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Survey: More than half of consumers do not trust corporate green claims

Survey: More than half of consumers do not trust corporate green claims

SEC Newgate poll warns of 'deficit of trust' between consumers and corporates in the UK, as public concern over climate change hits record levels

Brits are highly motivated to shop sustainability, but a large proportion of consumers do not trust companies' environmental claims, a study published this morning has revealed.

The research from communications firm SEC Newgate revealed more than half of people around the world say they are "strongly" interested in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and claim to be "highly motivated" to call out corporate behaviour that fails to abide by good environmental and ethical standards.

The inaugural SEC Newgate ESG Monitor, which polled 10,000 people across 10 countries, exposes a significant lack of trust between consumers and companies in the UK, with more than half of respondents reporting they believed that companies are over-reporting their positive environmental impact, a practice sometimes referred to as 'greenwashing'.

But this mistrust is not limited to the UK. The polling exercise reveals scepticism surrounding companies' environmental claims is widespread around the globe. Two fifths of respondents to the survey said they had actively avoided using a company's products or services because they did not like the firm's ESG practices and almost three quarters of respondents - 74 per cent - said they wanted ESG claims from business to be regulated, with companies penalised for poor performance.

The findings come a month after the UK's competition and markets watchdog published a new Green Claims Code for business, and announced it would launch a major review into whether firms are overstating their environmental credentials next year in a bid to cut down on alleged greenwash.

The survey also found that concern about climate change in the UK trumps worries over Covid-19 and the economy, with 71 per cent of people citing it as a top concern - compared to 70 per cent and 67 per cent for the latter two issues.

Emma Kane, CEO of SEC Newgate, said the survey results should be a "wake-up call" for business to embrace more sustainable practices in the run up to the COP26 Climate Summit.

"In Glasgow in November, the diplomats will be under enormous pressure to deliver new carbon reduction targets and a framework for sustainable development," she said. "But business will be under equal pressure afterwards to deliver a meaningful roadmap that takes us to a green and good economy. Failure will not be tolerated by consumers."

"We all know that concerns around the environmental, ethical and social impact of business have been growing but what is surprising is how willing consumers are to take control of the situation and agitate for change," she said. "We live in an age of activism."

A quarter of respondents to the survey said they had  warned others against using products and services from firms which they perceive as having poor ESG performance, and one in five said they had discussed a company's ESG behaviour online or on social media. 

Andrew Adie, head of SEC Newgate UK's green and good division, said the research highlighted how corporates still had some way to go to "bridge the credibility gap" and curb widespread concerns about greenwashing.

"In reality many businesses are doing a lot of good work in this area, but they need to win trust by having a credible plan that delivers meaningful change to timeframes that are tangible," he said. "Anything less risks looking like window dressing."

The Lancet: Few countries prepared to tackle worsening climate-related health risks

The Lancet: Few countries prepared to tackle worsening climate-related health risks

New report warns climate change is putting humanity at greater risk from infectious diseases and food insecurity

The 2021 Lancet Countdown report has today warned the impacts of climate change pose increasing health risks and are exacerbating existing health and social inequalities.

The sixth annual Lancet climate report - titled Countdown on health and climate change: code red for a healthy future - tracks 44 health indicators that are linked to climate change across 84 countries that are responsible for around 92 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

The report reveals climate change is increasing the chances of infectious disease, extreme weather impacts, and food insecurity. As such, outbreaks of dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika are more likely to occur in high human development index countries, while malaria is increasing in countries with a low human development index. The report also warns coasts around northern Europe and the US are becoming more conducive to bacteria that produce gastroenteritis, wound infections, and sepsis.

Other findings suggest that nearly 570 million people could face risks of increased flooding, bigger storms, and soil and water salinification that could result in them being permanently forced to leave their homes. At the same time, exposure to heatwaves has increased, with adults over 65 affected by 3.1 billion more days of heatwave exposure in 2020 compared to the baseline average between 1986 and 2005.

Rising temperatures are also contributing to an increase in food insecurity, according to the report. Higher temperatures have shortened the time in which plants reach maturity, causing lower yields. As such, the crop yield potential for maize has decreased by six per cent, for wheat by three per cent, and for rice by nearly two per cent, compared to 1981-2010 levels.

Despite the increased risks, the report reveals many countries are under-prepared for the health impacts that are already resulting from climate change and are expected to worsen over the coming decades.

