The government should seize net zero opportunities, not shy away from them

TDUK is disappointed to see the government roll back on its hugely important net zero commitments.

This week, Rishi Sunak announced a major retreat on some of the government’s biggest green commitments, including a delay on the ban on petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035 as well as a reversal on home heat pump installations. Also included in the announcement were changes to proposed energy efficiency targets for households, including rental properties.

The government argues the latest rollbacks allow the UK to achieve net zero in a more “proportional” way, ensuring green targets are achieved without “bankrupting the British people”.

However, under closer inspection, this latest announcement is a political maneuver from the Conservative’s to drive an environmental policy wedge between themselves and Labour for the upcoming general election.

As seen in the recent Uxbridge by-election, the Conservatives won ground campaigning on an anti-ULEZ and therefore anti-net zero platform. Sunak believes he can outflank Labour on this issue and advertise the Conservatives as more pragmatic and cost-effective regarding net zero.

The announcement is unwelcome news for the retrofit agenda, with the scrapping of EPC C grade requirements a big step back in our mission to tackle the UK’s notoriously inefficient housing stock.

This also has severe economic ramifications. Though the latest announcements do not impact the timber sector directly, it risks reducing already fragile confidence in the UK economy, with the government again failing to provide the policy continuity and commitment required for business investment.

This has become a theme of the current government, with the rollback the latest in a series of U-turns and manifesto contradictions. Whether it be the ‘Kami-Kwasi’ budget of 2022 or the constant flip-flopping on post-Brexit UKCA marking, the Conservatives are harming investor confidence in the UK and working hard to tarnish their reputation as the “party of business”.

The announcement also continues a growing and worrying trend of net zero scepticism within the government.

Since the ousting of Boris Johnson last year, there has been a managed decline in the Conservatives commitment to net zero, with Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak very much lukewarm on the issue.

Many Conservative MPs are fixated on the high costs of net zero, however their views are often unfounded. Net zero offers a wealth of economic opportunity, with future growth almost certain to be driven by the creation of green technology and solutions.

We believe a net-zero strategy with effective and targeted regulation can work to achieve environmental goals, whilst providing much needed economic stimulus.

Our industry is a great example of this. By regulating building emissions through limits on embodied carbon, we can boost demand for low-carbon wood construction products, stimulate local and regional business, and significantly reduce built environment emissions. Increased use of timber can also act as a catalyst for tree growth both at home and abroad, with greater demand requiring more tree planting and more forest.

On behalf of the timber industry, we urge the government to reaffirm its commitment to tackling climate change and continue exciting plans to decarbonise the UK economy.

Rather than shy away from net zero for short term political gain, the UK should be looking to spearhead this green revolution, providing the policies and incentives capable of jumpstarting the net zero economy.

This extends to the timber sector, where we eagerly await the publication of the Timber in Construction Policy Roadmap, which looks to outline how we can expand low-carbon timber construction.