Henning Diederichs, Public Sector Financial Reporting Manager at ICAEW, looks at the challenges the government will need to overcome if it is to achieve its objective of decarbonising the UK economy over the next quarter of a century.
The Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener report outlines the broad direction of travel for all sectors of the economy. One could argue that it doesn’t contain enough detail to be really useful, but at 367 pages, it is probably already long enough. Instead, it provides a useful overview and the supporting plans on specific areas, such as transport, energy, etc, should then provide the detail necessary to put firm action into place.
Few can doubt that the government has the ambition to be carbon neutral by 2050, but a number of key elements are still missing – mainly funding. There appear to be too many different initiatives and funding pots, and it is difficult to see what funding is practically available. Funding initiatives do not always equate to new money being made available, sometimes it is money that was already promised or was initially allocated for another policy area.
Another area of concern is the interaction between central and local government. Local government will have a vital role to play in achieving net zero, but years of austerity have left them ill equipped to take on such a mammoth task, lacking both financial and human capacity.
Central government has already been reporting on some key sustainability metrics via the Greening Government Commitments. That is a good start, but the heavy lifting is yet to come.
Surveys have shown that the public is behind the sustainability agenda, at least as long as they don’t have to pay for it. This will present a challenge for politicians of all parties as the ambition to go green may encounter resistance when some of the more difficult decisions need to be made. Record oil and gas prices might accelerate our path to renewals or it might cause resentment against some of the green levies, which makes our energy even more expensive.
Saving the planet was never going to be easy and the government has set out some ambitious targets for public bodies to play their part in that cause. While there is a lot still to be worked out, what is clear is that sustainability is now at the heart of decision-making across the entire public sector and real change is possible.
Find more information on the profession’s engagement with net zero in ICAEW’s Climate Hub.
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