A 2021 World Health Organisation (WHO) survey found just under half of countries surveyed have national health and climate change strategies. Nearly 70 per cent of countries said finance was the biggest obstacle to implementing an effective plan, with the report highlighting how climate change adaption funding directed at health systems represents just 0.3 per cent of total climate change adaption funding.

"The Lancet Countdown's report has over 40 indicators and far too many of them are flashing red," said Professor Anthony Costello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown.

"But the good news is that the huge efforts countries are making to kick-start their economies after the pandemic can be orientated towards responding to climate change and COVID simultaneously. We have a choice. The recovery from COVID-19 can be a green recovery that puts us on the path of improving human health and reducing inequities, or it can be a business-as-usual recovery that puts us all at risk."

The report also stressed that current COVID-19 recovery packages are not in line with the goals Paris Agreement and urges world leaders to commit to a green recovery that will reduce inequality by creating new green jobs, safeguarding health, and building healthier populations.

It notes that in 2018 countries were still subsidising fossil fuels with billions of dollars and warns that a fossil-fuel driven recovery may achieve economic targets in the short term, but will make it impossible to limit global warming to 1.5C and will lead to worsening climate impacts that are more likely to affect people in low-income countries, who contribute less to climate change.

"This is our sixth report tracking progress on health and climate change and unfortunately we are still not seeing the accelerated change we need," said Maria Romanello, lead author of the report. "At best the trends in emissions, renewable energy and tackling pollution have improved only very slightly. This year we saw people suffering intense heatwaves, deadly floods and wildfires. These are grim warnings that for every day that we delay our response to climate change, the situation gets more critical.

"Governments are spending trillions of dollars on the recovery from the Covid pandemic. This gives us an opportunity to take a safer, healthier, low carbon path, but we have yet to do so. Less than one dollar in five being spent on the Covid recovery is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the overall impact is likely to be negative. We are recovering from a health crisis in a way that's putting our health at risk.  

"It's time to realise that no one is safe from the effects of climate change. As we recover from COVID we still have the time to take a different path and create a healthier future for us all."  

Hydrogen: UN urges policymakers to beware fossil fuel 'vested' interests

Hydrogen: UN urges policymakers to beware fossil fuel 'vested' interests

UN backs green hydrogen as it publishes seven principles designed to guide policymakers' and business leaders' approach to scaling the low carbon fuel

The UN has warned policymakers to beware "vested" fossil fuel interests when drawing up plans to deploy hydrogen fuel to help decarbonise various industries, arguing that it remains unclear whether 'blue' hydrogen produced using fossil gas and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can be made compatible with global climate goals.

In a set of Hydrogen Principles designed to establish best practice on hydrogen for government and businesses, the green NGOs, experts, and and energy policy specialists that form the UN Marrakesh Partnership warned that 'green' hydrogen produced using clean power, electrolysis, and water is the only hydrogen production pathway "strictly aligned" with a "reliably 1.5C energy sector pathway".

The document, unveiled by UN high-level champions for climate action Nigel Topping and Gonzalo Muñoz this morning, notes that hydrogen has the potential to play a "pivotal role in supporting deep decarbonisation goals".

But it warns the fuel - which can also be produced using fossil gas, either with or without CCS technology - offers a lifeline to fossil fuel incumbents who "may see in hydrogen an opportunity and excuse to maintain and expand their gas and fuel-oriented infrastructure in a decarbonised future economy".

As such, the principles urge policymakers to "be acutely sensitive to agendas of vested interests - like fossil fuel incumbents - with large stakes in hydrogen's widespread deployment in a manner inconsistent with 1.5C pathways".

The Guiding Principles for Climate-aligned Hydrogen Deployment document calls for "rigorous accounting" and communication of lifecycle emissions from hydrogen production across all hydrogen pathways. Fossil-based hydrogen must turn to credible, independent lifecycle emissions monitoring and regulation to meet a "high burden of proof" for inclusion in 1.5C climate scenarios, it stresses.

Advocates of 'blue hydrogen' argue the use of CCS technologies can slash emissions from fossil gas-based hydrogen production, potentially providing a quicker and more cost effective route for scaling up the sector than building a green hydrogen industry largely from scratch.

But critics argue that CCS technologies are yet to be deployed at scale, costs remain uncertain, and blue hydrogen can still lead to greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from methane leakage associated with fossil gas exploration and production. As such, they maintain that green hydrogen provides a guaranteed means of delivering zero emission hydrogen and predict production costs can fall rapidly as the industry scales up.

The UN-backed report comes as governments around the world have set out plans for scaling hydrogen fuel production to help meet decarbonisiation objectives in industries that have to date been resistant to electrification due to high energy requirements, such as heavy industry and transport.

