sea as well as the huge export potential that being a market leader in the design and manufacture of the technology will generate.”


Prof Chris Evans of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said:

“Even if a full range of greenhouse gas removal (GGR) measures could be implemented, it will still be necessary to substantially cut emissions from fossil fuels. But it may not be possible for some sectors of the economy, such as aviation and agriculture, to decarbonise completely by 2050. Therefore, the widespread deployment of greenhouse gas removal methods is likely to be needed if the UK is to meet its net zero target.

 “A mixture of both engineered and land-based methods to capture and store CO2 from the atmosphere is needed because there is no single magic bullet GGR solution.”


Prof Rob Gross, Director, UK Energy Research Centre & Prof of Energy Policy and Technology, Imperial College, said:

“A net zero strategy with no hair shirts is certainly bold. Shirts may not be hair but buildings will have to be insulated, heating and vehicles replaced, and infrastructure reinvented. This will require £100s of billions of private investment.

“The UK has shown it can mobilise huge investment in the power sector but households and small business will also have to play a role in transforming our energy system. Often this means upfront costs that save running costs. Innovation can make a heat pump cheaper but the household will still need to find the cash to retrofit it to their home. We need to find a way to mobilise the capital needed, and this is a big challenge.

“Regulation has a key role in improving buildings, appliances and vehicles – whether to make them safer or cleaner, or more efficient. There is nothing hair shirt about forcing the pace of change, which is likely to be essential.

“Ultimately the strategy is a wrapper around policies and proposals that sets the mood music for COP. It does that pretty well. The real work starts once COP is over and implementation begins.


Dr Gavin Killip, Senior Researcher, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

“On home heating and efficiency this strategy is a big disappointment. The level of financial support is too small, and too many important elements have been ignored: no tighter regulations for building energy efficiency; no long-term support for the industry expected to do the installation and maintenance work. It is easy to find examples of poor heat pump installations in the UK, so quality has to be improved across the board if consumers are ever going to be confident in the market and the new technology. The whole strategy is based on urging the private sector to invest and innovate but without enough of a regulatory framework from government.”


Prof Jillian Anable, UK Energy research Centre Co-Director, University of Leeds, said:

“The focus on electric cars is the wrong target. The mandate should be for the average CO2 per kilometre of new cars in order to ensure that the trend towards larger vehicles and the popularity of plug-in hybrids, whereby many miles are still driven on fossil fuels, does not negate any increase in pure battery electric sales.”


Dr Christian Brand, Associate Professor & UK Energy research Centre Co-Director, University of Oxford, said,

“The announcement that car makers will be mandated to sell a proportion of clean vehicles each year is welcome and something we [UKERC] has been calling for. But focusing solely on electric vehicles may slow down the race to zero emissions. Electric cars are a major part of the future of transport, but even if all new car purchases were fully electric, it would take 15-20 years to replace the world’s fossil fuel fleet. In the meantime, public transport, walking, cycling and e-biking can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles while providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transport.”


Dr Meysam Qadrdan, UK Energy Research Centre Researcher, Cardiff University, said:

“The set targets for improving buildings energy efficiency and installations of low carbon heating systems are reasonably ambitious and yet pragmatic. On the delivery plan, however, the proposed funding fall short. For example, the £450 million Boiler Upgrade Scheme translates to supporting the installation of 90,000 heat pumps over 3 years which is far less than the target of installing 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028 outlined in the PM’s 10 points plan.”


Prof Dave Reay, Director of Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, University of Edinburgh, said:

“There’s plenty of positive stuff in the strategy, and sectors like offshore wind energy really are now set to spin up to the sorts of levels needed for net zero. However, achieving a resilient and just transition to net zero needs a truly whole-economy approach. It’s not a case of more action here or there, it has to be more action everywhere. If emissions from aviation, for example, are not addressed then this simply puts even more pressure on land use or expensive technologies like carbon capture and storage to balance the climate books. This is another cautious step forward on tackling climate change; we need a courageous leap.”


