The publication of the Energy white paper: Powering our net zero future at the end of 2020 provided information on the government's plans for a strategy for the wider energy system to transform energy, support a green recovery, and create a fair deal for consumers. It also promised the publication in advance of COP26 of a number of further strategies, including an overarching net zero strategy.
On 22 September 2021 the Environmental Audit Committee held an oral evidence session attended by a number Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The question and answer session provided a number of indications on the likely timing of the publication of the promised documents and government initiatives.
Net zero strategy
The Government's net zero strategy is due to be published before COP26, but the Minister for DBEIS would not be drawn on a more specific date. Ultimate responsibility for delivering the strategy lies with DBEIS and the Minister identified the following other departments as also being key to delivery, DLUHG, Department for Transport and HM Treasury.
The strategy will "weave a thread across all the different Government policies towards net zero, trying to pull them all together into a comprehensive strategy", said the Minister. He also confirmed that it is intended that the strategy will outline the role of local authorities in that process, but the Minister did not think that delegating new powers to local authorities was needed, though he did not rule it out entirely.
The Minister for DBEIS rejected the view that a national delivery framework should be incorporated in the net zero strategy, and for it to include local authorities.
When questioned on the National Audit Office recommendation that a clear lead in central Government be identified for working with local authorities to deliver net zero, the Minister for DBEIS confirmed, by omission, that no central lead had been identified and that different persons were leading on different aspects of policy. The Minister undertook to consider the appointment of a cross-governmental taskforce.
On being questioned on the pathway for the planning system, the Minister for DLUHC referred to a Planning Bill being in the "pipeline", and that as part of the planning reforms government would "also be doing a full review of the national planning policy framework document" to ensure, that there is further alignment while also stating that "there is already good stuff in it".
He stated that the Planning Bill was expected to "come in reasonable time", and aligned with it would be a review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Future homes standard
The Minister for DLUHC stated that the future homes standard from 2025, would be setting the ambitious target for carbon emissions from homes in the future. When questioned on the timeline the Minister referred to the part L uplift in the building regulations in 2022 to ensure that properties are built to a higher energy-efficient standard with appropriate ventilation as an interim measure. The 2022 interim update to Part L will require at least a 31% reduction in emissions compared to current standards. Alongside this, Part F, which governs ventilation, will also be updated. Following that, the Minister indicated there would be a number of consultations with industry and business before the formal policy would be launched.
Heat and buildings strategy
The Minister for DLUHC indicated that new standards to achieve net zero in policy not related to building of new homes (eg permitted development rights, policies concerning the wider urban environment, public buildings, education buildings and others), would be set through the publication, "soon", of the heat and buildings strategy which will cover future houses and commercial properties. Alongside the strategy it was confirmed government would be consulting on a number of the proposed standards.
The Minister for BEIS referred to the imminent publication the consultation on giving local authorities power to zone certain areas for heat networks.
UK investment bank
In responding to a question on how rigorous the green scrutiny of the UK investment bank would be the Minister for BEIS stated that the general assumption is that the bank "will not consider lending or providing any other support to projects involving extraction, production, transportation and refining of crude oil, natural oil, gas or thermal coal, with very limited exemptions. The exemptions include improving efficiency, health and safety, environmental standards and so on, but the presumption is no."
Only barely five weeks to go before COP26, watch this space!