The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) and the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) say there is “lots to welcome” in Chris Skidmore’s Net Zero Review, which outlines opportunities for the UK to lead on climate change.
Other leading industry figures have also welcomed the publication of Mission Zero, although some have been discouraged by certain elements of the review and what they see as significant omissions.
Acknowledging that there is “lots to welcome” in the review, Stephen Marcos Jones, ACE’s CEO, said the overarching take-away is that the review makes clear the economic opportunity of our journey to net zero.
This also reinforces the organisation’s views that the UK's current economic challenges should not detract from longer-term ambitions on climate.
“We welcome the specific focus of using infrastructure to unlock net zero and support the ambition to develop a cross-sectoral Infrastructure Strategy by 2025,” he said.
“Our members at ACE and EIC, with a unique role in the supply chain as the delivery partners of choice for government – as well as in-depth specialist technical knowledge and understanding – are well placed to support the delivery of this review.
“We were delighted to see many of our policy asks, recently published in our 2023 manifesto, explored in the review.”
He added the ‘net zero local big bang’ tallies with many of ACE’s regional advocacy points on driving local industrial strategies.
In addition, he adds: “We were pleased to see a recommendation to simplify local net zero funding, consolidate different pots and reduce competitive bidding.
“We were also pleased to see a recognition of the need for whole systems thinking around creating an R&D and technology roadmap – this would help our members to plan to play a crucial role in delivery.
“Finally, it was refreshing to see a recognition of the vital role that skills will play in our move to net zero, and the proposal for changes to the apprenticeship levy in England is interesting, however we would need to ensure that any changes would not be at the expense of quality or apprenticeships’ value to employers.”
He added that ACE looks forward to working constructively with government and other stakeholders to help turn these recommendations into reality.
Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) said: “Chris Skidmore’s clarity in his call for accelerated action is as compelling as it is commendable, nailing the argument that inaction now will cost us all in the long run.
“Given the economic opportunities offered by leading the pack internationally, securing policy and funding stability over the coming years is paramount.
“The report’s specific proposals on the importance of forward-looking investments in electricity grid infrastructure and a plan for delivering engineered greenhouse gas removals are two examples of recommendations the Commission has been advocating.”
He adds the NIC’s own work on decarbonising the energy sector, to be published in the next National Infrastructure Assessment later this year, “will offer concrete and costed proposals to inform an updated National Infrastructure Strategy that helps deliver the vision set out powerfully in this report”.
The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has also welcomed the findings of Mission Zero.
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC said: “The Skidmore Review rightly recognises the enormous economic prize of jobs, growth, and innovation on offer if the UK takes proactive action to seize the opportunities of net zero.
“Our members and partners across the industry are resoundingly consistent and committed to working at speed and scale to deliver a decarbonised, net zero built environment and reaping the economic and growth opportunities that this brings.
“We welcome the range of recommendations in the Review to support the decarbonisation of our homes, buildings, communities and cities.
“Many of our members would even support going further in several areas, including introducing a net zero test for the planning system, requiring solar power on new homes, and an end date for new fossil fuel boilers in homes by 2028.”
She added UKGBC urges the government to decisively take forward the recommendations so that the UK can accelerate progress towards net zero and “embrace this era of opportunity at a time when our economy needs it most acutely”.
Rachel Skinner CBE, executive director at WSP and past president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said Mission Zero answers the exam question about whether the UK’s pursuit of net zero is worth it with a resounding “yes”.
“Business, the public sector and local communities have spoken; there is a clear mandate for climate action towards net zero,” she said.
“Speeding up investment and effort will reduce cost and climate risk, while helping the UK hold onto its leadership position on the world stage.
“Through an infrastructure and built environment lens, we know that the changes required – physical and digital, cultural and behavioural, local and national – are key to unlocking net zero and its wider benefits for growth, skills and resilience.
“The Skidmore Review helps to cut through net zero complexity, recognising that success will rely as much on local change through delegation, clear information, meaningful incentives and trust as it does on clear, stable government commitment to delivery.”
However, Sarah Peterson, Harley Haddow's energy and sustainability director, said the plan to abolish gas boilers over the next 10 years will affect vulnerable households and would also take significant management.
“Whilst moving away from gas is hugely important in our road to net zero, this needs to be carefully managed,” she said. “This is not a quick fix scenario and could result in pushing households into fuel poverty.
“Funding packages do not cover the additional impacts on older properties, which will most likely need to replace their full heating system, including pipework and radiators, which could cost a significant amount in addition to heat pump costs.
“Alongside the need for an extension to heat pump funding past the current date (2025), the government need to significantly invest in skilled staff to install and maintain the new equipment.”
She added skills shortages were a key issue and recent analysis of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) database finds there are around 1,300 companies certified by the MCS that install heat pumps.
“In order to meet government installation targets the industry will need to add roughly 5,000 to 7,000 engineers every year from 2025 until 2035,” she said.