Prof Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change, University of Manchester, said:

“The UK’s Net Zero strategy falls far short of both its Paris and G7 temperature and equity commitments. Scour the associated spread sheets and the numbers reveal a story of subterfuge, delusion, offsetting and piecemeal policies – all dressed up as a shiny new strategy for COP26. Remove the reliance on other nations offsetting our emissions and today’s children deploying ‘negative emission technologies’ to suck our CO2 out of the atmosphere, and the UK’s total carbon budget is more in line with 2.5-3°C of warming than 1.5-2°C.

“As our government rubs its hands at the prospect of oil revenues from the Cambo and Clair South fields, invests £27 billion in new roads, overseas airport expansions, and pumps £1 billion of tax payers money into a huge new LNG field in Mozambique – it’s PR machine, accompanied by the voices of high-emitting CEOs and senior academics, swings into full gloss paint mode. The climate however will see through this, responding as it always does to emissions rather than slick presentations, accountancy scams & half-baked strategies.”


Prof Martin Siegert, Co-director Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“The government’s net-zero strategy has big ambitions – a roadmap to deliver a pathway to substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 2035, and beyond that for no net emissions. The sums of investments on offer are modest, however. Where £10s Bn are needed each year, the government offers £100s m – 1% of what’s needed to drive the ‘green industrial revolution’. Government hopes the gap will be closed by private investment, and that tax-payers money can kick-start such financing. While this approach has worked quite well for renewable energy there is no guarantee that it will be as good in other sectors and industries. If additional investments are not forthcoming, what is Government’s Plan B? Or is this all that can ever be on offer from the government? The government has certainly set its stall out clearly and obviously can be judged on delivering on the strategy. If it doesn’t work out, our pathway to net zero will be ever more difficult to reach by 2050.”


Prof Elizabeth Robinson, Director of LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said:

“One of the most important sets of measures mentioned in this strategy is the role of carbon pricing and reallocating the investment costs associated with net zero energy and heating. It is clear that to put ourselves on a net zero pathway and to create jobs and growth, we need to generate upfront investment. Who bears these costs matters. The guiding principle of ‘the polluter pays’ is important, but we will need to see the details of how lower income households in particular will be helped in bearing the costs of, for example, replacing gas central heating and petrol and diesel vehicles.”


Prof Neil Strachan, Director, UCL Energy Institute & Professor of Energy Economics and Modelling, UCL, said:

“That the Net Zero Strategy takes a systems view – and uses the UKTM energy systems model for its 3 pathways to 2050 – is an excellent framing. We need to anticipate and plan for the inevitable trade-offs, bottlenecks and tipping points of the energy transition.”

“That the Net Zero Strategy focuses on accelerating the roll out of new infrastructures and technologies is a vital step. But this is only half the story, as we need to understand and harness how individuals and broader society will make decisions on the energy technologies they buy and use.”


Prof John Underhill, Professor of Geoscience & Energy Transition, Heriot-Watt University, said:

“This is a clear demonstration of the Government’s commitment to the energy transition and sets out practical ways and projects by which the UK intends to meet its obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The pivot towards more electric vehicles and charging points shows the Energy Transition and net zero pathway that we are on. The next steps are vital though, as we have to get the additional electricity and critical minerals (lithium, cobalt and rare earth elements) needed for the EV fleet from somewhere and it must be from reliable and sustainable sources, some of which is very challenging.

“The funding of two CCUS clusters that face the challenge to decarbonise our industrial clusters and to explore hydrogen as a fuel is a very significant moment for the UK. After two previous failed attempts to get projects off the ground, industry will be relieved to see the East Coast (Endurance) and HyNet (East Irish Sea) clusters approved despite the obvious and respective challenges that wind farm placement over part of Endurance and the shallow nature of the Hamilton field present. Whilst there will be disappointment in some quarters that the Scottish (Acorn/Storegga) Cluster has been held in reserve, there is encouragement that further awards may be forthcoming in due course.”


Dr Alix Dietzel, a climate justice and climate policy specialist, University of Bristol, said:

“This strategy prompts two key concerns. Firstly, no levelling up of ambition on the target of 68% emissions reductions relative to 1990 levels by 2030, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called for a global reduction of 45% relative to 2010 levels by 2030. By 2017, emissions had already fallen 38% from 1990 levels in the UK. The pledge is nowhere near radical enough to make the UK a climate leader or to say they are doing their fair share globally.