In the UK, ministers have come under fire from green groups for providing the lion's share of its hydrogen budget to date to 'blue' hydrogen projects spearheaded by fossil fuel firms that rely on natural gas and CCS, such as plans from BP to produce 1GW of the fuel at the H2 Teesside project by the end of this decade.

While campaigners fear these projects will keep the UK 'locked in' to fossil fuels for the decades to come, proponents of blue hydrogen counter that fossil fuel-derived hydrogen with CCS is a critical transition energy source that would enable a raft of industries and processes to decarbonise over the medium term while electrolyser capacity for producing green hydrogen is scaled up to meet growing demand.

But the UN report urges stakeholders to only turn to hydrogen when other solutions like efficiency and electrification are unavailable, noting that the rapid advance of electrification across various industries could ultimately leave hydrogen infrastructure stranded, or result in consumers and business that have invested in hydrogen solutions locked in to more emissions-intensive or expensive business models.

It identifies aviation, maritime shipping, steelmaking, and long-distance freight trucking as areas where hydrogen offers "promising potential" as a fossil fuel substitute, but warns that electrification offers "significant efficiency gains" for building heating and passenger mobility.

In the UK, the government is still mulling the use of low carbon hydrogen for home heating. While the Heat and Buildings Strategy published this week was largely focused on growing the heat pump market, the government has not ruled out the use of hydrogen for heating. It said it intends to make a decision on the fuel's role in the heating system by 2026 after establishing a 'hydrogen village' trial.

Unveiling the new principles, UN High Level Champion for Global Climate Action Nigel Topping said players in the fledgling low carbon hydrogen market needed to ensure their approaches to scaling or adopting the fuel were aligned with global climate and social equity priorities.

"It's high time for a principled approach to the energy transition," he said. "Efficiency, reliability, equity, and speed in the deployment of clean energy to meet the climate challenge are imperative. Suboptimal approaches that fail to recognise and account for technical, physical and market realities and moral imperatives will push us off course."

The principles also call for equity principles to "permeate the hydrogen value chain", noting that fossil and biomass-derived hydrogen are at risk of producing harmful air pollution. As such, it calls for policymakers to engage in proactive and meaningful dialogue with environmental justice advocates and communities impacted by hydrogen projects.

The document notes that the 'blue hydrogen' market could play a major role in reskilling workers in the oil and gas sector, but cautions that this could be a short lived solution, predicting that changing social norms around emissions and climate change and the growth of the renewables and the green hydrogen market could ultimately displace fossil fuels altogether.

"To proactively manage this, globally coordinated policy, business and investment can seek to support equitable workforce transitions in fossil fuel-dependent communities while encouraging green hydrogen as an export opportunity and leapfrog solution in developing countries," the report states.

The UN high level champions and Marrakesh Partnership said the principles would be updated over the coming years to reflect additional research, analysis, and experience.

The debate over the role of hydrogen in the net zero emission economy and the merits and pitfalls associated with green and blue hydrogen looks set to run and run, but the terms of the debate and the various challenges and risks faced by policymakers and businesses alike are becoming increasingly obvious. 

COP26: Rifts emerge in run-up to Glasgow Summit

COP26: Rifts emerge in run-up to Glasgow Summit

Reports emerge of disagreements within Cabinet over expectation management for crucial Summit, as emerging economies hit out at hosts' calls for countries to set net zero by 2050 targets

The challenges faced by the upcoming COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow were laid bare this morning, as a flurry of reports revealed disagreements within Cabinet over the goals for the meeting and fresh tensions between emerging economies, petrostates, the UK hosts, and coalition of countries calling an ambitious deal.

The Sun reported this morning that COP26 President-designate Alok Sharma was "raging" over Prime Minister Boris Johnson's ramping up of expectations that the summit can deliver a major breakthrough.

Johnson last month declared the Summit "simply must succeed" and has repeatedly called on world leaders to come to Glasgow with ambitious new pledges to accelerate climate action globally.

This week he sought to temper expectations slightly, acknowledging that securing a breakthrough agreement would be "extremely tough", but The Sun reported that Ministers were concerned hopes for the Summit were running too high.

"Nobody has pitched properly that this is not going to be some big hand of history moment where a new deal is done, so it's going to feel like a damp squib," one Minister told the paper. "Alok is raging. It's got completely out of control."

The Minister also raised concerns over the messaging surrounding the Summit, arguing that "they keep saying 'keep 1.5 alive' but I don't know what it means - It's incomprehensible".

