On 21 April 2021, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following motion:
Lord Teverson to move that the Grand Committee takes note of the case for the integration of policymaking in (1) national, and (2) local, government to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the United Kingdom.
In its report to Parliament in June 2020, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) argued that the scale of the net zero goal required it to be “embedded and integrated across all departments, at all levels of government and in all major decisions that impact on emissions”. Similarly, the National Audit Office (NAO) stated that “all government bodies, including departments, arm’s-length bodies and executive agencies, have a role to play”.
The Government agreed that net zero should be “a core government goal and integrated into all policymaking where appropriate”.
Policy coordination in central government
The NAO stated that overall responsibility for the net zero target rests with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It said cross-government coordination arrangements included:
- two ministerial cabinet committees, one on climate action strategy and the other on policy implementation;
- a national strategy implementation group, made up of senior officials from across departments; and
- a net zero steering board for strategy and delivery.
The NAO commented that this approach amounted to “collective ownership”, rather than having “a single central body with the responsibility and levers to achieve change”. It argued that this gave rise to risks, including that the policy goal could have insufficient priority, leadership and technical capability.
The CCC recommended steps to improve integration in net zero policymaking, such as:
- a cross-departmental review of the Government’s core strategy;
- new cross-government frameworks to ensure that responses to net zero, which may cut across several different policy areas, can be designed and implemented; and
- reviews of overarching planning documents, such as HM Treasury’s green book and the national planning policy framework, to ensure they are consistent with net zero.
The NAO also recommended a cross-government plan, as well as regular reviews of the effectiveness of current oversight arrangements.
In August 2020, the Prime Minister’s Council for Science Technology published advice to the Government on using a ‘whole systems approach’ to the transition to net zero. It said this would “reveal the effects that policy decisions in all areas of government will have on delivery of net zero, enabling decision-makers to understand how different policies interact and influence the transition of the whole economy towards net zero”. To achieve this, it recommended:
- stronger oversight institutions, governance and leadership structures;
- improved analysis, information flows and reporting of data; and
- maximising the contribution of technology, including through mobilising financial systems and through international collaboration.
The Government’s response to the June 2020 CCC report agreed on the need to improve coordination, stating that “we remain committed to incentivising joined-up working and are considering how cross-government planning and performance processes could be further improved”.
Specific policies recently introduced include:
- The Environment Bill, currently going through Parliament, includes a requirement that the Government should prepare a policy statement on a set of “environmental principles”. One principle is how “environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies”. The bill would require ministers to “have due regard to the policy statement” when making policy.
- HM Treasury has revised the green book to place a greater emphasis on environmental considerations. HM Treasury is also carrying out a further review of whether the current approach to valuing future benefits adequately accounts for environmental effects.
Local and regional authorities
Both the CCC and the NAO stressed the key role of different tiers of government in the transition to net zero.
In a specific report on the role of local authorities, the CCC said the net zero target “can only be achieved if government, regional agencies and local authorities work seamlessly together”. It stated that local authorities have powers or influence over a third of emissions in local areas. Further, it argued that central government policies can achieve a “far greater impact” if locally supported. However, it stated that it would “not be appropriate for local authorities to set (or be set) binding carbon budgets given the multiple drivers of emissions, many of which are beyond their control”.
In some areas, the CCC said that, without integration of policy, national and local initiatives could conflict. These included housing, where a national target to build more homes might override local policies to require higher standards of energy efficiency. Another was transport planning, where local aims to improve walking or cycling facilities might be obstructed because business cases are required to prioritise traffic flow.
The CCC summarised its recommended collaborative approach as requiring:
- an agreed policy framework, incorporating local and national climate action;
- appropriate long-term financing to support local authorities, particularly given resource pressures arising from the pandemic;
- local operational flexibility; and
- coherent powers to facilitate the delivery of policy.
It also proposed that national government should provide centralised information provision and data gathering facilities, as local authorities reported they currently waste time and resource using a variety of interfaces in these areas.
The CCC recognised the need for an integrated approach between tiers of government, such as where there were two-tier authorities. Different local authorities would also need to work together; for example, on regional switchovers of heat sources and planning issues that crossed authority boundaries.
The Government’s response to the June 2020 CCC report noted a number of ways in which it was already working with local authorities. These included financial support to redesign town centres, install electric vehicle charging points and properly enforce building standards. It committed to hosting a forum for dialogue on climate change adaptation between local authorities, central government and delivery bodies. The Government also referenced its 2018 25-year environment plan, stating that local authority involvement was considered “throughout the plan”.
The Government has committed to engaging further with local authorities in designing its net zero strategy. The Government has said this strategy will be published in the run up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). COP26 is scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November 2021.
The CCC said that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland account for around a fifth of UK emissions and therefore have an “integral role to play” in reaching the net zero target. It reported that the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments have agreed carbon reduction targets, while Northern Ireland is considering its own climate legislation.
The CCC said that devolved governments were particularly significant because, “while some important policy levers are held in Westminster, powers are fully or partially devolved in most key areas”. These include transport, electric vehicle charging, home heating efficiency, land use, waste, carbon trading and education. However, it also argued that coordination between national and devolved governments would be beneficial even in areas reserved to central government, such as the phasing out of petrol and diesel car sales. This was because the devolved administrations could support such changes through public engagement and planning.
In the Government’s response to the CCC, it referred to a number of areas where it was already working with the devolved administrations. These included the industrial decarbonisation strategy and the UK’s approach to carbon pricing.
Regulators and other public bodies
The CCC highlighted regulators and other public bodies as important to the delivery of net zero. It said that net zero should be added to regulators’ core objectives and given equal priority with others, such as consumer protection and economic efficiency. It referred to energy and utility regulators, such as Ofwat, Ofgem and the Oil and Gas Authority, but also to others such as financial and pension regulators and the National Audit Office.
The CCC also argued that the Bank of England should “fully integrate” climate risk into monetary policy, and that net zero targets should be mandatory for financial institutions.
Considering regulation, the Government has tabled amendments to the Financial Services Bill, currently going through Parliament. These would require the financial regulators, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA), to have regard to the net zero target when making rules. During earlier stages of the bill, the Government had argued that such changes to the FCA and PRA’s remit were not necessary.
Regarding the Bank of England, in the March 2021 budget, the Government announced that the remit of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee would be expanded to “reflect the importance of environmental sustainability and the transition to net zero”.
Coronavirus and the recovery
The NAO found that the coronavirus pandemic had “set back” the arrangements put in place to coordinate net zero planning; for example, there have been fewer meetings of the relevant boards than had been planned.
It also reported that some resources had been redeployed to consider how net zero could be integrated into policies to assist the post-pandemic recovery. Some of the Government’s conclusions were published in November 2020. They included supporting green jobs and making the UK the world’s “number one centre for green technology and finance”.
The CCC also linked the recovery and net zero, arguing that “climate investments can support the economic recovery and secure good jobs for the long term”.
In the March 2021 budget, the Government announced a new UK infrastructure bank, initially with £12 billion of capital. The Government said that the bank’s purpose was to “provide financing support to private sector and local authority infrastructure projects across the UK, to help meet government objectives on climate change and regional economic growth”.
- House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Achieving Net Zero, 5 March 2001, HC 935 of session 2019–21
- Tom Sasse et al, Net Zero: How Government Can Meet Its Climate Change Target, Institute for Government, September 2020
- Camilla Hodgson et al, ‘Ministers accused of failing to show commitment to UK net zero target’, Financial Times (£), 12 April 2021
Cover image by RawFilm on Unsplash.