Five known unknowns of energy and environment policy

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Despite reams of new government strategy papers on environmental and green business issues, some important details remain unresolved.

The autumn was a busy time for those who track climate and environment-related policies. We had the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS), Professor Helm's Cost of Energy Review, the Autumn Budget, and the Industrial Strategy. Now we've had the long-awaited 25-year plan too and the Committee on Climate Change's view of the CGS.

There were a lot of words published (the Helm Review alone was over 200 pages). And as a result, intentions are for the most part clear. We know - and welcome from a manufacturing perspective - that government wants a new emphasis on finding opportunities in decarbonisation (something we've long called for). More emphasis on resource efficiency and a clear framework for environmental regulation post-Brexit to avoid policies changing with every new minister also sound promising.

But from a manufacturing perspective there is still very much that we don't know, and that's even before we get to the uncertainties of Brexit. These unknowns could make all the difference to the future outcome for manufacturing in the UK.

So here, in no particular order, are my top five Brexit-free questions for 2018:

  1. What will the CGS's target for a 20 per cent increase in business energy productivity by 2030 mean in practice? What will the metric be and what delivery mechanisms will there be for industrial processes over and above the stated commitments on buildings?

  2. Is the government serious about finding ways to bring electricity prices for UK industrial consumers more into line with those experienced by their Western European competitors or will the Helm Review and subsequent call for evidence disappear into a black hole?

  3. How real are the spending pledges in the CGS? A couple of worrying overlaps in commitments have already appeared and there's still no sign of the Energy Efficiency Scheme promised in the Conservative manifesto.

  4. What will the metrics be that are used to judge progress on environmental policymaking under the 25-year plan? Will they allow for socio-economic considerations and lifecycle approaches where appropriate and tie up sensibly with existing monitoring systems and the Sustainable Development Goals?

  5. Can Defra, and crucially the rest of government, really deliver an entirely new environmental policymaking approach and well thought through waste and resources and air quality strategies this year while also coping with the challenges of Brexit? The gestation period for the 25-year plan perhaps isn't a good precedent.

And there is one additional question from our side:

  1. Can we properly scrutinise all of the above and more while also dealing with everything Brexit throws at us?

On this last at least, I can confidently say it will be a challenge. And I doubt the manufacturing sector is alone in this. The risk is that time pressures lead to oversimplication and false assumptions, limited impact assessment and consultation (again the recent track record here is poor), clunky solutions, and unintended consequences.

We would urge government to adopt an ordered transparent approach. But there's no easy solution, it's inevitably going to be a busy year.

This blog first appeared on BusinessGreen

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Head of Climate, Energy and Environment Policy

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