COP26 insiders hit back at the criticism, telling The Sun that the meaning of the slogan was completely clear to the Summit's participants. "Communities on the front line of climate change understand very starkly that keeping global warming within 1.5C could quite literally be a matter of life or death," they said.

The Summit experienced something of a blow this week when the Russian government confirmed President Putin would not travel to Glasgow. China's President Xi is also not expected to make an appearance, having not left China since the start of the coronavirus crisis. However, the hosts received a boost this morning with reports India's Narendra Modi is to attend.

Seasoned observers of UN Climate Summits noted that the role of world leaders at the negotiations is often overstated, but the list of high profile 'no-shows' has fuelled fears that some leading economies are reluctant to sign off on an ambitious agreement.

Those fears were further stoked this morning by reports from Climate Home News that leading emerging economies are frustrated with calls from the UK four countries to come to Glasgow with plans to deliver net zero emissions by 2050.

The 'like-minded' group of 24 developing economies, which includes China, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, issued a ministerial statement that issued a strong rebuke to the UK, arguing the calls for net zero by 2050 targets went beyond the goals agreed under the Paris Agreement.

"Major developed countries are now pushing to shift the goal posts of the Paris Agreement from what have already been agreed by calling for all countries to adopt net zero targets by 2050," they wrote. "This new 'goal' which is being advanced runs counter to the Paris Agreement and is anti-equity and against climate justice."

The Paris Agreement includes a commitment to achieve net zero emissions during the second half of the century, alongside pledges to keep temperature increases 'well below' 2C while aiming to deliver 1.5C.

Scientists have advised that in order to stand a reasonable chance of limiting temperature increases to 1.5C the world should aim for net zero emissions by 2050, but the deliberate vagueness of the 'well below 2C' target and the prospect of delivering negative emissions in the second half of the century has led some to argue a slightly later target date may be compatible with the Paris Agreement.

Meanwhile, many developing nations have continued to maintain that it is unfair for poorer nations to face calls for them to adopt the same decarbonisation targets as industrialised economies - a rift that has characterised the UN climate talks since their inception in the 1990s.

The latest statement reiterates concerns over "climate justice", arguing that developed countries should "aim for their full decarbonisation within this decade" before calling on developing nations to adopt more ambitious targets.

"Promoting distant net zero targets for themselves amount to furthering carbon injustice and inequity," the group wrote. "If they continue to emit and occupy more atmospheric space for the next 30 years, the Paris Agreement's global goals and the [UN climate] Convention's objective will not be met."

China has announced a net zero target for 2060 and India is reportedly mulling a similar goal, with observers hopeful the Glasgow Summit will see both the Asian superpowers provide more details on how they intend to accelerate their decarbonisation efforts.

However, the latest statement provides a reminder that stark differences remain between the bloc of powerful emerging economies and the coalition of so-called 'high ambition' nations that brings together leading industrialised economies, including the UK, and many of those smaller nations most exposed to worsening climate impacts.

And further divisions were laid bare today by an investigation from Greenpeace's Unearthed website, which reveals how a group of major fossil fuel and food exporting countries have actively lobbied to dilute official reports produced by climate scientists on behalf of the UN.

Unearthed reported it had been handed a cache of documents that detail how a small clutch of nations is attempting to water-down the International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) upcoming assessment of the world's options for limiting global warming so as to excise calls to phase out coal power stations and reduce meat and dairy consumption.

Australia, Saudi Arabia, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and major beef producers such as Brazil and Argentina stand accused of seeking amendments to the IPCC's report that significantly weaken its conclusions and recommendations.

For example, some diplomats suggested phrases like "the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales" should be eliminated. In another section of the draft IPCC report on the "accelerated decarbonisation of electricity through renewable energy", Saudi Arabia complained the IPCC was "excluding natural gas and clean fossil fuel technologies e.g. CCUS and DAC from the decarbonization electricity generation Net Zero models".

Similarly, officials from Brazil requested the full deletion of sentences that pointed to the need to curb emissions from meat, including a seemingly innocuous passage that read: "Diets low in meat and dairy are already prevalent in many countries and cultures and their take-up is increasing from current low levels elsewhere. Plant-based diets can reduce GHG emissions by up to 50 per cent compared to the average emission intensive Western diet."

Observers warned the lobbying provided further evidence that some of the key players at COP26 remain willing to block measures that could curb demand for polluting products, even as they nominally back the Paris Agreement's overarching goals.

