Net Zero – a nice to have?

Alasdair Grainger Alasdair Grainger

The first half of 2022 couldn’t have looked more different than the closing months of 2021 – especially from a climate perspective.

The year started with President Biden’s inauguration, where he made tackling climate change a political priority. In the UK, government leaned heavily into their new Net Zero agenda, publishing their Net Zero strategy and announcing legislation that would place an additional regulatory burden on companies to report on their emissions.

Ministers were everywhere (COVID-19permitting) in the run-up to the United Nations COP26 gathering. The COP 26 Conference, hosted in Glasgow, was the capstone for a year where the political focus was firmly on the progression approaches to tackle climate change.

Then came 2022. Geopolitical unrest, growth at its lowest level in decades and a cost-of-living crisis driven by significant fuel price increases.

Naturally this caused much speculation as to whether government would abandon their newfound climate radicalism and recalibrate its focus on reducing costs regardless of emissions outcome. The British Energy Security strategy, released in April 2022, didn't reopen fracking or kibosh renewables deployment – and, although government did emphasise support for the UK oil and gas sector it retained its Net Zero ambitions.

So, where do these recent events leave local authorities?

It's likely that the die has been cast and that the new normal, post-pandemic, needs to deliver modernised public services compatible with Net Zero by 2050. There's time, but change needs to start now.

Services expected by the public will need to be transformed, council waste services will need to increase their ability to recycle more household waste, town planners need to integrate active travel and electric vehicle charging infrastructure into local development plans, and new homes need to be more energy-efficient than they’ve ever been – ready for a move away from gas for heating and cooking.

We also see increased appreciation from councils to build out their energy generation, partly to insulate themselves from increasing wholesale energy prices. Sophisticated integration of renewables into the fabric of our towns and amenities will increase – driven by the significant cost reduction witnessed in solar PV in particular.

In all these areas, Grant Thornton’s Net Zero team can help you navigate an increasingly complex, inter-related web of public services provision.