“Secondly, a promise to ‘ensure the biggest polluters pay the most for the transition through fair carbon pricing’, which will not stop harmful consumption patterns. The rich will continue to fly, eat meat, and buy luxury goods, all of which are high emission activities.”


Dr Ed Atkins, Lecturer, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, said:

“Whilst elements of this policy should be welcomed, there are many proposals that require further action and funding to ensure success. Heat pumps are good but they need to be coupled with broader moves to insulate our homes to result in any meaningful change. Low-income households, in particular, will need much more help than what is being offered.”


Prof Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said:

“I welcome the publication of the strategy, which identifies the major steps we have to take to reach net zero. It will need strong investment and innovation across the economy, and will require strong leadership across the whole of the Government. The strategy should generate a new and attractive form of growth, but the investments have to be fostered, and some households, particularly low-income ones, will need some help. It is very important that these ambitions are integrated into growth strategies and spending for the UK as a whole. Most of the investment will be by the private sector and it is very important that the right kind of incentives and risk management are generated through private-public partnership. The UK Infrastructure Bank will have a strong role to play.”


Bob Ward, Director of Policy and Communications at LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said:

“The strategy outlines the important steps required to put the UK on a path to a Net-Zero economy. The Government has recognised this is a strategy for the economy and not just for the environment.  While the transition will cause dislocations in some economic sectors, it will create jobs and growth across the UK. However, it remains to be seen whether the scale and ambition of the strategy is sufficient to attract the private investments necessary to realise a credible pathway to net zero by 2050.”


Prof Dan Lunt, Professor of Climate Science, University of Bristol, said:       

“One thing that this strategy is weak on is the aviation industry.  The ambition is very low, with a target of only 10% of aviation fuel to be sustainable by 2030.  Instead, the strategy could have transferred the billions of pounds of subsidies that are received by the aviation industry each year from the UK government (for example through tax subsidies of aviation fuel) to other sectors, such as EV cars and renewable energy sources, boosting the green economy and green jobs, as well as reducing global heating and improving air quality.”


Prof Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, University of Oxford, said:

“We have to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming before the world stops using fossil fuels. Finally, the government seems to be acknowledging this obvious fact and belatedly investing in safe and permanent disposal of carbon dioxide so we can stop dumping it into the atmosphere. Depressingly, however, they still assume it can be done by subsidising carbon capture and a reformed emission trading system. It won’t: taxpayers’ money won’t last forever and by the time emission permits become expensive enough to make carbon capture worthwhile, it’ll be too little, too late. We have to make safe carbon dioxide disposal a licensing requirement for the continued extraction and import of fossil fuels. Outsiders with as diverse views as the Onward think tank and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Net Zero understand this: it’s a shame the civil service just don’t want to know.”


Prof Jim Watson, Professor of Energy Policy, UCL & Research Director, UCL Institute of Sustainable Resources, said:

“The Net Zero Strategy is an important additional step in the right direction. Crucially it doesn’t just rely on technology breakthroughs to decarbonise our economy – it also strengthens incentives to establish markets for low carbon products: from low carbon heating systems and industrial processes to electric vehicles. The high level rhetoric is welcome too – on providing incentives for people to make low carbon choices and ensuring that those on low incomes get more financial support. But it isn’t enough, of course. Funding for low carbon heating is modest, and there is too little focus on how buildings will be made more efficient, for example. So it will need to be followed up by a ratcheting up of ambitions in the coming months and years if the UK is to stay on track to be a climate change leader – and to meet medium and long term targets.”



Declared interests

Prof Chris Evans: “Prof Chris Evans is an author of a new report by Element Energy and UKCEH on deployment and costs of greenhouse gas removal methods.”

Prof Rob Gross: “no declarations.”

Prof Dave Reay: “No interests.”

Prof Kevin Anderson: “I have no interests to declare in relation to the above quotes.”

Prof Jim Watson: “Member of the government’s advisory group on the heat and buildings strategy.”

None others received.


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