Net Zero Strategy: Ten things we learned

Net Zero Strategy: Ten things we learned

From nuclear and innovation funding to the continuing reluctance to engage with behaviour change, the Net Zero Strategy provided businesses and investors with the clearest insight yet on the government's thinking around how to accelerate the net zero transition

The government this week finally published its Net Zero Strategy, setting out its vision for how it plans to meet its climate goals while creating hundreds of thousands of green jobs and bolstering the competitiveness of the UK's economy. 

Bringing together a raft of existing commitments made over the past year and a sprinkling of new targets and policies, the roadmap provides a 350-plus page deep-dive into how the government aims to deliver a more sustainable future for the transport, heating, power, building, and industrial sectors. 

BusinessGreen wraps up some of the most interesting takeaways from the government's sprawling roadmap.

 

1. Could the Treasury be 'starting to get it'?

The Net Zero Strategy is undeniably impressive in its scope, stretching across the full breadth of the UK's economy, but to deliver on that vision the government needs to have the Treasury on board. As such, recent months have seen growing fears that the more ambitious or expensive elements of any vision set out by Number 10 would be torpedoed by the Treasury, fuelled by a string reports about a growing rift between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor over the cost of net zero.

To some extent, these fears appear to have been justified. For starters, in both the Net Zero Strategy and the Net Zero Review - the accompanying document published by the Treasury setting out how the net zero transition could be funded - Chancellor Rishi Sunak is notably absent. He made no official comment on his own department's Review and, unlike several of his Cabinet colleagues, did not provide a quote for the Net Zero Strategy's press release. Many have expressed concern that Sunak's failure to publicly endorse the net zero agenda - he also failed to mention it in his recent Conservative Party Conference speech - will prove a major barrier to its success and will translate into weak green funding pledges in the upcoming Autumn Budget and Spending Review.

Moreover, the public funding commitments that have made it in to the Net Zero Strategy have been widely condemned by campaigners as being far too modest to drive the transformative change that is needed. The govenrment claims will assign £26bn of public funds to mobilise a furher £54bn of private sector funds for its net zero programme over the spending period from 2021 and 2025, but critics have said the plan falls critically short on funding in several key areas and leans too heavily on private markets. The manifesto promise to invest £9.2bn in household energy efficiency remains frustratingly unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, critics have also warned the government is yet to address how it plans to make up for loss of public revenues currently generated through fuel duty, which are expected to fall sharply as the switch to electric vehicles gathers pace. The Review brands the decline in fuel duty and other carbon prices as a major risk for the UK's economy - an interpretation one commentator likened to complaining about shrinking revenues from tobacco taxes due to a reduced smoking rate.

Most worryingly, the document asserted that borrowing to help fund the net zero transition would be fiscally irresponsible and unfair on future generations, prompting widespread condemnation from commentators who argued that borrowing to fund low carbon infrastructure was one of the few areas where there is a strong moral and economic case for sharing the cost with the future generations that will benefit.

On the other hand, the Net Zero Review appears to have exceeded the low expectations set out for it. In its mission statement, the report does take a long-term view of the economic opportunities of climate action, as well as the costs of inaction, and concludes that the costs of doing nothing will ultimately far outweigh the costs of action. It also explores the ways the transition can be delivered in a way that is fair - a mission that few campaigners and policymakers would disagree with. Rebecca Newsom from Greenpeace suggested on Twitter that the Treasury "might actually be starting to get it".

The small group of Conservative MPs that continue to attack the cost of net zero were certainly left frustrated by the document, privately grumbling that it had been neutered by Number 10 and failed to provide them with the scary trillion pound headline cost estimate they were hoping for.

2. Technology costs will fall

In the report's introduction, the Prime Minister hymns the need to "unleash the unique creative power of capitalism to drive the innovation that will bring down the costs of going green, so we make net zero a net win for people, for industry, for the UK and for the planet". 

Campaigners have cautioned this tech-focused approach must be matched with targeted support to help lower income households benefit from clean technologies, and for the government to use the economic transition to encourage a shift in behaviours away from high-carbon, high-consumption activities that harm the planet and nature. They have called for the policies designed to reduce the costs of electric vehicles (EVs) should be matched by much greater investment in public transport that could not only "level" up regional inequalities, but reduce emissions and congestion by encouraging people to travel by bus or train instead of by car.

But the government's central mission to bring down the cost of crucial net zero technologies promises to deliver a huge boost for the green economy, and it is backed by a wave of policies, targets, and innovation funding programmes that should serve to quickly catalyse exciting new clean tech markets.

