Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Net zero target in jeopardy through lack of long-term planning from Government

  • Report finds Government did not consider what levels of longer-term investment might be required up to 2050 to support net zero tech
  • Warns of lack of clarity for businesses and lack of support for consumers

A lack of long-term planning from the Government risks jeopardising the UK’s legally-mandated pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, particularly in the context of the government's announcement in September 2023 to delay the phasing out of new fossil fuel vehicles and heating systems.

In a wide-ranging report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warns that too often the Government’s plans for supporting the progression of net zero technologies are short-term, putting at risk the large amounts of private investment needed to achieve net zero by 2050.

The report finds that the Government, when setting out timescales for new technologies to be delivered in 2021, did not consider what levels of long-term public investment might be required up to 2050 to support new technologies to deliver net zero. This is despite the Government believing that long-term public investment will be needed to encourage the private sector to invest. To hit the 2050 target, new low-carbon investment in the UK from both public and private sectors will have to increase by two to three times each year from last year’s estimated total of £23 billion. Most of this increase would need to come from a private sector encouraged to invest by Government action.

The PAC’s inquiry also identified a lack of clarity and support from government for both businesses and consumers. The Government is dependent on businesses on the ‘supply’ side delivering successful innovation to reach net zero, but the report finds that businesses are finding sources of public sector funding difficult to navigate and access. On the ‘demand’ side, the report warns that developing new technology may be taking priority over focusing on the practical challenges consumers might face in taking them up. The PAC is calling on the Government to specifically assess these challenges.

The report further contains warnings on oversight and transparency in supporting innovation to deliver net zero. There is no single person or organisation with responsibility for overseeing the performance of government support for innovation. The lack of such oversight risks a lack of targeted support, a clear focal point for businesses and researchers, and continuing barriers to market deployment.

On transparency, the PAC finds that there is no clear mechanism for publicly reporting progress on government support for technologies which are priorities for achieving net zero such as offshore wind and nuclear advanced modular reactors. Without such a mechanism, it is not clear whether initial expectations for particular technologies are being met.

Chair's comment

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Our Committee has warned time and again of the damage that can be done to delivering policy by the lack of long-term planning and funding from government. There is no more critical area where this is true than on net zero. If the Government continues to leave businesses to peer through a haze of uncertainty, then that investment will not be forthcoming. Businesses and consumers need certainty.

On supporting innovation for net zero, the Government needs to agree with itself on what success looks like, what failure looks like, and report transparently on progress. Such basic building blocks being absent four years after a pledge critical to our very way of life was made is disappointing. The Government must call an end to this faltering approach, or risk spelling out to industry, the public and the world that the UK is simply not serious about tackling climate change.”  

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