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Government must do more to ensure policy coherence on net zero

The government needs to tackle incoherent policy making if it is to meet its net zero target, argues a new Institute for Government report.

Wind turbines
Many wind turbines at Scottish Power Renewables Whitelee Wind farm in East Renfrewshire, Scotland

The government needs to tackle incoherent policy making if it is to meet its net zero target, argues a new Institute for Government report.

Published today, Passing the Net Zero Test: How to achieve policy coherence on climate change highlights a series of decisions where ministers seem to have undermined their own climate objectives, including on the Cumbria coal mine, roadbuilding, cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights, and boosting UK oil and gas production.

Several organisations have called for a “net zero test” to ensure ministerial decisions are compatible with the long-term climate commitment. But the new IfG report, which examines the experience of using policy tests in other areas like equality, argues that while such a test could be helpful it would not be sufficient to prevent ministers rationalising away decisions that seem to undermine wider government objectives.

The IfG report recommends how the government could develop a useable and useful net zero test – starting on a voluntary basis to aid to policy development and, if it proves useful, becoming a statutory duty over time. But it also argues that the government should follow up its proposals on “embedding net zero” across Whitehall departments, and calls on ministers to urgently publish the emissions reductions they expect to achieve through particular policies. This will be vital to proper scrutiny and keeping departments on track.

The report also calls on the government to:

  • ensure that any policy decision with a significant impact on its ability to stick to the net zero pathway is subject to collective cabinet committee decision making
  • produce assessments alongside budgets and spending reviews of the impact on its ability to deliver the net zero target
  • consider creating a new independent function or body charged with forecasting the emissions impact of policies and other changes in the economy. This could sit between the OBR and the Climate Change Committee, following a model used in Denmark.

IfG senior fellow and report author Jill Rutter said:

“Duties and tests have failed to prevent poor policy making in government – indeed they can become a box ticking exercise for ministers and their civil servants seek to game. So while a net zero test would help achieve policy coherence, it is no substitute for clarity on the pathway the government is pursuing which will enable the public and parliament to keep track of how well the government is doing in keeping the UK on course for net zero. Ultimately, however, no process can make up for a lack of political leadership from the top.”

Notes for editors
  1. The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.
  2. For more information, please contact / 0785 031 3791.

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