3. EVs and heat pumps are the big winners

Following years of pressure from campaigners and business leaders - including the Green Alliance, the Electric Fleets Coalition, the Aldersgate Group - the government signalled it would introduce a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate to accelerate the supply of EVs ahead of the UK's 2030 phase out of fossil fuel cars and vans. The policy, which has played a major role in driving uptake of EVs in California, requires that auto manufacturers sell a rising percentage of zero emission vehicles, in a bid to generate manufacturing economies of scale and bring down the costs of zero emission cars for consumers. The government has said it plans to introduce sales targets from 2024, after holding an consultation on the precise scope and timescale of the ZEV.

The government has also hinted that it would explore a similar supply-side policy instrument to incentivise competition and increase customer choice in the low carbon heat market in a consultation document titled Market-based mechanism for low carbon heat. In it, the government sets out a proposal to establish "an obligation on those companies selling fossil fuel heating appliances (gas and oil boilers) to achieve a growing number of heat pump, and potentially other low-carbon appliance, installations in parallel, in line with the trajectory towards 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028".

The government's growing acceptance that these supply-side measures can quickly catalyse clean tech progress should be a cause for celebration for green businesses. Not only will set sales targets for green equipment manfucturers kick relevant supply chains into action and unlcok jobs, they promise to rapidly increase consumer appetite for green technologies by bringing more options to market and boosting competition. As such, the mechanisms should propel the UK closer to its climate goals and put it at the forefront of emerging global markets that set to expand rapidly as the net zero transition gathers pace.

4. Lagging on lagging?

The focus on heat pumps may have been broadly welcomed, but experts fear the government is still failing to adequately meet the challenge of decarbonising the UK's notoriously inefficient building stock.

While the headline ambition to ensure no new gas boilers after 2035 has been welcomed by green business leaders and campaigners as a truly world-leading pledge that could catalyse the growth of the UK's emerging heat pump market, there are widespread fears the £450m three-year Boiler Upgrade Scheme  - which will provide households £5,000 off the cost of new boilers - is not ambitious enough and will fail to give the market the scale it requires.

Moreover, there are fears the government's strategy focuses too myopically on boilers and does not set out a roadmap for how the government intends to accelerate uptake of energy efficiency enhancements critical to curbing emissoins and bringing down household energy bills for consumers. The Green Homes Grant scheme abruptly axed by the government earlier this year targeted a broad range of energy efficiency enhancements for homes, from insulation and solar systems to double glazing, but there are no such provisions for these technologies in its replacement. It is wholly unsurpising that calls have grown in the wake of the strategy's publication for the government to set out how it plans to meet its manifesto commitment to spend £9.2bn on household energy efficiency in full.

While it is undeniable that both the scope and the budget for the government's building decarbonisation plans could do with a boost, the heating announcements are still an important move in the right direction. The 2035 phase out 'ambition' for gas boilers sends a clear signal to the market of the direction of travel - and a similarly clear cut sign to companies they should start retraining staff in preparation for a mass roll out of heat pumps. 

5. Behaviour change is still off-menu

In line with the government's long-standing reticence to engage with climate-related behaviour change, the Net Zero Strategy explicitly sets out the government's philosophy of working "with the grain of consumer choice" on all things net zero. As such, the roadmap is light on detail about how it plans to encourage the public to move away from high carbon forms of travel in favour of low carbon alternatives and makes no mention at all of how to reduce consumption of meat and dairy, a major driver of emissions in the UK.

The government stresses it is banking on the falling costs of green technologies, encouraged by subsidy programmes and incentives, to drive much-needed behaviour change across the economy, and it has also pledged to introduce regulation for better labelling of green products to help consumers make more informed choices.

The techno-optimistic approach is clearly designed to appeal to the maximum number of voters, and the logic that customers will embrace more sustainable behaviours when costs fall is sound. But policy experts have long warned that a strategy that focuses only on bringing down the costs of clean technologies and does not take aim at reducing demand for certain high-carbon activities threatens the pace of the net zero transition, with aviation and food emissions set to soar without a concerted effort to reduce appetite for flying and meat and dairy, for instance. Tim Lord, senior fellow at the Tony Blair Institute, warned on Twitter on Tuesday that government's avoidance of behaviour change could hurt progress towards its homes, transport, and agriculture goals. "Would be good to see ministers making the case for the changes needed rather than avoiding discussion on them," he said.

