Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry into Net Zero Government
Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter
Supplementary note from Dr Rebecca Willis, Research Fellow
1. Overall government framework for net-zero
Accountability and responsibility for net-zero: As we discussed, the UK’s Climate Change Act is world-leading, in setting a long-term target – now net-zero – and interim five-yearly budgets, overseen by the Committee on Climate Change. However, beyond the top-level responsibility held by BEIS, it is not clear who is responsible for delivering these targets. Many Departments and Agencies of government make reference to decarbonisation, but this is not linked into the national carbon budget, and it is not clear where responsibility for achieving carbon budgets lies. For example, the Department for Transport, who are responsible for the rollout of Electric Vehicles, have presided over increases in carbon emissions from transport. The six stated ‘strategic objectives’ of the Department for Transport make no direct reference to carbon reduction. The Committee on Climate Change offers advice on reduction pathways for different sectors of the economy, but individual Departments and Agencies are free to take or leave this advice.
We argue that all Government Departments and Agencies should have clear responsibilities and targets for carbon reduction in line with the overall national carbon budget.
The role of Local Government: This should also apply to local government. In recent years there has been increased attention to the role of local areas in energy and climate change. Through the Industrial Strategy, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have been encouraged to focus on low-carbon growth; funding has been provided for local energy system demonstrators; and five regional energy ‘hubs’ have been established to work with LEPs. In addition, pressure from activists has led to a large and growing number of local authorities declaring a ‘climate emergency’ and pledging to develop local climate strategies, often involving deliberation with local people in the form of a Citizens’ Jury or Citizens’ Assembly.
Despite this upsurge in local activity, energy governance mechanisms remain concentrated at the national level. Local authorities have no statutory duties on carbon, and activity on decarbonisation varies widely across authorities. We argue that a formal co-ordinating role should be devolved to local authorities. This should take the form of a new statutory duty on local authorities, requiring them to produce a Local Transformation Plan (LTP), which includes setting (in negotiation with central government) and meeting devolved carbon budgets; and the freedoms, flexibilities and funding to enable this process. The main purpose of the LTP would be to devolve responsibility to local areas, and to co-ordinate across energy, planning, transport and economic development.
Proposal for an Energy Transformation Commission (ETC): IGov has drawn up proposals for a new institution, provisionally called an Energy Transformation Commission (ETC). The ETC would oversee a direction-setting process, co-ordinating key actors. The ETC would not manage day-to-day regulatory issues; its function would be advisory, but it would set the overall direction within which other actors operate.
IGov’s vision for the ETC is informed by experience from elsewhere. The New York REV process is the most similar to our proposals. Lessons can also be learned from the Danish system of negotiated Energy Agreements, which are agreed between the major political parties and supported by the Danish Energy Agency.
The purpose of the ETC is not to replace elected politicians. Government and parliament would continue to set high-level goals, agreeing trajectories for carbon reduction under the carbon budget framework; social goals; and other aims such as industrial strategy and innovation. The ETC would work with stakeholders, as described below, to oversee the implementation of these goals. As such, it would provide the link between political direction-setting and day-to-day governance.
The guiding principles of an ETC would be to:
Transform: The ETC oversees a process of change over time – a transformation of the energy system. Its role is not to oversee a static market. The goals would be set through a negotiated process, overseen by government; the aims would be to decarbonise, to allow innovation, to reinvigorate competition, to develop efficient and effective energy services, and to protect vulnerable groups, including getting rid of fuel poverty as a major issue within the GB by agreeing a process for energy justice within the energy transformation.
Co-ordinate: The ETC would be the main focus of co-ordination between different energy actors, including governance and advisory bodies, private companies and other stakeholders. It would bring different groups together, depending on the issue; for example, on electric vehicles it would bring together BEIS, the Department for Transport, the NIC, companies involved in the sector, network operators and so on.
Engage: The ETC would engage a wider constituency in energy governance issues. This would include a stakeholder engagement process – eg businesses not directly involved in the energy industry; business associations; trade unions; consumer, environmental and other interest groups; etc. It would also include public engagement, to gather intelligence on public views and values on the transformation process.
You can download the full submission here: EAC net-zero enquiry supplementary evidence Rebecca Willis IGov University of Exeter