“Whilst heat pumps are the way forward in achieving net zero, the ban of gas boilers and resources currently available and needed in the future, have to be approached very carefully.”
Jonathan Maxwell, founder and CEO of SDCL, also said the review had done very little to address the issue of the inefficiency of the energy system and the fact that most energy is wasted, something he describes as “most of the problem when it comes to achieving net zero”.
“Of course we welcome the recommendations that relate to energy efficiency, and in particular support the proposals for regulations to be set for existing buildings to achieve minimum energy efficiency standards by 2030 and the need for the public sector to lead by example,” he said.
“But there is an urgent need for the government to do much more, and much more quickly.
“The NHS is responsible for 40% of public sector emissions, and by addressing this wastage the government could save billions of pounds which could be spent far more efficiently.
“We are astonished that none of the ‘ten priority missions’ involve the largest and lowest cost source of carbon emission reductions and productivity gains for the UK, which is energy efficiency improvements in the commercial, industrial, public and transport sectors.”
Mr Maxwell said he recognised energy efficiency for households was identified in the review as a priority, but said: “This is dealing with a smaller part of the biggest problem. While low carbon additions to centralised grid generation are badly needed, this will not happen overnight.
“Adding new energy into an inefficient system would be an obvious missed opportunity when energy efficiency can be delivered at scale and quickly and in the meantime.
“Efficiency should be the priority. We simply don’t have the time or energy to waste.”
Michelle Gardner, deputy director of policy at Logistics UK, said the organisation was encouraged to note the report’s recognition of the opportunities and challenges for the logistics sector to decarbonise.
“The logistics industry is keen to play its role in the decarbonisation agenda, however as a highly complex industry, this will not happen overnight,” she said.
“Logistics UK is encouraged by the review’s recognition of the opportunities and challenges involved and welcomes a number of recommendations – aimed at supporting industry on this journey – made within the report.
“Logistics, like many other sectors of the UK economy, is facing increasing cost pressures and Logistics UK has long-called for greater certainty from government to allow businesses to plan and invest in the necessary technologies and infrastructure.
“We are therefore pleased that the review has recommended government provide this long-term certainty to allow businesses confidence in the knowledge that UK policy or funding will not rapidly change without very good reason.”
The organisation hopes this report will help shape future government policy.
“Modal-shift has a significant role to play in the decarbonisation of industry and Logistics UK also welcomes the report’s recommendation that government should continue to work with the sector to set out a clear programme by 2024, to accelerate decarbonisation, building on the Future of Freight Plan,” said Ms Gardner.
Chris Richards, director of policy at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) said it was extremely encouraging to see today’s net zero review describe infrastructure as ‘the key that will unlock net zero.’
“We could not agree more that infrastructure has a vital role to play in reaching our climate goals, and the report’s recommendations align with the ICE’s position that economic levelling up ambitions and net zero targets should be linked,” he said.
“You can’t succeed at one while ignoring the other.
“However, in the current economic crisis the government needs to make it easier for people to make greener choices across key areas like improving home energy efficiency and access to reliable public transport.
“Additional place-based initiatives and funding will be instrumental in empowering people to make the lasting behavioural changes needed.”
Mr Richards said ICE urged the government to accept the recommendations in this net zero review and to implement them as soon as possible.
“There is no time to waste," he said.
Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, said the Skidmore Review was “absolutely right” to emphasise that the net zero transition is a major pro-business and pro-investment opportunity.
“Businesses have long recognised this, a fact that is reflected in the rapidly growing number that are taking on ambitious net zero emission targets backed by clear delivery strategies,” he said.
“In the challenging economic and social context currently faced by the UK, a rapid shift towards net zero offers much needed investment, competitiveness and job creation opportunities for UK businesses and investors in varied sectors such as construction, energy, manufacturing, engineering, transport and finance.
“The findings and recommendations of the Skidmore Review are based on an impressively comprehensive engagement with businesses and civil society, which provides a direct window into what businesses, public bodies and civil society need from the UK government to deliver net zero and secure the economic opportunities associated with it.”
Mr Molho added the government should use the recommendations of the review to produce an updated and strengthened net zero strategy early this year.
“It should also crack on with some of the most pressing policy recommendations highlighted in the report, such as on grid infrastructure, full power sector decarbonisation, energy efficiency in homes, resource efficiency, and business models to support the roll out of CCS, hydrogen and other low carbon solutions urgently needed by heavy industry,” he added.
Amanda Blanc, chief executive of Aviva, described the review as “comprehensive and ambitious” adding she hopes both the government and opposition parties will take careful note and act swiftly together on its recommendations.
“In particular, as co-chair of the UK Transition Plan Taskforce, I strongly agree that the government should put in place its own ‘clear, consistent and stable transition plan’ setting out the detail of how the UK will meet its climate commitments,” she said.
“In turn, this will unlock the business actions and investment needed to make the transition a reality.”