A strategy documnt that was briefly published on the Gov.uk website on Tuesday before being hastily withdrawn suggest the government is exploring how to drive behaviour change in support of its Net Zero Strategy. The report, produced for BEIS by Behavioural Insights Team, a social purpose company that was spun off from government, argues that tackling the climate crisis requires "significant behavioural change", including the rapid and widespread adoption of new technologies as well as a "significant reduction" in demand for high-carbon activities such as flying and eating ruminant meat and dairy. "To achieve such a transformation government will need to utilise all available policy levers and intervene at multiple levels", it notes, recommending the government leverage carbon taxes, a financial levy on high-carbon food, tax and statutory interventions and the law to force the public change.

The fact such work is being done is encouraging. The fact the report was quickly withdrawn is much less so.

6. Nuclear is set to be a key feature of Britain's net zero grid

The government has given its strongest indication yet that it sees a major role for nuclear in a decarbonised energy system, confirming it will make a final investment decision on a large-scale project before the end of this Parliament and launch a "nuclear enabling fund" to support the development of new projects. A development being eyed by a US nuclear consortium - the Wylfa project in Angelsey, Wales - gets a shout-out as one of the "optimum" projects the government intends to explore, while the Sizewell C project in Suffolk is understood to be the large-scale project front-runner.

The government's firm endorsement of new nuclear will not end the never-ending arguments over the role of nuclear on the UK's grid, but the policy announcements send the clearest signal yet that Ministers are committed to finding a way to finance new reactors. The energy industry will be watching closely to see precisely how the government intends to attract the necessary capital, at the same time as continuing to lobby for a faster timetable of clean power auctions. The Net Zero Strategy is broadly positive for the power sector, but big decisions await the government if it wants to deliver on the world-leading target of ensuring the UK delivers a net zero grid by 2035.

7. Industrial clusters in North of England win big

The government has picked the industrial regions that will be put on "track one" of its industrial decarbonisation programme, with the Hynet Cluster in Merseyside and North Wales and the East Coast Cluster which brings together industrial sites in Teesside and Humber seeing off competition from three rivals to win the lion's share of government funding for carbon capture and low carbon hydrogen production projects.

While the announcement is a big win for the two front runners, the hope is that the government's push to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies at these two sites by the mid-2020s will have a cascading effect on supply chains across the country that can bolster the competitiveness of carbon capture and hydrogen production technologies for operators in other regions. More cynical observers have questioned whether the government will meet its aim to develop two CCS projects by mid-decade at all, given that plans for commercial scale carbon capture installed at industrial sites have featured in government planning documents for more than a decade, yet have not yet materialised.

A cluster near Aberdeen in north east Scotland has been selected as a "reserve cluster" if one of the priority projects falls through, in a move that has branded as a blow for both North Sea oil and gas workers looking to transition to greener jobs and plans to build a direct air capture facility in the region.

8. Innovation funding pot boosted

But there may be hope still for the proposed Scottish direct air capture facility, with the Net Zero Strategy setting out a new target to deliver 5 MtCO2 annually of engineered greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) from technologies, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS), by the end of the decade. It has allocated £100m of innovation from the Net Zero Innovation Fund to ramp up capacity of the two technologies, which remain at the demonstration and pilot stages around the world, and to start exploring how it can monitor, report, and verify the fledgling greenhouse gas removals market. It has also vowed to launch a call or evidence on how the UK's post-Brexit emissions trading scheme can be used as a "potential long-term market" for GGRs.

Elsewhere, the government has topped up its £1bn Net Zero Innovation Fund designed to scale cutting edge clean technology projects by a further £500m and has pledged to use the UK Infrastructure Bank to "pull through low carbon technologies and sectors to maturity and scale".

The government's commitments to innovation will be welcome news to the various industrial and scientific coalitions that have called on governments around the world to start scaling a greenhouse gas removal market they believe will be critical to meeting net zero goals. While previous efforts to get carbon capture technologies off the ground have failed, the government's willingness to earmark significant chunks of sums towards the technologies of the future could belatedly see the nascent sector start to deliver at scale.

9. Nature and land use neglected 

Among the strategy's weak spots is its provisions for decarbonising agriculture and enhancin natural carbon sinks. While transforming land use and conserving nature are among the biggest levers the government has at its disposal to reach its zero goal, the strategy clearly fails to capitalise on this opportunity. In a damning statement, the Wildlife Trusts' Craig Bennett concluded there was "little new for nature and minimal extra investment" designed to harness nature's powers to mitigate and adapt to climate change. "There are significant gaps in the strategy - vastly more peatland restoration is needed and the government needs to ban peat burning right now or else they'll undermine their own efforts to repair this valuable carbon-storing habitat," he wrote, adding that the absence of commitments to protect the seabed were also "a glaring absence."

