COP 26: UK lags behind in climate innovation

·3 min read
COP 26: UK lags behind in climate innovation
Onward UK said: 'Net zero means shifting, at record pace, from a heavily fossil-fuel dependent economy to one based on low-carbon sources within the space of a generation.' Photo: PA

The UK government will fail to deliver on its commitment to hit net zero emissions by 2050 unless it takes “radical action,” a new report has said, as the country gets ready to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the end of the month.

This is despite the UK decarbonising faster than any other G20 country since 1990.

Think tank UK Onward said Britain is trailing behind other countries in the development of technologies that are likely to be critical to decarbonisation in the next thirty years. 

Ted Christie-Miller, report co-author, said: “Net zero means shifting, at record pace, from a heavily fossil-fuel dependent economy to one based on low-carbon sources within the space of a generation.

"If we don’t act fast, we will pay the price in higher emissions, lower competitiveness, greater societal disruption and higher costs for consumers and taxpayers.”

The report found that between 2012 and 2016, German firms filed 3.5 times as many environmental patents as British firms, and China now manufactures 73% of electric vehicle batteries and 80% of solar panels globally.

Read more: Global supply chains and net zero to dominate G7 talks

It also said two of the UK’s most carbon-intensive sectors — transport and construction — spent less than 0.1% of annual turnover on research and development (R&D) last year.

To achieve official targets — such as the adoption of 600,000 heat pumps by 2028 and all new car sales to be electric or hybrid by 2030 — there needs to be a "step change in levels of production and demand."

Based on current trajectories, the report said heat pump installations will not meet the target until 2057, and nationwide rollout to 27 million homes will not be reached until 2187 — "a century and a half too late."

One of the major challenges is that there are currently only 1,200 plumbers capable of installing heat pumps in the whole of the UK.

Among suggestions made by Onward is making heat pumps more affordable by making a proportion of the cost tax deductible and re-introducing a boiler scrappage scheme to allow people to trade in their old boiler.

Onward also recommended the creation of a carbon accounting regulator to oversee the monitoring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions, reductions and removals across the economy.

It has also called for an increase in VAT on carbon-intensive products, and a reduction on low-carbon products.

Read more: UK must mandate top firms to plan for net zero, warns WWF

“This would incentivise consumers and businesses to use more sustainable products and services, driving innovation in these sectors in the process," it said.

The think tank believes a laboratory to conduct high-risk net zero research to overcome energy system challenges is also needed.

Last week the World Wide Fund for Nature called on the UK government to instruct Britain’s leading companies to plan for net zero climate emissions.

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