Setting ambitious goals and relying on future technical innovation is not enough
Last month, the Climate Change Committee delivered a withering verdict on the government’s failure to come up with a proper plan to deliver on its admirably ambitious net zero targets. As the committee released two dismal progress reports, which showed Britain behind on its goal of a 78% cut to greenhouse gases by 2035, its chairman, Lord Deben, observed: “The policy is just not there. It’s clear we need to step up very rapidly.”
On Wednesday, ministers were at it again. As they contemplate a societal transition on an epochal scale, affecting all aspects of people’s everyday lives, Boris Johnson and his ministers appear to believe they can get by through a combination of setting dates and making heroic technological assumptions. This time it was the turn of the transport minister, Grant Shapps, to unveil eye-catching net zero pledges. According to the government’s delayed transport decarbonisation plan, polluting diesel and petrol lorries are to be banned in Britain by 2040 at the latest, and all types of transport will be decarbonised by 2050. Yet as the Road Haulage Association pointed out, zero-emissions heavy goods vehicles are still an aspiration rather than a reality, and Mr Shapps has delivered no detail on how the bill for this hypothetical transition will be met. In aviation, where the government has pledged net zero internal UK flights by 2040, there is a similar gap between rhetoric and reality. The notion that hydrogen aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels can obviate the need to fly less, at least in the medium term, is fanciful.