In addition, the strategy notably fails to set out a target or roadmap for slashing emissions from the UK's farming sector. And the government is yet to fully ban the burning of peatlands, among the most carbon-rich habitats in the UK, while environmental campaigners warned much more peat restoration is needed. Guy Shrubsole of Rewilding Britain pointed out the government's headline aim to restore 280,000 hectares of peat in England represents just 20 per cent of the country's peat - which begs the question about what the government intends for the rest.

Meanwhile, the Dasgupta Review - the landmark paper published earlier this year which sets out how economies risk collapse if biodiversity is not embedded into all decision making - gets just one fleeting mention in the report.

Plans are underway for the government to reform farming subsidies to incentivise land owners to better protect nature and enhance carbon sinks, but many observers remain fearful that the new scheme will take years to phase in and remains largely underpowered. It is clear from the Net Zero Strategy that the government has a long way to go before it fully engages with how it can reform agriculture and farming to comply with its net zero target.

10. Questions remain about the strategy's carbon assumptions

The government maintains that the cumulative measures set out in the strategy will set the country on course to meet the UK's official 2030 climate target submitted to the UN, its Sixth Carbon Budget for the mid-2030s, and its long term net zero by mid-century goal. But it has not published the sector-by-sector emissions reduction modelling or projections to back up this claim, prompting many to question the credibility of its headline claims and slam the government for a lack of transparency. 

The government has said it has these details, but it has declined to share them arguing that there is considerable and inevitable uncertainty over precisely how the transition will play out. In response to questions from BusinessGreen on the omission, the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) declined to comment.

A new analysis from Carbon Brief suggested the Strategy does provide a 'delivery pathway' that would put the UK economy on track to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget. But without more detail from the government on its assumptions, more funding from the Treasury to support key emissions-cutting programmes, and urgent decisions to finalise the wave of policy proposals set out by the Strategy questions will remain over whether the government really can deliver on its encouraging projections.

UK pension funds invest £128bn in fossil fuels, report reveals

UK pension funds invest £128bn in fossil fuels, report reveals

New report from Friends of the Earth reveals none of the major UK pension schemes have plans to divest from fossil fuels

UK pension funds have invested an estimated £128bn in fossil fuels, according to a new report published today by environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth.

Polluted Pensions? Clearing the air around UK pensions and fossil fuels examines the investments of six leading pension funds in the UK and finds investment in fossil fuels typically account for over four per cent of their portfolios. If the share is extrapolated to cover the entire pension sector then an estimated £128bn would be invested in fossil fuels, the equivalent of nearly £2,000 per every UK citizen.

The report also revealed that none of the UK's largest pension funds had made plans to fully divest from fossil fuels, despite a warning from the International Energy Agency in May that there can be no new investments in fossil fuel exploration if the Paris Agreement is to be met.

The authors of the report call on pensions funds and schemes to develop fossil fuel divestment policies, employ fund managers that recognise the need for divestment, and increase the transparency of their investments.

A growing number of pension funds in the UK have set net zero targets for their portfolios and maintain that they are working to rapidly curb the carbon footprint of their investors. However, many fund managers maintain it is more effective to engage with carbon intensive companies to encourage them to develop decarbonisation strategies, rather than simply sell their stakes to different owners.

Friends of the Earth maintains that divestment can play a valuable role in curbing overall emissions and starving carbon intensive firms of investment. As such the report does commend some UK based funds that have divestment plans, including the London Borough of Islington Pension Fund, which has committed to divest from all fossil fuels by 2022 and invest in green projects instead.

"With mere days until the UK hosts the UN Climate Change Conference and at a time when public concern about climate change is consistently growing, this report shows that pension funds are desperately lagging behind on climate action," said Rianna Gargiulo, campaign and community organiser at Friends of the Earth. "Beyond that, pension funds are also playing fast and loose with workers' hard-earned contributions by continuing to invest them in an industry in decline. 

"Anyone shocked to hear that their pension may be heavily invested in fossil fuel polluters should write to their pension fund, ask about its investments in the industry and call on it to divest."

Further findings from the report reveal that only seven of 27 of the UK's largest pension funds and schemes published detailed information about their investments, while half published no information about their investments.

In related news, the government-backed pension fund Nest announced on Tuesday that it had purchased a solar farm with 60,000 panels in an old landfill site in Reading, and promised each of its 10 million members would have money invested in the project.

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